UPDATE 1-Draft report of Arizona's contentious election audit confirms Biden's win
Recasts with findings from draft report
By Nathan Layne
Sept 24 (Reuters) - A partisan review of the 2020 presidential election commissioned by Arizona Republicans has confirmed President Joe Biden's victory over Donald Trump in the state's most populous county, according to a draft report of the review's findings.
Maricopa County announced what it said were the main findings on its Twitter feed late on Thursday, saying a draft report "confirms the county's canvass of the 2020 General Election was accurate and the candidates certified as the winners did, in fact, win".
The headline conclusion, if confirmed in an official announcement scheduled for later on Friday, will likely disappoint supporters of Trump who pushed for the review, many in the expectation that it would prove his baseless claims that he was robbed of victory in 2020 due to widespread fraud.
A wide array of election experts, Democrats and even some Republican officials have rejected the audit as a highly partisan boondoggle run by a contractors without relevant expertise who are out to prove that Trump won last November, regardless of the facts. The main contractor overseeing the operation is an obscure firm, Cyber Ninjas, whose leader has promoted conspiracy theories about fraud in the election.
"You don't have to dig deep into the draft copy of the Arizona Senate/Cyber Ninja audit report to confirm what I already knew — the candidates certified by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, Governor, Secretary of State and Attorney General — did, in fact, win," Maricopa County Board Chair Jack Sellers, a Republican, said in a statement.
The results of what the state lawmakers are calling a "forensic audit" into 2.1 million ballots in Maricopa, Arizona's most populous county, are set to be revealed in the state Senate at 1 p.m. local time (4 p.m. Eastern/2000 GMT), five months after the Republican-led Senate launched the review.
An Arizona Senate spokesman, Mike Philipsen, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the draft released by the county.
Cyber Ninjas' findings have been eagerly anticipated by Trump's allies in his Republican Party, some of whom have been keen to use it to justify similar "forensic" investigations in Pennsylvania, Michigan and other battleground states that Trump lost to Democratic President Joe Biden. Trump himself has predicted the audit would provide the evidence to support his fraud claims. So far no such proof has been produced either by Trump or his backers.
Biden beat Trump in Arizona by a margin of just over 10,000 votes, a narrow victory confirmed by a hand recount and multiple post-election tests for accuracy. Election officials in Maricopa, which includes Phoenix, also conducted a separate audit that confirmed the vote was accurate and secure.
The audit has been marked by practices that critics described as ranging from inappropriate to bizarre, including counters marking ballots with blue ink, which can alter how they are read by machines, and workers checking for traces of bamboo fibers based on a conspiracy theory that forged ballots may have been shipped in from Asia.
The make-up of the audit's financial backers has also raised alarms. In June, Logan disclosed that outside groups tied to key boosters of Trump's efforts to undermine the 2020 election results had raised more than $5.7 million for the audit, far surpassing the $150,000 contributed by the Arizona Senate.
The review has split leading Republicans in the state, with Trump loyalists pitted against Maricopa County officials who have repeatedly defended the election results as accurate.
Prior to the report's release, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer issued a 38-page statement criticizing the audit as "slipshod" and detailing why he believes the 2020 result was valid.
"Nobody stole Maricopa County's election. Elections in Maricopa County aren't rigged," wrote Richer, a Republican who says he campaigned and voted for Trump.
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, also released a preemptive rebuttal, a 122-page statement in which she blasted the audit for delays and alleged lapses in security, transparency and organization.
Hobbs accused Cyber Ninjas of not understanding election procedures and said their findings should be considered "invalid and unreliable".
According to an advisory for the event, the audit team will present the report to Senate President Karen Fann and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Petersen, both Republicans who have spearheaded the election review. Media will not be allowed to ask questions at the hearing, which will be livestreamed, it said.
(reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Soyoung Kim; Sonya Hepinstall and Alex Richardson)
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