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What is Cyber Ninjas looking for with your ballot? ABC15 inside audit Thursday

Maricopa County election audit
Posted at 7:57 PM, Apr 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-07 00:21:21-04

PHOENIX — With news outlets finally getting access to independently view what work is being done with nearly 2.1 million ballots cast in Arizona, we've seen men and women scanning images of ballots, and other cameras taking photos from a higher angle.

ABC15's Nicole Valdes was inside at the latest audit of 2020 election ballots at the Veteran's Memorial Colosseum. Follow her Thursday updates below.

Since the beginning of this effort, Cyber Ninjas, the company leading the Maricopa County election audit, has worked to keep its methods and specifics on procedures being used to conduct their work private.

They asked a Maricopa County judge last week to seal any records the court asked them to turn over from the public. Attorneys for the company argued their methods include confidential information and expressed concern in revealing "trade secrets" that belong to the company and claimed the information is protected by legislative privilege.

ABC15's Garrett Archer learned exclusively during off-camera conversations with leaders of the hand recount that subcontractors are checking for folds in ballots outside of the counting process. Watch coverage from inside the facility as the audit continued Thursday in the player below.

"They are taking these ballots and looking for folds in the ballots with the assumption that all early ballots have folds in them," said Archer. The process is called Kinematic Artifact detection.

You may remember if you voted early by mail, your ballot came folded in an envelope. Those ballots are printed at Runbeck Election Services and folded by a machine.

All mail-in-ballots are early ballots, but not all early ballots are mail-in ballots. Maricopa County residents were also invited to vote early, in person at vote centers across the county as they became available starting in October 2020. According to Archer, ballots sent to military and overseas residents are also not folded.

"These are just things that when they finally write their report they must, sort of, account for. They must account for these differences, so it's not just assumed that X amount of ballots are fraudulent just because they don't have folds in them," added Archer.

Former Maricopa County Deputy Recorder Kathren Coleman worries the company may flag early ballots that don't have folds, as potentially fraudulent.

"It's certainly concerning as an election officer to see that they are using a method that exclusively to look for something that will influence a report in a way that is not true to election administration or that actually points to any fraud whatsoever."

Cyber Ninjas and its subcontractors were also running ballots under black lights up until Wednesday. Officials said their teams were looking for watermarks on ballots, but that effort has since stopped.

Maricopa County Election officials released information earlier this week explaining that no ballots contain watermarks.

Despite Cyber Ninjas' efforts to keep any records revealing their methods sealed, Judge Daniel Martin ruled Wednesday the company must turn over documents laying out procedures and policies being used to conduct the work, to be included in public court documents.

According to the new order, the information will be made publicly available by 12:00 p.m. Thursday, unless Cyber Ninjas appeals Judge Martin's decision.