Supporters of President Donald Trump demonstrate at a ‘Stop the Steal’ rally in front of the Maricopa County Elections Department office on November 7, 2020 (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
The audit of 2.1 million ballots in Maricopa County, Arizona, was due to conclude on Thursday. But by Wednesday evening, the auditors had only managed to get through about 400,000 ballots. So instead of announcing their findings, the organizers will instead have to pack up and move all the boxes of ballots and the election equipment into storage for more than a week—into a building not meant to be used between May and September—while high school graduations take place in the Veterans’ Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix.
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Then on May 23, the organizers will move back into the coliseum and resume hand-counting the ballots, hoping that they’ll finish before they’re kicked out again on June 30.The chaotic nature of the audit is unsurprising given the company running it, Cyber Ninjas, has no experience running an election audit. It also highlights another mystery surrounding the audit: how much will it cost and who’s going to pay for it?The state Senate has pledged just $150,000 to pay for the recount, but calculations show that figure would barely cover staffing for five days.Cyber Ninjas has refused to reveal who’s funding the recount, but a group of right-wing businessmen with links to former President Donald Trump who’ve been central to spreading the lie that the election was stolen are putting their money on the line in the hope that, somehow, this audit will finally prove them right.One key figure in this is Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock.com. Last December Byrne attended a truly bizarre meeting in the Oval Office—together with Kraken lawyer Sidney Powell and disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn—where he reportedly urged Trump to refuse to leave office in the wake of his election loss. Byrne has set up a group called the America Project, and in late April the group launched a Fund the Audit campaign. On April 30, Byrne told his followers on Telegram that he had personally wired “another $1 million” to the fund.
It’s unclear if that means Byrne had already given $1 million to fund the audit, but to date the Fund the Audit campaign has raised just over $1.5 million out of a target goal of $2.8 million.It is unclear what the money will be used for or whether the money Byrne claimed he wired is part of this total. Neither Byrne nor the America Project responded to requests for comment from VICE News.Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow, who’s been sued for $1.3 billion by voting machine maker Dominion for spreading lies about the company, has also donated money to the cause. He told the Daily Beast he has been funneling money towards local conservative groups and audit efforts in Arizona, but didn’t say how much.Lin Wood, the QAnon-supporting lawyer currently running for chairman of the South Carolina GOP, has also coughed up $50,000 according to a report from Talking Points Memo. Wood has also been in close contact with the CEO of Cyber Ninjas, Doug Logan.The Arizona Republican Party and its chairwoman, Kelli Ward, have been among the biggest supporters of the audit. Ward posts nightly videos on her Twitter feed giving updates about the recount and urging supporters to donate to help fund the audit through the GOP’s WinRed platform. Ward is also trying to rebrand the recount as “America’s audit,” once again supporting the bogus “Big Lie” claim that the election was stolen.
It’s unclear if any money raised via WinRed will go toward the audit itself. Ward and the Arizona GOP didn’t respond to requests for comment.Finally, money has also been raised by a reporter from right-wing network One America News, an outlet that has consistently spread disinformation about electoral fraud. Over $150,000 was raised by Voices & Votes, a nonprofit led by OAN's Christina Bobb, who coincidentally was granted “unfettered access” to the audit while reporters from other outlets were denied such access. The recount has been widely disputed by election audit experts and derided by Democrats, who call it illegitimate and a threat to the democratic process. Opponents point out that Maricopa County has already conducted multiple audits of the 2020 election results that found no discrepancies.But for many on the right, the audit is their final hope. Many still believe that discrepancies found in Maricopa County could trigger a tidal wave of audits in other states, and ultimately see Trump return to the Oval Office.The only problem with this fantasy is that the election results have already been certified by the board of electors and Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, so no matter what the outcome of this latest audit, the election results will not change.
But that hasn’t stopped money pouring in to fund the audit, even though no one knows how much it will cost.Senate President Karen Fann, who signed the contracts with the Arizona State Fair and Cyber Ninjas, didn’t respond to questions about how much the recount would cost.The only known cost so far is the $150,000 the Senate approved in its initial contract with Cyber Ninjas.Ken Bennett, a former GOP secretary of state and the Senate's audit liaison, told VICE News he didn’t know how much the audit would end up costing but revealed that the cost of hiring the venue and security for the audit fell to the Senate, and ultimately the taxpayer.According to the contract signed with the State Fair for hiring the venue, the Senate is only paying for lighting and heating costs. But the Senate does have to shell out for security staff to secure the ballots and election equipment 24 hours a day.Bennett said he would not reveal how many security staff were employed but said the number of staff was “sufficient for what we need” and that the location was “very well secured.” He said that some of the security guards were provided by a company called Law Enforcement Specialists, a company that hires off-duty police officers as security guards.Other security guards come from the Arizona Rangers, a civilian outfit that provides support to law enforcement. Neither Law Enforcement Specialists nor the Arizona Rangers responded to requests for comment on how many personnel they were providing to the audit or how much they were charging.
But beyond the cost of hosting and securing the audit, the cost of processing the audit falls squarely on the shoulders of Doug Logan, the CEO of Cyber Ninjas.Logan, who previously shared election fraud conspiracies on his now-deleted Twitter account, didn’t respond to repeated attempts to contact him about the audit, and Bennett said he believes Logan is contractually obliged to refrain from speaking to the media during the audit.There is a non-disclosure agreement listed in the contract signed by the Arizona Senate, but it is to be signed by those conducting the audit—and Logan in April told a press briefing that he "won't touch a single ballot."Therefore it is difficult to assess the cost of the audit, but there are some calculations that can be made.According to Bennett, there are 46 tables set up for counting ballots, which are staffed with up to five people. There are an additional 15 tables set up to check the paper the ballots were printed on (this is part of the bogus investigation into conspiracy theories around watermarks and bamboo fibers in the ballots) and these tables have up to three people on each.So that’s around 275 people needed to fully staff all the tables. Bennet said that there were some people working on a volunteer basis, but the vast majority were being paid.
The audit takes place over two five-hour shifts each day. So assuming that 250 people are being paid and assuming that the workers are paid Arizona’s minimum wage of $15 per hour, that equates to a daily wage bill of around $37,500.The audit has already been going on for 17 days, meaning the wage bill may have already topped $600,000.The audit is now being paused for a week but is set to resume on May 23 and continue through June 30, an additional 38 days. And considering Bennett said this week the organizers of the audit were already planning to hire more workers because they were so far behind schedule, the eventual wage bill is likely to run into the millions.And that’s before you take into account the money Cyber Ninjas and the other companies helping run the audit are charging, the cost of the equipment being used, and the support staff and infrastructure needed to conduct an audit of this size.So, the $150,000 the Senate has paid Logan is not going to go very far. And even those closely watching the events in Maricopa County don’t know if the fundraising efforts are all a scam or just a very expensive way to claim they were right all along.“I'm not sure this is so much about a grift,” the anonymous author of the AZ Right Wing Watch Twitter account, which is tracking the audit closely, told VICE News.“I think it might be a very expensive endeavor by a select group of people to produce the ‘proof’ they need to ‘prove’ that they were right about their election fraud claims. I don't know if their end goal is simply to grift off that ‘proof’ or if they hope something more nefarious will come from it but either way, not good.”