A retired US Army colonel who authored the now-infamous “coup PowerPoint” slide deck played a significant role in instigating the Arizona state senate’s sham “audit” of Maricopa County, Arizona ballots by convincing them that a notorious dot-com era inventor’s untested technology could spot enough fake ballots to undermine Joe Biden’s win in the Copper State.
According to documents released by the pro-transparency group American Oversight, Arizona senators who ordered the partisan audit of the state’s most populous county did so on advice from Phil Waldron, a retired US Army colonel who became known for spreading baseless conspiracy theories about the 2020 election leading up to the 6 January 2021 attack on the US Capitol.
Mr Waldron began reaching out to Republican elected officials in Arizona on 8 December 2020, which was the “safe harbour” deadline for states to certify their electoral college results before electors met to cast their ballots on 14 December.
That day, he sent an email to a pair of Republican state senators — Mark Finchem and Sonny Borelli — and two Trump campaign advisers, attorney Emily Newman and ex-New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik.
Mr Waldron wrote that he and his associates possessed “the capability to identify fraudulent ballots via optical scanning technology” could reveal whether ballots were “machine printed/filled out,” “not folded or put into an envelope,” or had “barcodes that [had] been machine altered”.
“This will allow us to pull invalid votes out of the totals ‘By Candidate’ so that your state can certify normal elections and potentially not have to take extra legislative action,” he wrote.
The “extra legislative action” Mr Waldron referred to was a course of action advocated for by then-president Donald Trump and his allies which would have relied on a controversial constitutional theory called the “independent state legislature” doctrine, under which state legislatures can unilaterally reject the results of a presidential election and appoint their own preferred set of electors.
The theory, which Mr Trump’s false claims of a stolen election gave significant traction in right-wing circles, was central to the former president’s efforts to install himself in the White House for a second term against the wishes of American voters.
Mr Waldron reportedly elaborated on the purported anti-fraud technology further in another email sent to Arizona GOP senators on 11 December, just three days before electors were to cast ballots for Mr Biden in Phoenix.
In that message, the retired Army colonel told the legislators he was attaching affidavits regarding “existing technology that has been adapted to detect kinematic features of scanned or actual ballots to determine indicators of fraudulent activity,” which he suggested to be “the fastest and most transparent way” to provide the Trump-aligned legislators with the “direct evidence” they needed to overturn Mr Biden’s victory.
Included with Mr Waldron’s emails, which were first reported by Rolling Stone, was an affidavit from Jovan Pulitzer, the purported inventor of the putative anti-fraud technology.
Mr Pulitzer, who was formerly known as Jeffry Jovan Philyaw, is a self-styled inventor and author of treasure hunting books who developed the CueCat barcode scanner in the late 1990s. He changed his name after the device was discovered to have major security flaws and was subject to widespread ridicule.
In the affidavit sent to the Arizona senators, Mr Pulitzer claimed his technology could determine whether a given postal ballot was genuine by looking for what he called “kenetic markers” that would result from the ballot being “handled and folded many times in the process of mailing prior to voting” because such markers, in his estimation would not appear on ballots that were “were fraudulently manufactured and not mailed to the voter”.
He also claimed that something called “Thin-Layer Chromatography to Determine Inferential Statistical Analysis” could show whether a given ballot was marked by hand or a machine.
Mr Pulitzer’s methods would be adopted by Cyber Ninjas, the bespoke election auditing firm founded by a pro-Trump election conspiracy theorist which Arizona senate Republicans charged with conducting their partisan audit.
Arizona Republicans became enamoured of Mr Pulitzer’s auditing techniques because they were hoping to prove several election-related conspiracy theories floated by Mr Trump’s allies in the days and weeks following the 3 November 2020 election.
These theories included an outrageous claim that Mr Biden’s victory in Arizona came from the counting of a massive number of paper ballots airlifted from Asia, which reportedly led Cyber Ninjas to examine ballots to determine whether they were printed on paper containing bamboo.
Although the Cyber Ninjas did eventually undertake such an audit on orders from the Arizona senate, it came too late to help Mr Trump’s efforts, and in the end found yet more votes for Mr Biden than had been counted during the initial canvassing.
But Mr Waldron, who claimed to have once worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency’s covert operations division, had bigger plans for his scheme to overturn Mr Trump’s re-election loss.
His now-infamous 36-page slide deck, which ex-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows turned over to the House January 6 select committee late last year, advocated for a seizure of ballots in every state for a recount to be conducted under the supervision of a “Trusted Lead Counter” by the National Guard.