Arizona Election Auditors Battling Courts, Media, Democrats Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, Thursday, May 6, 2021 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool)
By Marisa Herman | Friday, 07 May 2021 02:50 PM
A Republican-backed independent audit of November’s election results in Maricopa County, Arizona, is being met with a full-court press by a wide array of opponents in Democratic political circles and the media looking to disrupt and delay the process in hopes of either ending it immediately or dragging the vote counting out so long that it never finishes.
Arizona was one of the major swing states that’s 2020 electoral flip to Joe Biden helped the Democrat secure the presidency from former President Donald Trump, who won the state in 2016. In an effort to examine whether unsubstantiated allegations that voter fraud and tabulation errors occurred, and to improve security for future elections, State Senate Republicans pushed for an extensive, outside review of the 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County even though the state certified its election results.
From the jump, Democrats railed against the effort, which includes a full hand recount, audit of ballots, and review of the voting machines used in the state’s largest county.
The 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County account for two-thirds of all ballots cast statewide, and Biden’s narrow margin of victory – fewer than 11,000 votes – was due to Maricopa County flipping blue. Democrats also picked up a U.S. Senate seat in Arizona, with former astronaut Mark Kelly replacing Martha McSally.
Political commentator and Newsmax insider Deroy Murdock said he isn’t surprised Democrats are fighting the election integrity probe.
"Democrats are allergic to virtually any effort to clean up America's elections," he said. "It looks like their allergies have kicked in, once again."
State Democrats filed a lawsuit last month to try to suspend the recount proceedings, which began April 23. The lawsuit filed by the state Democratic Party and the county’s only Democratic supervisor claimed that the audit violates Arizona rules regarding confidentiality and security of ballots and voting equipment.
"The lack of transparency around this ‘audit’ is astounding and we will not stand idly by as Senate President [Karen] Fann opens up our secure election to unqualified and completely unhinged actors who believe the 'big lie,'" Raquel Terán, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, said in a statement before the ruling. "This has gone far enough and we are hopeful that the courts will put an end to this embarrassing and dangerous circus."
Maricopa County Superior Judge Christopher Coury did approve a temporary shutdown of the recount to consider their argument that the process wasn’t adhering to state laws about ballot security. Coury also ordered the state Senate and Cyber Ninjas to provide a copy of the procedures that auditors plan to follow so he could review them for compliance with state law.
Ultimately, though, the recount was ordered to go ahead as planned after state Democrats refused to put up a $1 million bond requested by the judge to help cover any potential costs incurred as a result of the delay.
But Arizona Democrats aren’t the only faction opposed to the recount. Several voting rights groups have asked federal officials to get involved in the process, and the Brennan Center for Justice, the Leadership Conference, and Protect Democracy all penned a letter to federal officials requesting oversight of the process.
"We are very concerned that the auditors are engaged in ongoing and imminent violations of federal voting and election laws," they wrote.
The U.S. Department of Justice got involved on Wednesday when it expressed concerns about ballot security and the potential for voter intimidation.
In a letter to Fann, officials from the DOJ said the review assigned to Florida-based company Cyber Ninjas may go against a federal law that requires ballots to remain with elections officials for 22 months.
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan noted the Senate contractor's plans to directly contact voters could amount to illegal voter intimidation.
"Past experience with similar investigative efforts around the country has raised concerns that they can be directed at minority voters, which potentially can implicate the anti-intimidation prohibitions of the Voting Rights Act," Karlan wrote. "Such investigative efforts can have a significant intimidating effect on qualified voters that can deter them from seeking to vote in the future."
To ensure voter and ballot privacy is afforded during the process, the Arizona Democratic Party struck a deal with the Republican-controlled state Senate to follow state laws or wind up in court. As part of the agreement, Arizona’s Democrat Secretary of State, Katie Hobbs, is permitted to have three observers inside the Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the state fairgrounds where the recount is taking place.
When the procedures for the review were released, per the court order, Hobbs’ election director Bo Dul told The Associated Press there were major issues with the rules. Dul said, under the guidelines, ballot counters would be permitted to accept a large enough error rate to show Trump won the state.
Hobbs sent a six-page letter on Wednesday to the recount contractor’s senate liaison, former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, detailing the alleged problems with the recount procedures.
"Mr. Bennett, as a former Secretary of State, you know that our elections are governed by a complex framework of laws and procedures designed to ensure accuracy, security, and transparency," Hobbs wrote. "You also must therefore know that the procedures governing this audit ensure none of those things."
She called the process "a significant departure from standard best practices" and noted some aspects of the process "appear better suited for chasing conspiracy theories than as a part of a professional audit."
Hobbs also took issue with who is involved in the recount process. She noted that Anthony Kern, a former state representative who was photographed on the Capitol steps on the day of the Jan. 6 breach, was hired to help recount ballots. She said this was problematic because he appeared on the Maricopa ballot both as a legislative candidate and as a presidential elector.
In reporting on Hobbs' letter, The New York Times called the ongoing recount battle "the most off-the-rails episode in the Republican Party’s escalating effort to support former President Donald J. Trump’s lie that he won the election."
The Arizona Republic editorial board blasted the state Senate last month and told it to stop "abusing its authority."
The board called the audit "partisan and ideological in the extreme," "toxic," and said "its destination is certain failure."
"Republicans in the Arizona Legislature have set aside dollars, hired consultants, procured the hardware and software to conduct what they call ‘an audit’ of the 2020 presidential election in Maricopa County," the editorial board wrote. "What they don’t have is the moral authority to make it credible."
Democrats have also taken issue with the company running the audit. Doug Logan, the CEO of the cybersecurity company, previously tweeted claims about the election being stolen, according to the Arizona Mirror.
In addressing whether he was biased, he issued a statement: "The big question should not be, 'Am I biased,' but,' 'Will this audit be transparent, truthful and accurate?' The answer to the latter question is a resounding 'Yes.'"
During a press briefing about the recount last month, Logan said he "won’t touch a single ballot."
The most recent attempt to stifle the audit is coming from Maricopa county officials. According to The Arizona Daily Independent, officials are refusing to comply with a subpoena that requires them to hand over routers or router images to auditors reviewing the election results.
According to the outlet, Deputy County Attorney Joseph LaRue told the audit’s liaison, Bennett, that turning over the items will cause a “significant security risk" to local law enforcement.
"We had previously believed that the risk would be eliminated by redacting the law enforcement data on the routers and not producing it. But we were informed that redaction did not eliminate the risk," LaRue wrote. "We also learned that if criminal elements or others gained access to this data, it might compromise county and federal law enforcement efforts and put the lives of law enforcement personnel at risk."
The latest delay comes as counters have barely managed to make a dent in reviewing the slew of ballots. Bennett told the Associated Press Tuesday night that less than 10% of the votes had been tallied. The team only has permission to use the counting site until May 14 because it is scheduled to be used for high school graduations on May 15. It is unclear whether the ballot count could continue at a new location.
"The left sees elections through the prism only of winning to force the opposition into submission," said Houston-based GOP political analyst Vlad Davidiuk. "Their fight against the recount, against investigations into voter fraud, against measures to improve election integrity are all about holding onto and growing their power and control, eliminating the power of the individual, and replacing it with the power of the preferred groups."
Trump has thrown his full support behind the audit. Turning the tables on his opponents, he recently re-dubbed the 2020 election “the big lie” and has claimed that Democrats don’t want the audit to take place because “it won’t be good” for them.
"The Radical Left Democrat Party has gone absolutely INSANE in fighting the Forensic Audit of the 2020 Presidential Election Scam, right now taking place in the Great State of Arizona," he wrote in a statement from his Save America PAC last month. "They sent a team of over 100 lawyers to try and stop it because they know what the result of the Arizona Senate-sponsored audit will be—and it won’t be good for the Dems. The audit is independently run, with no advantage to either side, but the Democrats don’t want to hear anything about it because they know that they lost Arizona, and other scam election States, in a LANDSLIDE."