Maricopa County delivering ballots, equipment for audit
PHOENIX (AP) — Officials in Arizona’s most populous county started delivering equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden to the state fairgrounds on Wednesday. They plan to cart 2.1 million ballots to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have question whether Biden’s victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results.
The delivery will kick off weeks of counting by contractors hired by the Republican-controlled Senate at the rented site.
The Republican-dominated Maricopa County Board of Supervisors denied use of their facilities after losing a court fight set off by a Senate subpoena for the election materials. They insist the election Biden won was conducted fairly and counted accurately. Senate Democrats oppose the effort to recount the ballots of the long ago certified election and are not participating.
Ken Bennett, a former Arizona secretary of state who is acting as GOP Senate President Karen Fann’s liaison overseeing the audit process, said security will be tight. Options for reporters to cover the actual event are in flux, with Bennett giving varying versions of openness over the past week.
The operation will be live-streamed by the pro-Trump, right-wing television network OANN, which helped raise some of the money used to finance the audit and recount. It will also be streamed on the https://azaudit.org/ website.
The county announced it would deliver the materials over two days because of the volume involved. The Senate will use the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, former home of Phoenix Suns NBA basketball team, to hold the election equipment and recount the 2.1 million 2020 ballots.
Republican Senate President Karen Fann has hired Florida-based Cyber Ninjas — a firm led by a backer of unfounded election fraud theories — to oversee the audit, including a hand recount of ballots. The Senate is paying $150,000, and an OANN host helped raise at least another $150,000 for the effort.
Bennett in a recent interview vowed to ensure that the audit is as fair as possible, despite concerns that Cyber Ninjas founder Doug Logan has embraced Trump and expressed doubt that Biden won.
“I don’t know if he’s specifically embraced ”Stop the Steal,” but yes there are people that are questioning his opinions and whether they are going to affect the audit,” Bennett said. “And I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that we audit the election and not the contractor’s opinions.”
He said that in addition to the recount, the auditors will review mail ballot signatures, the tabulation machines and that bipartisan observers will watch the whole process.
The Senate will pay only for electricity and personnel at the Coliseum, which it rented starting Monday for four weeks. It also must provide security.
Supporters of former President Donald Trump have cast doubt on the Maricopa County election results since Biden’s narrow win last year. But there has been no evidence of widespread fraud. Judges rejected several lawsuits alleging irregularities in the count.
Last month, the county released the results of two new audits of its equipment that showed no malicious software or incorrect counting equipment and that none of the computers or equipment were connected to the internet.
Election administration and security experts said in a letter to Fann early this month that they were “deeply disturbed” by the decision to hire Cyber Ninjas for the audit. The election was conducted securely, and the audit could undermine confidence in U.S. elections, they said.
Logan has said his personal views are irrelevant because he intends to conduct a transparent audit.
On Wednesday, Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs called the Republican effort a sham.
“Nobody should be taking this circus seriously,” Hobbs said. “That’s what it is. It’s a circus.”
Hobbs said Senate Republicans have shown they’re not interested in “real independent results” and hired a biased firm with no auditing experience that has pre-determined the outcome.
“It is, again, continuing to perpetuate the big lie for their own political agenda,” Hobbs said. “It is going to do nothing to restore anyone’s confidence in our election system.”
It is unclear how long it will take to recount all the ballots. It took 33 bipartisan teams a day and a half to do a hand count of about 8,500 ballots after the election, according to Megan Gilbertson, spokeswoman for the county elections department.
Associated Press reporter Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix contributed to this report.