Top officials of the 15 Republican county committees want a special session — and soon — to order an audit of the machinery used to count ballots.
But only in Maricopa County.
Michael Burke, who heads the Pinal GOP, delivered a letter to the governor Tuesday asking that he call lawmakers back to the Capitol to approve a special one-time law requiring an examination of the software used in machines made by Dominion Voting Systems. Burke said he and his colleagues — the letter was signed on behalf of 14 county chairs and one vice-chair — do not believe that Democrat Joe Biden could have picked up so many more new votes in 2020 in the state’s largest county than Hillary Clinton got four years ago absent a software problem.
But the letter does not call for the same kind of examination of the tabulating machines in other counties where the results for the president were much more favorable. This, Burke said, needs to be focused on Maricopa County.
And Donna Tanzi, who chairs the Yavapai County Republican Committee, said things ran smoothly in her county. It is only in Maricopa, which gave Biden about 45,100 more votes than Trump out of nearly 2.1 million cast, that the GOP officials say there needs to be a closer look.
Those Maricopa votes are crucial: Biden won Arizona by fewer than 11,000 votes.
Burke said he hand delivered the letter Tuesday afternoon to the governor’s office. An aide to the governor said the letter has not yet been reviewed.
Senate President Karen Fann said she has her own questions about election procedures. And, going forward, she is looking at examining state election laws and procedures to ensure there are sufficient safeguards and that voters have “100% confidence” in the system.
But Fann told Capitol Media Services there is virtually no chance that what the party officials want will happen, even if the governor agrees to go along. She said there simply isn’t the time to enact a special law, have it take effect and examine the software before the votes cast this year need to be formally canvassed, something that has to occur no later than Dec. 3.
“I realize this is a Hail Mary,” Burke said. But he said he remains convinced that the legislature is constitutionally empowered to do what it wants on presidential elections.
What the request comes down to, the party chairs told Capitol Media Services, is that they’ve heard things.
“We’re hearing stories about Dominion software changing votes, doing all kinds of unfortunate things,” Burke said.
“I don’t know if that’s true or not,” he conceded. “But let’s find out.”
Tanzi said her particular concern is the Dominion software, “or any software for that matter, and how is that being handled.”
There already are auditing procedures that were established and approved by the Republican-controlled legislature. These involve taking random samples from precincts chosen by officials of the two major parties and doing a hand count, comparing what humans find with what the machine tallied.
If the results fall within the margin of error, that’s the end of it.
But if not, the size of the sample continues to increase until the numbers correspond, potentially getting to a point — which has never happened — where all the ballots are reviewed by hand and that becomes the official count.
In fact, if that were to occur, there already is a requirement in the law for the secretary of state to furnish the “source code” used in the machines to a superior court judge. And the judge then is required to appoint a special master to review the software.
The GOP county chairs, however, want the legislature to short-circuit all of those existing laws and order a special audit this year of the Dominion software.
“We just want to have somebody who is an expert at IT security take a look at that software and make sure it’s fine,” said Burke who put the letter together.
Tanzi, for her part, said she’s not convinced the hand count already authorized in law will answer all the questions.
“That should catch a lot of things,” she said. But Tanzi said pulling out a sample “could mean there’s a whole section that is missed.”
For his part, Russ Jones who chairs the Yuma GOP, said he has yet to see any hard evidence that the Dominion software, which is not used in his county, has caused problems. But Jones said he supported the call for the special audit “so we can satisfy, once and for all in Arizona, that the issues that apparently exist or may exist elsewhere did not occur in Arizona.”
“It’s a matter of voter confidence in our systems,” he said.
And Elizabeth Speck, the former chair and now secretary of the Greenlee GOP, had her own concerns.
“I’ve always been very skeptical of electronic voting machines,” she said. Speck said she worries about software and hardware that essentially sits unnoticed in equipment until activated.
“The legislature has the ability to interview witnesses, review complaints, and most importantly, engage the services of an independent professional IT security firm, who have the expertise to conduct a forensic audit of the suspect software, determine if irregularities exist and provide piece (sic) of mind to the voters of this state,” the letter to Ducey reads “We must begin this process immediately before the election is certified.”
What the county chairs want goes beyond what even is being sought by the Arizona Republican Party.
It’s lawsuit, playing out in Maricopa County Superior Court, is demanding that hand-count review be done on a precinct-by-precinct basis even though state law specifically allows counties to set up vote centers rather than force people to cast a ballot at a specific neighborhood location. A judge will hear arguments on that Wednesday.
Ducey, who has remained silent on the entire election and the results, is a critical player in all of this because he can bring lawmakers to the Capitol on any issue he wants. It would take a two-thirds vote for legislators to call themselves into special session, something that would require Democrat support.
But Fann said even if the Republicans who control the House and Senate did marshal the votes for the audit, they lack the two-thirds vote to have it take effect immediately. And the Arizona Constitution says laws cannot take effect until at least 90 days after the end of the session.
That means not just blowing by the canvass schedule but also the Dec. 14 date for the state’s 11 electors to cast their votes — and even the Jan. 20 date for the presidential inauguration.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story reported that David Eppihimer, chair of the Pima County Republican committee said he never signed the letter, but he later retracted the statement.