Senate to do its own audit of election equipment

Senate to do its own audit of election equipment

Arizona elections officials continue to count ballots inside the Maricopa County Recorder's Office, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Arizona elections officials continue to count ballots inside the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Unhappy with what Maricopa County has proposed, state senators are going ahead with their own audit of the general election, a move that could lead to a new court fight and even potentially a contempt vote.

Senate President Karen Fann acknowledged she had agreed to back down from her demand for a Senate audit after the county said it would conduct its own. And that review was supposed to include two separate auditors by individuals or firms certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

But she told Capitol Media Services it turns out the EAC does not certify auditors. So the Senate wants someone of its own choosing and in whom it has confidence.

More significantly, Fann said the scope of the audit approved by the supervisors falls short of what she believes the Senate was promised and what she believes is necessary to answer all the questions about how the ballots were counted and whether the reported results — the ones giving the edge to Democrat Joe Biden — were accurate.

And attorney Kory Langhofer, who represents the Senate, said a lot is missing.

For example, he said, there is nothing in the county review to identify voters who may have cast more than one ballot. The Senate also wants a review of “spoiled” ballots and what was done by election workers to determine the voter intent.

And Langhofer said the Senate wants a review of the cybersecurity of the voting and tabulation machines.

The county audit does contain a requirement for a review of whether machines were linked to the internet. But Langhofer said that’s not enough, saying there needs to be a review of “whether its hardware or software may have been modified through some means other than an internet connection.”

A lawsuit seeking to enforce a Senate subpoena for access to the equipment and ballots was placed on the back burner after the board said it would agree to conduct its own review. But Fann said a review of the scope of what the supervisors approved led her to the conclusion that the county was not living up to its end of the agreement.

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

“We agreed that we would have two audits and they would be forensic audits so that we could verify to make sure that there were no irregularities or anything else,” Fann said. And these were supposed to be EAC-certified auditors.

Then the senate and its lawyers got a look at the county agreement with its auditors.

“And we said, ‘Not so fast!’ ” Fann said. “We’re not getting what we all agreed on,” Fann said.

So she said the decision was made for the Senate to hire and pay for someone of its choosing to conduct a deep dive into the process “to make sure we get two, independent forensic audits.”

What the Senate will get remains unclear.

In a prepared statement, county spokesman Fields Moseley said the board “respects the Arizona Senate’s decision to hire a company to audit the election data and documents the board has provided to date.”

He also insisted, despite Langhofer’s claims, that the two companies the county hired are the only ones in the country that are EAC certified voting system testing laboratories.

Where the fight may occur is the desire of senators to get what might be considered into the “black box” of the hardware and software to look for evidence of tampering or other modifications that would or could have changed the outcome of the vote.

Moseley said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has designated vote-tabulation equipment as “critical election infrastructure.”

“If the source code from our tabulation equipment is exposed and posted online, that could jeopardize the integrity of voting systems across the country,” he said. That, said Moseley, is why the county wants to use the two companies it has chosen.

Moseley said the question of access to the equipment “remains a part of the negotiations” with the Senate. But he said the county isn’t giving access to the actual ballots.

“The ballots from the 2020 election are sealed after certification of the election,” Moseley said.

State Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Cortney Bennett)
Steve Gallardo (Cronkite News Service Photo by Cortney Bennett)

But Steve Gallardo, the lone Democrat on the board, said as far as he’s concerned the audit the county is doing is sufficient and comports with the agreement with the Senate. And Gallardo said he’s not interested in making further deals, saying the Senate will never be satisfied.

“They have done everything they can with their lies, their conspiracies about the 2020 general election,” he told Capitol Media Services. “And they continue those same conspiracies, now about the consultants that have been hired to do this audit.”

Gallardo said he is willing to listen to “suggestions” from the Senate on the parameters of the audit.

“But at the end of the day they’re not going to be satisfied with the audit that is performed because the audit is not going to support what (state GOP Chair) Kelli Ward and many of the legislators and others are trying to make, and that is the election was compromised,” he said. “And it wasn’t.”

The next move is up to the county: provide the access the Senate is demanding or send the matter back to court. Fann said she hopes it doesn’t come to that.

“We all agree that we wanted to get our constituents answers to their questions,” she said.

“We have tens of thousands of voters who have questions, rightly so or not, about the electoral system in Arizona,” Fann said. “And we just need to reinstill the confidence in that before we go on to another election.

And Fann emphasized that’s all this is about.

“We’re not overturning an election,” she said, acknowledging prior efforts by some GOP lawmakers to void the certified results which showed Biden winning Arizona.

The Senate president said this isn’t about seizing the equipment. She said the state-selected auditor will work at county offices. And she said they can be overseen by county officials.

“We want to make sure this is fully transparent and accountable,” Fann said.

Beyond renewed litigation, the other option if the county balks would be for the Senate to vote to hold the board in contempt. But while that would allow Fann to send the sergeant-at-arms to arrest board members, it would not necessarily guarantee the access to the equipment.

So will a Senate-conducted audit satisfy everyone?

“Heavens, no,” Fann said.

“But I am hoping we can satisfy 90% or 95%,” she said. “And I can’t do anything about the other 5%.”