Republican lawmakers will likely use results of the partisan Senate audit of the 2020 election in Maricopa County as a blueprint for changes to voting procedures and administration.
Audit contractors identified what they said were trouble spots, such as signature verification and people possibly voting from the wrong addresses, findings which county officials and election experts have disputed, saying there are innocuous explanations for things the audit report casts as possibly nefarious.
But some Republican lawmakers have made it clear they take the report’s findings, which were presented September 24 publicly, seriously and plan to act based on them.
“Arizona voters deserve an unimpeachable electoral process — and the State Senate is already working hard on new legislation to deliver that,” Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, wrote in a letter to Attorney General Mark Brnovich on September 24.
It is not a foregone conclusion that Republicans can pass much even in 2022. With the GOP holding two-vote majorities in both the House and Senate and with Democrats unlikely to support any bills stemming from what they call the “fraudit,” any audit-inspired legislation will require unanimous Republican support to pass. This includes the handful of Republicans who have either publicly expressed skepticism about the audit or who balked at similar changes to voting laws during this year’s session.
While this year’s legislative session produced plenty of concern for progressives, some highly publicized measures, such as a bill to increase ID requirements for voting by mail, failed to pass because just one or a couple of Republicans opposed them.
Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, who has been one of the few Republicans to publicly criticize the audit, said he doesn’t think the report revealed anything that needs to be addressed legislatively.
“Some of the recommendations there are already done in practice, or it’s already state law,” he said. “Now don’t get me wrong, I do think my colleagues are going to probably introduce about 100 bills on election law reform, but there’s nothing pressing on my end that I’m looking at right now. I guess I’d have to be shown and given a good argument on what’s deficient and how we fix it.”
Boyer said he thinks early voting works well in Arizona and that lawmakers have done a good job of working out the kinks over the years.
“You wouldn’t know that having watched that godawful hearing last Friday, but as far as I see it, we run a tight ship here in Arizona. … I think it’s working just great, and you know what? Until (President) Trump lost, so did everybody else,” he said.
Senate Government Committee Chairwoman Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, sponsored SB1485, a controversial measure to remove some voters from the Early Voting List that became one of the few Republican “election integrity” bills to pass this year. However, she has been criticized by some in her own party for holding up some of Sen. Kelly Townsend’s elections bills, and she publicly criticized the audit in July shortly after being booed off the stage at a Trump rally.
Ugenti-Rita said she plans to reintroduce a bill she sponsored this year that would increase the margin that triggers an automatic recount of votes in a close race. Her proposal would set it at 0.5% across the board, which would have triggered a recount of the close 2020 presidential race in Arizona.
Asked if the report by Cyber Ninjas, the contractor hired by Senate leadership, raised any new concerns for her that needed legislative action, Ugenti-Rita said, “there are a lot of things that could be done.”
“The process hopefully will be utilized the right way, so that we can vet proposals in a transparent process, and I look forward to being a part of that,” she said.
In some ways, the 2022 legislative session could be a reprise of 2021, which was marked by bitter partisan arguments over the audit and about new laws that Republicans said would guard against fraud, but Democrats called voter suppression.
Townsend, R-Mesa, who introduced numerous election-related bills this year only to see most of them stall, said in a Telegram message September 28, that she plans to revisit and resubmit all of them in 2022, along with some new proposals.
Fann and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, have also proposed some specific changes to election law and administration in response to the audit’s findings.
Fann told reporters after the audit report presentation that two legislative committees – the Judiciary Committee and the Special Committee on the Election Audit – may meet before the 2022 legislative session to review the results.
The Special Committee on the Election Audit was created in an expansive budget reconciliation bill that a Maricopa County Superior Court judge found unconstitutional on September 27. That case is still working its way through the courts.
While some audit supporters hoped for a special session, this seems unlikely. The Legislature can call a special session with a two-thirds vote, although this would require some Democratic support. Gov. Doug Ducey can call a special session on his own, but he appears to have ruled out the possibility.
“Any meaningful policy recommendations identified should be addressed in the next session of the legislature,” he said in a Twitter thread about the audit results on Sept. 24.
Fann acknowledged she likely doesn’t have the votes to call a special session.
“The other side of the aisle, they have opposed this all the way,” Fann said. “They’re probably not going to jump right in to say, ‘Yeah, we’ll vote for a special session,’ but we’re hoping there’s some good common ground that we can find here to at least get started.”
The Cyber Ninjas’ final hand count came out very close to Maricopa County’s certified ballot count – in fact, President Joe Biden’s margin in Maricopa County over former President Donald Trump went up by 360 votes in the Ninjas’ tally.
Some of Cyber Ninjas’ findings included people who might have voted by mail from the wrong address, problems with signature verification on mail-in ballots, 10,342 voters may have voted in Maricopa County and in other counties because they shared the same full name and birth year as someone who voted elsewhere, and deleted data, which the county said was simply archived, not deleted.
Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan drew cheers and applause from the mostly conservative crowd in the Senate chambers when, at the presentation of the audit report, he called for an end to voting by mail. And Fann, in her letter to Brnovich, said she wants “improvement and additional testing” to accept signatures on mail-in ballots.
“Signatures on mail-in ballots should not be accepted unless they closely match the voters’ authenticated signatures that are on file,” she wrote.
Fann also wrote that she wants to see “constant, unrelenting maintenance” of voter rolls, including correcting the registrations of people who move, die or are registered more than once. Some of the other changes she called for deal more with election administration than voting rights, such as requiring counties to preserve evidence of all elections and comply with future audits, and state-level oversight of election cybersecurity.
Fann accused the county of breaking laws in its handling of the election – something county officials deny – and said the Senate would look to see if its laws were strong enough, and if penalties should be added in.
“If you do not follow statutes, then you should be held accountable in one way or another,” Fann said.