AG rejects GOP lawmaker’s request for election fraud probe


Attorney General Mark Brnovich won’t be pursuing an investigation into the complaints aired at an ad-hoc forum of Republican lawmakers earlier this week.

In an email Thursday, Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Wright told Rep. Kelly Townsend, who asked for the probe, that her agency’s Elections Integrity Unit has received more than 2,000 complaints related to last month’s general election. And Wright told the Mesa Republican the office is “actively reviewing every credible allegation.”

But Wright told Townsend that much of what came out at that hearing, with a series of unsworn witnesses and people presenting statistical models questioning the election returns, got folded into a lawsuit filed in federal court by supporters of President Trump. She told the lawmaker that attorneys in her office will “monitor those proceedings.”

And as far as anything else, Wright said there’s only so much her office can do in launching a probe as the legislature has not given her office the power to issue civil subpoenas in election matters.

The correspondence drew an angry response from Townsend who was one of the lawmakers who helped push last year to establish the Elections Integrity Unit.

“What I plan to do this next session is to defund the unit because it’s not performing how we expected it to,” said Townsend who will be a state senator next year. Instead, she would put it into the Auditor General’s Office, which is a branch of the legislature, and give that agency the subpoena power that the attorney general’s office says it lacks.

A spokeswoman for Brnovich declined to comment.

Townsend said that doesn’t mean she’s giving up in her efforts to get an inquiry into what she said are credible claims of irregularities in the election, specifically in the certification that Democrat Joe Biden outpolled the president.

In fact, she said she was in Tucson on Thursday to launch her own probe into allegations. And Townsend said she has a donor — she did not name names — who has pledged $500,000 to hire legal help to pursue any legal remedies.


Arizona AG seeks probe of election integrity group

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich gestures and smiles during his visit to the Yuma Sun in Yuma, Ariz., Thursday morning, June 2, 2022. (Randy Hoeft/Yuma Sun via AP)

Arizona’s Republican attorney general, Mark Brnovich, on Friday asked the FBI and IRS to look into an election integrity group that claimed to have uncovered widespread fraud in the 2020 election but never provided evidence. 

True the Vote, a nonprofit organization, has raised “considerable sums of money” on its claim that it had evidence of widespread fraud and may have broken federal tax laws, Reggie Grigsby, a criminal investigator in Brnovich’s office, wrote to federal authorities. 

Leaders from True The Vote promised repeatedly over the course of a year to provide data supporting their claim that people illegally collected ballots and delivered them to drop boxes during the 2020 election, Grigsby wrote. 

The claim was at the center of “2,000 Mules,” a debunked film that was aggressively promoted by former President Donald Trump to back up his claim he lost the presidency because of fraud. 

But True the Vote Founder Catherine Engelbrecht and contractor Gregg Phillips never provided the data they promised to the attorney general’s office despite claiming publicly that they had, Grigsby wrote. In June, they told state investigators they had given their data to the FBI while telling the FBI that the materials were given to the attorney general’s office. 

Representatives from the organization did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday evening. 

Promises to investigate and expose fraud are a big fundraising draw among Trump supporters who believe the former president’s claims about the 2020 election. Several groups, for example, raised more than $5 million for a discredited audit of the 2020 election in Maricopa County, Arizona. That audit was conducted by Trump supporters on behalf of state Senate Republicans. 

Federal and state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general have said there is no credible evidence the 2020 election was tainted. Trump’s allegations of fraud were also roundly rejected by courts, including by judges he appointed. 

The referral to federal investigators is notable from Brnovich, who put his election investigations at the center of his unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate. Brnovich’s campaign struggled after Trump assailed him for failing to arrest people based on discredited claims from the Maricopa County audit and the “2,000 Mules” film. 


Attorney: Audit contract looks ‘cut and paste’

Voters deliver their ballot to a polling station, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Voters deliver their ballot to a polling station, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Those looking for a step-by-step plan for the Arizona Senate audit of Maricopa County 2020 ballots won’t find it in the cybersecurity firm contractor’s statement of work or master services agreement. 

The Senate’s contract with Cyber Ninjas, the leading firm for the audit that kicked off this week, displays a concerning lack of clarity and methodology and a general shoddiness indicative of rushed workmanship, according to contract lawyer Jay Calhoun of The Calhoun Law Firm, who reviewed the contract. 

One of the first concerns that jumped out at Calhoun when she looked over the master services agreement and statement of work was that it uses different fonts throughout, signifying a cut-and-paste approach to writing contracts.  

“It’s clearly a cut-and-paste job,” Calhoun said, adding that one of the documents still included unaccepted track changes. 

Officials wait to unload election equipment into the Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the state fairgrounds, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in Phoenix. Maricopa County officials began delivering equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden on Wednesday and will move 2.1 million ballots to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden's victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Officials wait to unload election equipment into the Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the state fairgrounds, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in Phoenix. Maricopa County officials began delivering equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden on Wednesday and will move 2.1 million ballots to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden’s victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Beyond the master services agreement and the statement of work, the Senate does not have any additional contracts or other written agreements with Cyber Ninjas, the Senate’s public records attorney Norm Moore wrote in response to a records request. The Senate did not have other records relating to the steps or procedures that would be followed in each phase of the audit, according to Moore’s response. 

First Amendment attorney Dan Barr said because the Senate approved having the audit, it would make sense for it to be paying close attention to what its contractors are doing, who is doing it and what private groups are paying money into it.  

“I would think they would want to show that this audit is legitimate and aboveboard,” Barr said. “You can’t do that unless you are closely auditing what the auditors are doing.” 

And when it comes to what the auditors are doing, that’s not spelled out in the statement of work. Calhoun was concerned about the lack of clarity in the firms’ statement of work methodology section, which encompasses a total of four lines, calling the brevity “ridiculous.” For example, the proposed scope of work section says there will be forensic images taken and reviewed, but it doesn’t say what analysis will be performed.  

“It’s going to be very difficult to replicate their audit if we don’t know how they went about doing it,” she said. 

The language used in the methodology section appeared crafted with a certain result in mind, she said, pointing to phrases like “issues where results may have been manipulated in the software.”  

“The word ‘manipulated’ is so intentional,” Calhoun said. “Instead of saying ‘issues where results may have mistakenly been changed,’ the agreement does not suggest that. They use the word manipulated, which is a loaded term.”  

Dan Barr
Dan Barr

Calhoun said many of the provisions are conclusory, making statements as fact without evidence to back them up. For example, it refers to providing “proper personnel” to conduct analysis without defining what constitutes proper personnel.  

“Cyber Ninjas has already assumed that there’s going to be a problem,” she said. 

The Senate also agrees in the contract to “defend, indemnify and hold harmless” Cyber Ninjas for a host of potential problems with the audit, including if a third party, such as Dominion Voting Systems whose voting machines are used in Maricopa County, sues. 

That protection extends to “allegations related to the analysis of any third party’s systems or processes or to the decryption, analysis of, collection or transfer of data to Contractor,” essentially putting any legal ramification to the audit on the Senate, rather than the company it hired.  

There’s also a provision that says Cyber Ninjas is not liable for claims arising from any action the contractor takes that was directed or approved by the Senate.  

“They’re saying no matter what they do, if someone brings an action against them, the state is going to defend them,” Calhoun said.  

Calhoun found it odd that Cyber Ninjas issued a master services agreement, not a simple service agreement. While Calhoun deals with federal contracts, not state contracts, she said she hadn’t seen a contractor issue a master services agreement to the government – usually it’s the other way around.  

Calhoun also said she’d like to get a copy of Cyber Ninja’s errors and omissions insurance policy. E&O insurance helps protect companies from lawsuits related to their negligence or mistakes. 

The Senate does not have a copy of the policy in its possession, Moore wrote in response to a records request. Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan did not respond to an email requesting information about the policy. 

Calhoun also doesn’t see how Cyber Ninjas or the other firms can make a profit off this project.  

“A recount is not inexpensive, so how [Cyber Ninjas] is going to do all of it with two additional companies for $150,000 just blows my mind,” she said.  

The audit will almost certainly cost more than $150,000, and Senate liaison and former Secretary of State Ken Bennett has said the Senate is looking to private sources for additional funding. One America News Network has already raised more than $150,000 for the audit. The far-right cable news network is also livestreaming the audit at azaudit.org. 

While there’s a process by which the Senate can accept funds through Legislative Council, if the funds are provided directly to Cyber Ninjas, it’s unlikely the public will be able to find out where that money is coming from.  

Bennett, on KJZZ’s The Show last week said he hopesti people will be able to find out who pays for the audit. But he offered no assurances.  

“I would hope all of those things will become public knowledge,” Bennett said, again noting that the project will likely run over budget and “there’s talk of grants and other sorts of things to make up that difference.”  

If the company is being subsidized directly by donations, rather than through donations to the Senate, the public may not be able to request that information from Cyber Ninjas. The Senate’s contract doesn’t require the company to disclose that. 

That being said, just because Cyber Ninjas or Senate Republicans say something is confidential in their agreement doesn’t mean that it is, in fact, confidential, Barr said. 

“Here there is a vital interest to the public to know how this money is being spent and what it is being used for, and to know the process and the validity of the product being done by out-of-state Cyber Ninja people, especially since the owner of the group has publicly declared that he thinks all election fraud occurred in the first place,” Barr said. 

Audit attorney asks for secrecy of policies, procedures

Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan, left, a Florida-based consultancy, and former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, right, talk about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix. The equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden and the 2.1 million ballots were moved to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden's victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan, left, a Florida-based consultancy, and former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, right, talk about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix. The equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden and the 2.1 million ballots were moved to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden’s victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The attorney for the private firm hired by the Senate to audit the 2020 election is trying to deny public access to the policies and procedures they are using to audit the returns.

And Alexander Kolodin, who represents Cyber Ninjas, also contends the firm is not required to ensure that the 2.1 million ballots they have are being reviewed by bipartisan teams.

In new legal filings, Kolodin said he is providing the information demanded last week by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury after the Arizona Democratic Party filed suit. That ranges from how the company ensures the chain of custody for the 2.1 million ballots it now has as well as the election equipment turned over by Maricopa County to issues of signature verification.

But he contends it is not in the public interest to let Arizonans see them.

“It is no secret that this audit is an emotional issue,” Kolodin wrote. “There exists a subset of individuals that might utilize such documents as a roadmap to breach the audit’s security and thereby cause the very harms (the Democratic Party) ostensibly seek to prevent.”

Anyway, he argued, the documents about the firm’s practices contain “trade secrets.”

The move is drawing opposition from the First Amendment Coalition, which represents various media organizations.

In his own legal filing, attorney Dan Barr said there is a presumption that all records, including those produced in litigation, are public.

He acknowledged there are some exceptions. But Barr said the claim by Cyber Ninjas that all of its policies constitute trade secrets holds no water.

If there are valid concerns, he said, the company could file a redacted version, with all the secrets blacked out, with a full version filed with that court. That, Barr said, would let a judge determine if any of this really needs to be withheld from the public.

“It is difficult to conceive of a case that warrants transparency more than this one,” he wrote, noting that Cyber Ninjas is a private firm which has “unfettered access” to the ballots and to information about Maricopa County voters.

“The public, especially 2.1 million Maricopa County voters, has a personal stake in knowing how Cyber Ninjas handles their personal information, including names, addresses, and signatures and whether their fundamental right to have their vote remain secret shall be preserved,” Barr wrote. “The public also maintains an exceedingly important interest in knowing that the integrity of the election and their votes will not be compromised.”

And Barr said this is especially critical given that Cyber Ninjas has never conducted an election audit and that Doug Logan, its CEO, has “a history of overt partisanship in favor of the presidential candidate who lost the election.”

All this comes amid questions about how the audit is being conducted.

The Democratic Party lawsuit contends that the processes being used by Cyber Ninjas to review the ballots and the election equipment violates various election laws. It’s attorney, Roopali Desai, wants a judge to halt the process unless and until the company — and the Senate which hired it — can show there are safeguards in place to protect the security of the ballots and the equipment.

That question of how the audit is being conducted and whether it is fair also figure into Kolodin’s claim that Cyber Ninjas is not required to have bipartisan panels review the ballots they are counting.

Kolodin acknowledged that state law requires the election boards that review ballots to have “as equal as practicable representation of the members of the two largest parties” on these review panels.

But Kolodin said that, as far as his client is concerned, that doesn’t apply.

“Cyber Ninjas, however, is not an election board and has not been hired to conduct an election for the purpose of declaring candidates elected or not elected,” he wrote. Instead, Kolodin said, the firm was hired to develop a report for the Senate about the conduct of the 2020 election, information he said the Senate can use to decide whether to enact changes to the law.

And Kolodin said, his client can’t make such decisions.

“Unlike a board of elections, Cyber Ninjas, as a government contractor, and like a government in other contexts, does not believe it is required, or even permitted, to make hiring decisions on the basis of political affiliation,” he said.

Anyway, Kolodin said, finding Democrats has proven difficult after Raquel Teran, who chairs the party, announced that it would not participate in what it sees as “sham audits.”

“The Arizona Democratic Party certainly has a First Amendment right to instruct its members not to participate in the audit,” he said. Yet at the same time, Kolodin noted, the party filed suit seeking to halt the audit because it was not being conducted in a lawful manner.

“Seeking to have this court compel equal representation of Democrats on the counting floor while working to make that impossible is not good faith litigation conduct,” he said, and can’t be used to stop the audit until it meets certain standards.

A hearing had been scheduled on the issues for Monday. But that was before Maricopa County Christopher Coury, a 2010 appointee of Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, realized that one of the attorneys working with Kolodin had done some work with his office.

Coury disqualified himself, and the case was reassigned to Judge Daniel Martin, a 2007 appointee of Gov. Janet Napolitano, who has yet to set a new hearing.


Audit probe poses problem for next AG

The extraordinary interim report that Attorney General Mark Brnovich issued on his election fraud investigation last week indicated that the probe might take months or even years to finish, which suggests it might not be over by the time Brnovich leaves office next January.

That means the controversial and politically charged investigation could be dropped in the lap of the state’s next attorney general.

If that’s Kris Mayes, the lone Democrat running for the job, investigators will likely find themselves packing up the boxes soon after she takes office.

Kris Mayes

“This is a purely political investigation that is a waste of taxpayer dollars, and it needs to come to an end,” Mayes said. “Obviously, I would take a look at anything that he (Brnovich) had gathered, but so far, it would appear to be a big goose egg.”

But at least one of the Republicans running to replace Brnovich has different plans, and others are striking a cautious tone about what they’d do if the case ends up on their desk.

Abe Hamadeh, who touts his connections to Trump circles, said he would review the available information and thinks legal action will be warranted. “The overwhelming publicly available evidence shows that the 2020 election was rotten, rigged, and corrupt to the core – and if Brnovich doesn’t get the job done, I will,” he said in a statement provided by a spokeswoman.

Chuck Coughlin, a longtime GOP consultant, said he’s heard several of the Republican AG candidates struggle to articulate a response to questions about where they stand on allegations of widespread election fraud.

“I think they know that the right thing to say is, ‘No, there’s been no credible evidence, but if any is brought before me, I’ll prosecute that to the full extent of the law.’ But none of them really have navigated to that point,” he said. “It’s very much a tiptoe dance through the minefield.”

Andrew Gould, an establishment conservative who Doug Ducey appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court in 2016, simply said he’ll complete the investigation. “If there is sufficient evidence of civil or criminal violations, I will fulfill my duty under the law and prosecute those cases. If, however, there is insufficient evidence, I will not prosecute,” he said in a statement emailed by a spokeswoman.

Tiffany Shedd, a private practice attorney and two-time congressional candidate, said in a statement that “election integrity will be a top priority” if she’s elected AG and “when I am attorney general, election fraud will always be prosecuted,” though she didn’t say if she thinks there was fraud in the 2020 election.

Rodney Glassman, a onetime Tucson City Council member and perennial candidate for public office, promised that he’ll wrap things up quickly one way or another. “I will at least triple the size of the Election Integrity Unit and within 30 days of taking office I will either file charges or close the investigation into the 2020 election,” he said in a statement.

Trump’s will

While several reviews of Arizona’s 2020 election have failed to come up with any evidence of widespread fraud, Republican candidates are facing pressure to fall in line with former President Donald Trump’s insistence that he was the rightful winner of the contest, not Joe Biden. Trump, and some GOP figures like gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, have called on the AG to criminally indict election workers that they insist committed fraud.

Without evidence, that’s a tough spot for a prosecutor to be in.

Terry Goddard

Terry Goddard, a Democrat who served as Attorney General from 2003 to 2011, said that, even though the AG is a partisan elected office, there’s little room for politics in actual law enforcement.

“You’re (the attorney general) political, and it’s naive to say you’re not. And you’re going to have some political judgments in terms of the discretionary aspects of your office,” he said. “But as to the enforcement of the law, as to the investigation of a state agency, I really don’t see that, Republican or Democrat, you have much leeway.”

The race for the GOP nomination for attorney general is crowded, but polling suggests no candidate has a commanding lead. An April poll from GOP firm Data Orbital found Glassman at the head of the pack with support of 8.4% of respondents, followed closely by Gould and Shedd, but 63% of respondents were still undecided. Hamadeh trailed the pack with 3.4%. (Candidates Lacy Cooper and Dawn Grove didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story.)

Brnovich, who’s locked in his own tight race for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, has hyped up the election investigation, even in the absence of evidence of serious criminal wrongdoing. “He’s … set up an expectation that this investigation is going to lead someplace criminally,” said Barrett Marson, a Republican consultant who has done work for Blake Masters’ Senate campaign.

But even as he’s insinuated suspicions of criminality, the AG has also pushed back on calls for action by saying the work will take time. “Investigations (civil and criminal) of this magnitude and complexity take many months if not years to complete,” he wrote in the April 6 interim report.

Mark Brnovich

In an interview on KTAR April 8, Brnovich dodged a question about whether there would be a full report before the primary or general elections this year. “Yeah, I think it’s important to have certainty with our elections as we go into the next cycle. … I assure you that I will not leave a mess for the next attorney general,” he said.

The Attorney General’s Office didn’t respond to an email from the Arizona Capitol Times asking about the timeline for completing the investigation and whether it would be done by the time Brnovich leaves office next January.

For Goddard, dragging the investigation on and offering inconclusive updates like last week’s interim report is a problem.

“There is an obligation to – whenever you can, and consistent with the facts and justice – to get closure. That’s one of the things the legal system does,” he said. “This result is not closure.”

That’s a sentiment shared by some GOP candidates as well, even if they aren’t as vocal about what kind of conclusion they expect to come to.

“Voters deserve to know what happened in 2020 before heading to the ballot box in 2022,” Glassman said. “Unfortunately, it seems Attorney General Brnovich will not be giving them that clarity. As attorney general, I will.”


Audit: election mishaps due to faulty equipment, no backup plan


Malfunctioning voting equipment and the lack of a back-up plan led to 62 polling locations opening late for the Aug. 28 primary election, the Maricopa County auditors concluded.

The Maricopa County Internal Audit Department conducted a review of the election-day mishaps and found they were tied to the county’s electronic voter check-in and ballot printing system, which was first used in the November 2017 municipal elections and the special election for Congressional District 8 in February.

The review found that the county’s electronic voter check-in system, SiteBooks, which was used at all 463 polling locations and 40 vote centers, didn’t work at the polling locations that opened late.

The Recorder’s Office denied many of the auditor’s findings, which were made public Sept. 21.

According to the report, which included the Recorder’s Office’s response to the auditors’ recommendations, the Recorder’s Office said it had already addressed many of the issues the auditors brought up.

The Recorder’s Office challenged the auditors’ claim that the office didn’t have a contingency plan in place in case equipment malfunctioned.

The office said that had it not been for 40 voting centers, places where voters from any precinct can drop their ballots, the office would not have handled the record turnout.

“The plan worked,” the office wrote in response.

The Recorder’s Office also said that the auditors’ assertion that there were no procedures in place to address long lines at polling locations was “false.” The office said additional staff and equipment was deployed to two locations in the county with long lines, and the office said that the SiteBooks check-in system allowed the lines to move quickly.

The Recorder’s Office also said that a contractor’s failure to provide enough technicians to properly set up the voting equipment “should not be considered as a particular fault of the Elections Department, but that of the contractor who did not perform on the guarantee.”

The Recorder’s Office had previously stated that an information technology contractor hired to set up and test the voting equipment did not deploy enough technicians to properly set up the machinery, which led to many of the problems on election day. The county review did not examine the Recorder’s Office use of an outside contractor to set up voter check-in systems at the polling locations. Maricopa County Auditor Michael McGee said auditors are still reviewing information related to those services.

The report showed that auditors found that only contracted technicians were authorized and trained to set up SiteBook equipment, and the county did not have a backup plan in place if a technician failed to show up at the scheduled time to set up the voting equipment. Poll Workers, county inspectors and troubleshooters were not trained to set up SiteBooks and could not diagnose or address equipment issues that came up, the report showed.

Auditors also found that the county did not have any plans in place to provide onsite voting options to voters if the SiteBooks system wasn’t working, forcing voters to cast their ballot at one of the 40 vote centers.

The preliminary review was requested by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. Additional information from the audit department is expected to be released at a later date, the county said.

The board of supervisors also approved $200,000 in funding to hire an external firm to review primary election processes. BerryDunn, a CPA and consulting firm, has been hired to carry out the review.

According to the report, in addition to equipment malfunctions, auditors found that while election inspectors and troubleshooters received some training related to the vote centers, many poll workers did not. The auditors recommended that in addition to better training employees and poll workers, the county also needed to do a better job of communicating the differences between using a vote center and a traditional polling location.  

The report showed that the auditors also found that the Recorder’s Office did not have any procedures in place to address long lines at certain polling places, such as redeploying voting equipment and resources from a low-trafficked location. The auditors said that was one issue that needed to be addressed if in-person voting during the general election was expected to reach more than 240,000 voters.

In a separate report released by the Recorder’s Office, a timeline shows that the contractor, Insight, confirmed via email two days before the primary election that 91 technicians would be available on Aug. 27 to set up and test voting equipment. County officials received word the next day that the contractor was behind schedule and had only about half as many contractors in the field as promised.

The county reported that as of 2:35 p.m. on Aug. 27, only 187 of the 459 polling locations had been set up by contract technicians. Insight officials told county staff that any sites that weren’t set up by end of day Aug. 27 would be set up the following morning before polling locations were set to open. It is estimated that 72 sites still needed to be set up the morning of the election.

The Recorder’s report shows that five of the 62 polling locations that failed to open by 6 a.m. on election day were up and running by 6:10 a.m. All polling locations were online by 11:33 a.m.

In response to the county’s review, the Recorder’s Office said while the office relied on a “reactive” model requiring poll workers to call in with issues during the primary election, going forward, the elections department will use a new dashboard system for monitoring equipment. The office said the dashboard is currently being designed and should be ready for testing and implementation before the general election.

The Recorder’s Office also said because it does not plan to hire an outside contractor to help with equipment set up for the general election, the office has asked the county manager for 100 extra county staff members to be designated to assist with set up. The Recorder’s Office is also actively hiring additional staff and plans to train troubleshooters and poll workers to set up and connect the equipment.

Auditors hide donors, look for secret watermarks on ballots

Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan, left, a Florida-based consultancy, talks about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican lead Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, as a Cyber Ninjas IT technician demonstrates a ballot scan during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix. The equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden and the 2.1 million ballots were moved to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden's victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan, left, a Florida-based consultancy, talks about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican lead Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, as a Cyber Ninjas IT technician demonstrates a ballot scan during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

What the Senate election audit lacks in transparency, it makes up for in QAnon conspiracy theories. 

From the Arizona Senate to the cybersecurity company overseeing the audit of nearly 2.1 million ballots from the November election, everyone involved has said one way or another that they want and hope to be transparent about the process, but to date, there is little evidence to support those claims.  

While media outlets across the state had to fight and threaten legal action to receive limited access to the Madhouse on McDowell – dubbed so decades ago for raucous Phoenix Suns games – unanswered, important questions still hang in the air.  


Former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, the Senate liaison for the audit, hasn’t disclosed any private contributors helping to fund the audit. The Senate and Cyber Ninjas, the firm overseeing the process, agreed on a $150,000 contract that will come from taxpayers, but it is known that there is a lot of money pouring in from outside sources, including One America News Network, which pushes the far-right agenda.  

Bennett has stated his intention for transparency on the private funding, but has yet to accomplish that.  

Bennett said April 27 he will try to have the money go through the state Senate so it can be tracked as a public record. Currently, the private money is going directly to Cyber Ninjas, whose CEO Doug Logan has repeatedly refused to disclose any information. 

“I am going to fight with every ounce of breath I have to make sure that all of that money goes through the Arizona Senate, and is publicly disclosed,” Bennett said. 

If any money does go to the Senate, it would go through the Legislative Council, not directly to senators. 

However, according to Legislative Council, the body that would actually accept any “gifts” the Senate receives, no one has asked about the possibility of setting up a mechanism to receive these donations.  

Mike Braun, Legislative Council executive director, said Arizona Capitol Times reporters were the only ones who have even broached the topic to him.  

He said that this isn’t one of those times where “the answer is no, but the check will be here by two o’clock.”  

“Nobody’s ever talked to us about setting it up or doing it, or what the requirements would be,” Braun said.  

Bennett declined to say whether former President Trump was sending money to back the audit, but he said MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell has not donated money.  

While simultaneously claiming the money would become public, Bennett plugged the Trump-friendly One America New Network-backed 501(c)(4) organizations fundraising for the audit, directing people to its website to donate during the brief press conference.  

He said the source of those nonprofits’ funding will “get disclosed … when all the 501(c)(4) contributors get disclosed.” That might be a while, considering 501(c)(4) organizations are “dark money” nonprofits that aren’t required to disclose donors. 

Bennett also urged people to visit a website if they wanted to give money to the audit. The site – also a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization – is hoping to raise $2.8 million. The nonprofit, The America Project, is run by former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, who has close ties to Trump, Lindell and others in that inner circle.  

Meanwhile, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled on April 28 that policies and procedures for the audit conducted by Cyber Ninjas and its subcontractors is considered a public record, but the ruling is likely pending appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court.  

To date, a coalition of media publications had to fight with the Senate, Bennett and Cyber Ninjas over allowing members of the press to be in the room as the audit is being conducted. It took until the fourth day of counting ballots before media got inside Veterans Memorial Coliseum to report. From day one of the auditing process, media outlets could only gain access to the venue if they volunteered to participate as an observer without being able to report, but attorneys for media organizations struck a deal to allow one pool reporter at a time in. 

Before that, only one reporter, Jen Fifield from The Arizona Republic, was granted access (a Capitol Times reporter was denied after signing up) and became a key part of the story when she noticed blue pens were about to be used and urged Logan to remedy it.  

Now, there’s a rotation of media outlets who can observe from the bleachers inside the coliseum during several shifts in a day. 


While Arizona media fights for access, journalists and election officials are also fighting to debunk persisting conspiracy theories Bennett and others involved with the audit are pushing.  

The 2020 election gave rise to many conspiracy theories of a stolen election, and some are still alive as auditors count the ballots.  

The most prevalent conspiracy theory is that the auditors are using ultraviolet light to scan ballots to look for secret watermarks the Trump administration placed on “official ballots.”  

That repeatedly-debunked theory began from the QAnon community. 

QAnon emerged after Trump’s election, claiming that Trump is fighting an elite cabal of business leaders, celebrities, media professionals and politicians engaged in Satanic worship and child sex trafficking. 

One of its rumored leaders, who might be “Q” himself, according to a recent HBO documentary series is Ron Watkins, who does not live in the United States. He has gotten heavily involved with the Maricopa County audit through the instant-messaging app Telegram. Watkins, on the social media channels he has not been banned from, goes by the moniker CodeMonkeyZ. He has posted more than a dozen times about the audit, claiming he has seen wrongdoing on the livestream cameras. 

Bennett would not answer questions about Watkins’ possible involvement.  

It’s unclear how involved Watkins is in the audit, but there is a host of connections between him and the auditors, including that Watkins and Cyber Ninja CEO Doug Logan retweeted each other after the election. 

Watkins claimed Trump actually received 200,000 more votes in Arizona than he did, which Logan shared on his now-deleted account.  

On the message board, Watkins commented that he has been talking with Bobby Piton, a mathematician and investment manager who has theorized that the election was stolen. Piton attended the unofficial legislative hearing in November at the Hyatt in Phoenix as an expert witness and posted on social media that he spent “12 hours working on AZ Data” over the weekend.  

The two agree that UV light will expose all the fake votes. 

“Called [Piton] earlier and had a chat about the potential use of the UV light station,” Watkins wrote. “Since UV is able to detect oil from fingerprints, if there are no fingerprints on the ballot then the likelihood of the ballot being marked through a non-human process is high.”  

Watkins also complained that volunteers weren’t doing the UV process properly. 

In an interview with Newsmax, another right-wing channel, Bennett confirmed they were looking for watermarks.   

Maricopa County Elections Department recently said their ballots do not have watermarks on them. 

Bennett said auditors “are looking for a lot of things” with the UV light. 

Boyer kills Senate bid to force supervisors to comply with subpoenas

Paul Boyer
Paul Boyer

A Republican senator single-handedly killed a resolution that could have sent Maricopa county supervisors to jail, arguing that the Senate and the county need more time to reach a compromise over a proposed election audit. 

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, joined all 14 Senate Democrats to vote against the contempt resolution, killing it with a 15-15 vote. If it had passed, the resolution would have authorized Senate President Karen Fann to send the chamber’s sergeant at arms to arrest the five members of the GOP-controlled county board.

Supervisors have been in the county’s crosshairs since shortly after the election, when they certified election results that many legislative Republicans refused to accept. Boyer was the first Republican lawmaker to publicly state that the election was over and call for his peers to accept President Biden’s victory. 

Boyer said he had made up his mind last week to vote for the resolution, but he changed it after thinking about the contempt vote all weekend. His vote will buy more time for the two parties to work out an agreement, he said. 

“Today’s ‘no’ vote merely provides a little bit more time for us to work together charitably and as friends for the sole purpose of gaining more clarity,” Boyer said. “This is not a final determination, nor is this the end of the process.”

It took his fellow Republicans by surprise, and clearly irritated Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, who summoned Boyer to her desk to privately lecture him and then used part of her own speaking time to plead with him to change his vote. 

“I am hoping someone might change their vote and let this pass so we can move forward,” Fann said.

Boyer looked up from his cell phone and shook his head near the end of the debate as a failed Republican legislative candidate tweeted his personal cell number and urged her followers to inundate him with calls . 

Fann’s plea followed more than an hour of debate, during which Democrats stayed silent while Republicans tried to alternately cajole and coerce Boyer into changing his vote. Republican Sens. Rick Gray, Vince Leach, J.D. Mesnard, Michelle Ugenti-Rita and Warren Petersen each spent several minutes kneeling beside Boyer’s desk or bending over to talk to him.

Petersen said the county has no interest in working with the Senate and accused the board members of lying. As Senate Judiciary committee chairman, he has been most involved in the months-long court battle with the board of supervisors.

“When it comes to obstruction, lies and deception, the Maricopa County Board gets an A-plus,” he said.

Petersen also spoke directly to Boyer, asking him whether the supervisors fulfilled the subpoena the Senate issued. The supervisors maintain that they cannot legally turn over ballots because of an Arizona law that states that ballots must be kept private. Absent a court order, the supervisors have declared they will not share the materials.  

 “They thought they could peel off one of our Republican Senators. It sounds like they may have. I hope that’s not the case,” Petersen said.

Sen. Kelly Townsend, participating by Zoom because she refuses to wear a mask in the chamber, chimed in “They did.” She berated Boyer during her own comments as well. 

“If you say you’re going to vote with your caucus and you don’t, your word is never going to be trusted again,” she said.

And in a statement several senators took as an incitement to political violence, Townsend ended her speech by saying the public would take care of what the Senate wouldn’t. 

“This shouldn’t fall into the hands of the public… when they’re so lathered up. So public, do what you gotta do,” she said. 

Her on-mic comments followed an offhand utterance from Sen. David Gowan that the county supervisors should “vote right” after Boyer said no elected officials should face harassment at their homes or receive death threats. 

While the contempt resolution is dead — at least for now — the battle over legislative subpoenas and audits continues. Supervisors have asked the Maricopa County Superior Court to weigh in on whether the Senate’s subpoena is lawful, and the two parties are expected to return to court in the coming weeks. 

Meanwhile, the county’s own audits into election equipment, which began last week, continued today.  

Boyer, with help, nixes six election bills

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, speaks at an event hosted by Arizona Talks at Greenwood Brewing in Phoenix on March 1, 2022. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Senate President Karen Fann pleaded with her chamber on March 9.  

“I am hoping that a couple more people might change their votes,” the Prescott Republican said as the chamber voted to kill Senate Bill 1629. “I believe that this is a good bill, and it’s a good bill for all the right reasons.” 

Senate Bill 1629 is one of the most wide-ranging election bills that the Senate voted on earlier this week. But it turned out to be a frustrating few days for the Republican Senators who’ve talked for months about using the 2022 legislative session to make substantial changes to Arizona election laws in the wake of the 2020 election audit. 

Several of the bills that failed this week were opposed by the Senate Democrats plus Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale. The GOP’s 16-14 Senate majority means Boyer’s willingness to play spoiler is enough to kill legislation on its own. 

Michelle Ugenti-Rita

But Boyer was also joined by, at different moments, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, and Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, in nixing election laws supported by most of their caucus. Rogers declined to comment on her vote. (Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, voted against one of her own election bills but said she did it so she can bring the bill back for reconsideration.) 

On March 7, Fann couldn’t muster the votes for three bills that would have added rules about the pens used by voters, the way hand audits are conducted and the Attorney General’s election enforcement powers. 

Boyer alone blocked Senate Bill 1475, which sought to give the AG enforcement authority over federal elections. (For now, the office is tasked with enforcing the law just for state elections.) Ugenti-Rita and Boyer voted down Senate Bill 1478, which would have prohibited counties from handing out pens that could bleed through ballot paper, and Senate Bill 1358, which would have added some additional leg work on hand-count audits in counties that use voting centers. 

On March 9 the Senate considered another slate of election laws including Senate Bill 1629. 

The bill was introduced in late January, on the same day that House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, killed another piece of election legislation in dramatic fashion. House Bill 2596 would have all but eliminated early voting, required a hand count of ballots, and given the legislature power to accept or reject election results. Bowers assigned the bill to all 12 House committees, effectively ensuring the full chamber would never even get the chance to vote on it. 

Senate Bill 1629 was received as a potentially more moderate approach to election legislation that still would have pleased fans of last year’s partisan election audit like Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, who was the prime sponsor of the bill. Another 12 Senate Republicans co-sponsored the bill, which would require more frequent election audits, add regulations on ballot drop boxes and change how election officers are trained. In Maricopa and Pima counties, it would require biannual audits by the Auditor General’s Office – and the bill includes a $4.6 million appropriation to the office for election audits. 

Boyer said he supported provisions of the bill relating to ballot images and voter roll maintenance but couldn’t stomach the time and resource costs of the additional audits. “I would like to see the other two pieces move forward if that’s possible, but as far as it stands, because of the auditor general piece, I can’t support this, so I vote no.” he said. 

In total, nine election bills came to the Senate floor and died there this week, but that doesn’t mean we’ve seen that last of them. Borrelli and Townsend are both committed to bringing back their election bills this session. It’s possible they can get Ugenti-Rita on board. 

Ugenti-Rita said after the vote that her objection to the election bills is that the language in some seem to overlap or contradict one another.  “You don’t just throw a bunch of stuff on the board haphazardly,” Ugenti-Rita said. “How these things are drafted, the unintended consequences, how they’re going to be implemented matters, and I care very much about the quality of the policy.”  

She confirmed that if the language is cleared up to her satisfaction, she could swing to a ‘yes’ vote, but Boyer is seemingly set on his ‘no’ votes and can continue to kill these bills without other Republicans in his corner. 

On March 9, Fann waited about 10 seconds after her plea for Senators who’d voted ‘no’ to switch to ‘yes’ on Senate Bill 1629. Then she decided that it wasn’t going to happen. “It appears I have no one changing their vote,” she said with a resigned chuckle. “It’s a sad day. I’m sorry that we could not make these changes for the benefit of the voters.” 


Certain facts bear repeating over and over

Dear Editor:

The calendar year for the Legislature is over except for an ongoing audit that perpetuates fear mongering, misinformation, and blatant accusations that cannot be proven. This beautiful state makes national news for all the wrong reasons. It is a travesty that people continue to believe this farce that has no merit, substance, or truth. The individuals who wish to destroy a fair and certified election have no respect, conscious, or moral compass for the office they swore to uphold.

This audit is like a metastasize cancer; there is no good ending. Unlike a growing tumor, this sickness can and should be stopped. Sadly, voter suppression in Arizona is alive and well to the chagrin of those who treasure their right to vote. Why not put the people of Arizona first and stop harming our treasured democracy?  Millions of dollars have been wasted on the obsession to reverse the 2020 election results.  Arizona is suffering irrefutable damage because of the BIG LIE.

Joanie Rose



County wants Senate to pay $2.8M for voting machines

Some of the 2.1 million ballots cast during the 2020 election, are brought in for recounting at a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican lead Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix. The equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden and the 2.1 million ballots were moved to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden's victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Some of the 2.1 million ballots cast during the 2020 election, are brought in for recounting at a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican lead Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix. The equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden and the 2.1 million ballots were moved to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden’s victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Maricopa County officials are sending a bill for $2.8 million to the state Senate to cover the cost of having to acquire new voting machines. 

But don’t look for Senate President Karen Fann to pull out her checkbook any time soon. 

In his letter to Fann, Tom Liddy, chief of the civil division of the county, reminded her that she signed a formal “Covenant of Indemnification” to cover any expenses that the county incurred as a result of the subpoenaed election equipment being damaged. 

More to the point, Liddy said that agreement said the Senate would cover the costs of the equipment being “otherwise compromised.” And he said the pact makes the Senate liable for “without limitation expenses associated with procuring new equipment.” 

What makes that necessary, Liddy said, is a conclusion by Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who is the state’s chief election officer, that the county can no longer use the equipment it had been leasing from Dominion Voting Systems once it was turned over to Cyber Ninjas, the private firm Fann hired to conduct an audit of the 2020 election. 

Hobbs said security experts told her that once the county lost custody and control of the voting systems, “these devices should not be reused in future elections.” 

“Rather, decommissioning and replacing those devices is the safest option as no methods exist to adequately ensure those machines are safe to use in future elections,” Hobbs wrote to the Board of Supervisors. “Instead, the county should acquire new machines to ensure secure and accurate elections in Maricopa County going forward.” 

And that, Liddy told Fann, is what the county intends to do – with the Senate picking up the cost. 

“It would be inequitable to allow the Senate to escape the requirements of the Covenant of Indemnification – especially when the Senate should have reasonably foreseen that placing the county’s equipment in the hands of unqualified and unaccredited ‘auditors’ would threaten the equipment’s certification for use in elections,” Liddy wrote. 

Fann isn’t buying it. 

“This is yet another publicity stunt by Maricopa County,” she told Capitol Media Services. And Fann said there is no money owed to anyone. 

“Machines were not damaged or tampered with,” she said. “And they know that.” 

Anyway, Fann said this is just a continuation of what she sees as the county’s reticence to actually answer questions about the accuracy of the election results, the ones that saw Joe Biden outpoll Donald Trump for president, not only in Maricopa County but statewide. 

“This shows they prefer to shower taxpayer dollars on Dominion and lawyers, rather than having an honest conversation about the audit,” she said. 

Fann also rejected the county’s contention that the Senate also is liable for the costs incurred in sending the equipment and the 2.1 million ballots to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum where Cyber Ninjas conducted its review. Those range from renting delivery trucks and overtime pay for staff to training a firm to clone the hard drives of the tabulation equipment before turning them over. 

“We asked Maricopa County to do the audit with us and not move the ballots and equipment,” she said. But the county balked at having Cyber Ninjas employees and volunteers inside its election offices. 

In a prepared statement, supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers said the bill is justified. 

“Imagine leasing a car and then loaning it to someone who totals it,” he said. 

“You’re still on the hook to pay off the wrecked car,” Seller continued. “Plus, you need a new car.” 

He said the county is doing the equivalent of getting a car to get it through the next year and a half. 

“I’m just glad we had the Senate sign that indemnification contract,” he said. 

Strictly speaking, what the county sent Fann is a “notice of claim.” State law requires anyone who says they are owed money from the state to first file a notice of how much they would be willing to settle it for. 

If there is no response within 60 days, the claim is deemed denied and the person or entity making the claim is entitled to file suit. 

All this comes as the Senate continues to fight legal efforts to produce some of the documents related to the audit. 

On August 18, attorneys for the Senate asked the state Court of Appeals to delay the order of Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Kemp that it immediately produce all records related to the audit. That includes not just those in possession of the Senate but also those held by Cyber Ninjas. 

Kemp rejected arguments that the materials held by the private firm are not subject to the state’s public records law. And he said the fact that the Senate itself does not have possession of the documents that have been produced by Cyber Ninjas is irrelevant. 

“Nothing in the statute absolves the Senate defendants’ responsibilities to keep and maintain records for authorities supported by public monies by merely retaining a third-party contractor who in turn hires subvendors,” Kemp wrote. Allowing that to happen, the judge said, “would be an absurd result and undermine Arizona’s strong public policy in favor of permitting access to records reflecting governmental activity.” 

The appeals judges did not say when they will rule. 




County: Senate making ‘mockery’ of audit

Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates, surrounded by other county elected officials, explains why he believes the results of the 2020 election were correct and everything else pushes "the Big Lie." (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)
Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates, surrounded by other county elected officials, explains why he believes the results of the 2020 election were correct and everything else pushes “the Big Lie.” (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)

Maricopa County supervisors on Monday accused Senate President Karen Fann, of allowing a “mockery” to be made of the election process with her audit.

On one hand, the board and County Recorder Stephen Richer prepared a 14-page letter responding to specific questions — they called them accusations — about everything from handling of the ballots to whether a database had been deleted after the election but before files were delivered to Senate-hired auditors. In each case, they said either that the information is false or that they cannot or will not provide what she wants.

But, one by one, each official lashed out at Fann and the Senate for perpetuating what several said amounts to a hoax on the public. And they said she has effectively given over the Senate’s powers to Cyber Ninjas, an outside group that not only has no election audit experience but is now using it to raise money.

And if the message of Monday’s meeting is lost on Fann and other senators, board Chairman Jack Sellers put it succinctly.

“As chairman of this board, I want to make it clear: I will not be responding to any more requests from this sham process,” he said.

“Finish what you’re calling an ‘audit,’ ” Sellers continued. “Be ready to defend your report in a court of law.”

In doing so, Sellers and the Republican-dominated board confirmed what had pretty much been clear since last week; Board members will not show up at the Senate Tuesday, as requested by Fann, for a televised question-and-answer session with her, Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Ken Bennett, a former secretary of state who Fann tapped to be her liaison with the outside contractors.

In fact, Supervisor Bill Gates said there’s good reason to stay away.

“This board was going to be part of a political theater broadcast on livestream on OAN,” he said, a reference to One America News Network, a pro-Trump cable news outlet which not only has fueled the theories that somehow the former president did not lose the election but also is helping to raise money to fund what is supposed to be an official, government-conducted audit.

Monday’s response now leaves it up to Fann on how to respond.

The Senate has gone to court before to force the supervisors to surrender the 2.1 million ballots and the election equipment. But a maneuver to actually hold the supervisors in contempt — a move that could have allowed the Senate sergeant-at-arms to take supervisors into custody — failed when Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, refused to go along with his other 15 GOP colleagues.

Boyer in recent days has indicated even more hesitancy about pursuing the issue. And Richer, a Republican like Fann and the majority of the Senate, said he thinks the tide is turning.

“I guarantee you, there are Republicans in the state Senate … that do not believe a word of it,” he said.

And with Democrats firmly against the whole process, that could leave Fann with few options to force further compliance.

There was no immediate response from the Senate president as to what, if anything, she intends to do now.

Political charges aside, there was a response to what Fann asked.

For example, Fann — working with questions provided to her by Cyber Ninjas — said there are “a significant number of instances in which there is a disparity between the actual number of ballots contained in a batch and the total denoted on the pink report slip accompanying the batch.”

“They don’t know how to read transmission slips,” Richer said of the auditors.

For example, he said some ballots out of any batch of 200 might be pulled out because they can’t be read by the tabulators. And that, said Richer, creates a duplicate ballot.

As to claims of deleted databases, he said “that’s just fundamentally not true.”

“If they were professional, certified auditors they wouldn’t be asking those questions,” Sellers said.

Ditto, Richer said, about the demand for the county’s routers, the computer equipment that acts like traffic directors for data between computers.

“We do not know why Cyber Ninjas would need the routers, as they have no election information,” Richer said. Aside from the $6 million cost of pulling them out and putting in temporary replacements, he said Sheriff Paul Penzone is concerned that what is on them could provide a “blueprint” of computers used by law enforcement that could allow someone to compromise the system.

Richer also said that Cyber Ninjas has no need for internal passwords to get at the source code for the tallying machines. Anyway, he said, that information belongs to Dominion Voting Systems. And he said Dominion gave them directly to the two certified auditors the county hired — again, Cyber Ninjas is not — and does not share them with election officials.

Sellers said he sees a pattern in the requests.

“It’s become clear that some of these people are only going to be happy when they get the results they want,” he said — meaning a finding that somehow Trump won the election, regardless of whether there is actual evidence to back that up.

Gates said it is possible that the Senate at one time had a legitimate reason to review the ballots and equipment. He noted that Fann said the whole purpose was to review the process and determine whether changes are needed in state laws on how elections are run.

But Gates said that stopped being the driving force long ago now that “outside forces” have taken control. That, he said, has become obvious because everyone admits the audit can’t be completed for the $150,000 the Senate allocated.

“Tell us where the money is coming from,” Gates said. So far, though, neither Cyber Ninjas nor Bennett has provided details. And Fann, who is supposed to be in charge, said she doesn’t know.

Gates acknowledged that he and his GOP colleagues are in some ways bucking the partisan tide.

“We recognize … that a large percentage of Republicans believe that the election was stolen in 2020 and that Donald Trump actually won,” he said. But Gates said he does not share that belief.

“And the reason that I feel confident in saying that, particularly in Maricopa County, is that we overturned every stone,” he said. “We asked the difficult questions.”

Now, said Gates, is the time to say that enough is enough.

“It is time to push back on the Big Lie,” he said. “Otherwise we are not going to be able to move forward and have an election in 2022 that we can all believe the results, whatever they may be.”

Richer said there’s another reason people should believe his assurances that the 2020 results are accurate.

He pointed out that he wasn’t even running the office at that time. Richer took over in January after defeating Democrat Adrian Fontes who did run the election.

“Why would I stand here beside these gentlemen to say, ‘It was a good election’ if it wasn’t?” he asked.

“Why wouldn’t I just throw the guy that I spent the past 12 months criticizing, Adrian Fontes, under the bus and say, ‘Don’t worry, there’s a new sheriff in town’ ”? Richer continued. “So it’s just facially asinine.”

Court considers Senate records dispute

Arizona Senate Republicans hold a hearing review of the 2020 presidential election results in Maricopa County at the Arizona Capitol Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

An attorney for the Senate warned the Court of Appeals Wednesday that if the judges force public disclosure of records related to the audit of the 2020 election it will undermine the ability of lawmakers to do their jobs. 

Kory Langhofer told the court it should void a ruling by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Kemp who rejected broad claims that “legislative privilege” shields communications between and among Republican lawmakers and others involved in what was billed as a “forensic audit” of the election results. 

Langhofer argued that it would open up to public scrutiny the discussions that lawmakers had about the audit. And that, he said, would undermine what he said is a constitutional recognition that legislators are entitled to have private conversations and communications because that is part of their job. 

But attorney Keith Beauchamp said the flaw in Langhofer’s argument is that the records he is seeking on behalf of American Oversight — the ones that the Senate has refused to disclose — have nothing to do with the role of legislators in crafting laws. 

He said the record shows that Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said she ordered the audit and contracted with Cyber Ninjas not to consider proposed new laws. 

Instead, Beauchamp said, Fann said she was responding to concerns of Arizona residents about the accuracy of the tally where Democrat Joe Biden outpolled incumbent Donald Trump in Maricopa County. That margin of victory in the state’s largest county was enough to give the state’s popular vote — and its 11 electors — to Biden. 

More to the point, Beauchamp said, is that the audit was not part of some investigation launched by lawmakers to review the adequacy of state election laws or craft new ones. 

Even after it was produced, Fann turned it over to Attorney General Mark Brnovich to see if any existing laws had been broken. And it was only at that point, Beauchamp said — after the audit was produced and after all of the communications sought by American Oversight — that there was a discussion of whether existing statutes need to be amended. 

Beauchamp told the judges there is a role for legislative privilege. For example, he said if Fann now wants to communicate with colleagues about changes to state law based on audit findings, that would be protected. 

But what’s at issue here, he said, are the communications that Fann and others had with Cyber Ninjas and others both in deciding to conduct the audit and then on how the review was being done. None of that, Beauchamp said, is related to the business of legislators, which is crafting laws. 

“They can’t make a showing that there was any deliberative or communicative process underway, much less of any impairment of that process,” he said. 

Hanging in the balance are perhaps tens of thousands of emails, texts and other documents possessed not only by the Senate itself but also those in the possession of Cyber Ninjas, the private firm Fann retained to conduct the review. 

In his earlier ruling, Kemp acknowledged that lawmakers are entitled to certain constitutional protections. He said that is part of ensuring that the “deliberative and communicative process” about proposed laws or other matters within the jurisdiction of lawmakers is not impaired by public disclosure of their deliberations. 

The problem, said Kemp, is the Senate wants to extend that to all the communications involving Fann, Sen. Warren Petersen who chairs the Judiciary Committee, the liaisons Fann chose to interact with Cyber Ninjas and even communications with that company and its own sub vendors. And none of that, he said was “an integral part of deliberations or communications regarding proposed legislation.” 

“Under such an expansive view there are few activities in which a legislator engages that could not  be somehow related to the legislative process,” the judge said. “And the privilege does not extend to all things in any way related to the legislative process.” 

Langhofer told the appellate court Wednesday that Kemp was off base in saying that only communications related directly to proposed legislation are exempt from the state’s public records law. The key, he said, is whether public disclosure would impair the ability of the legislature to do its job. That, Langhofer said, includes “the chilling effect that would have on the body.” 

And he told the judges that upholding what Kemp ruled and accepting his narrow definition of what lawmakers can keep secret would not be fair. 

“That dismissive approach to privilege is not consistent with the way the judiciary has treated its own privilege or executive privilege,” he said. “And these exist for a reason: to encourage candor and, frankly, improved results in what is supposed to be a deliberative body.” 

Beauchamp, for his part, said any effort to shield all those documents the Senate does not want to disclose ignores the fact that they are public records. 

“There’s no dispute about it,” he said. “There’s a strong public policy favoring disclosure of records. 

And when there’s a dispute about whether something can be withheld, Beauchamp said the burden is on the agency holding the records to prove that they are exempt from being made public, not on the person seeking the documents to prove they are public. 

“And here, the public’s right to know under the public records law to know what their legislators are up to would be restricted by a broad application of legislative privilege,” Beauchamp said. 

More to the point, he said if there is a dispute the court has to weigh the interests of the public against claims of privilege. 

Beauchamp told the appellate judges there’s another reason they should reject the Senate’s bid to shield the documents from public view. He said that the Senate, having not only conducted the audit but having a public hearing on the results, waived any claims of privilege. 

Whatever the court rules is likely to affect not just the bid by American Oversight for the records but parallel litigation being pursued by Phoenix Newspapers Inc., the owners of the Arizona Republic. 

In that case, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah also rejected Langhofer’s claim that the documents are subject to disclosure. 

“The legislative privilege does not apply to everything a legislator says or does that is somehow related to the legislative process,” Hannah wrote. “The shield extends only as far as necessary to preserve the integrity of the legislative process.” 

And Hannah, like Kemp, said it isn’t up to lawmakers to determine which of their own records are public and which they can withhold. 

“The courts, not current members of the legislature, are responsible for defining the scope of legislative privilege by balancing the public interest in legislator confidentiality against the robust disclosure policy of the public records law,” Hannah wrote. And he said that in close or doubtful situations, “the public records law prioritizes public access over legislative secrecy.” 

The judges gave no indication when they will rule. 


District spent on desegregation without programs in place

The Roosevelt Elementary School District levied and spent $13.5 million earmarked for desegregation activities, but without operating any specific programs for that purpose, according to the an Arizona Auditor General’s Office report on the district’s spending in fiscal year 2016.

The auditor found that the district spent $13.3 million on salaries and benefits for teachers and other instructional staff, and the remaining $200,000 was spent on administration.

Under Arizona law, school districts are able to levy additional local property taxes to comply with federal court orders or agreements with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Districts are also able to budget for and receive desegregation funding even after they are found compliant and such orders have been terminated.

In the same year the Roosevelt district levied the $13.5 million, 17 other districts across the state budgeted for desegregation funding, about $211 million total.

The auditor’s findings highlight a well-known struggle at the Capitol.

Sean McCarthy
Sean McCarthy

The Arizona Tax Research Association has pushed for efforts to eliminate the funds for years.

ATRA research analyst Sean McCarthy said each of 18 districts statewide levying for extra cash is spending it on the same costs all schools face, mainly staff salaries and benefits.

He said the districts don’t dispute that, but officials argue they have a wide latitude to spend the money.

McCarthy said the Roosevelt district isn’t alone; desegregation funds rarely seem to be alleviating the alleged violations, which McCarthy said auditors have pointed out in the past.

“And we all move on, and that’s how it goes,” he said.

But bills sponsored by former Sen. Debbie Lesko in 2015, 2016 and 2017 failed to pass.

That’s because there isn’t an appetite to take money away from public schools.

“It’s real money that the schools are dependent on, that they have built into their budgets,” McCarthy said. “So pretty much everyone acknowledges that it’s a program that has outlived its usefulness, but taking away money from schools is not palatable to many lawmakers even if it creates this unfairness and higher taxes in those districts.”

The conversation always seems to turn to a broader reform effort sometime in the undetermined future.

That effort won’t be realized in this session though. McCarthy said he’s taking a break from the fight – for now anyway.

According to a state Senate Research Staff report from 2016, districts may budget for desegregation activities if the expenses incurred for those activities were initiated before the termination of the court order or an Office for Civil Rights agreement. Districts must also “ensure that desegregation expenses are educationally justifiable” and result in equal educational opportunities.

OCR cases stem from findings of noncompliance with federal rules or complaints alleging discrimination in districts that receive federal funding.

Districts found in violation may reach voluntary agreements that dictate how noncompliance should be corrected. And if a district refuses, the matter may be tried in federal court.

The Roosevelt Elementary School District was found out of compliance in 1983, specifically at three schools found to have racial disparities. The district entered into a voluntary agreement with the feds that included the creation of magnet programs, and the district was found compliant in 1993. Federal monitoring ceased, but the magnet programs were only operated until 2006, according to the auditor’s report.

The district entered another voluntary agreement in 2000 after a complaint was filed alleging discrimination against students with limited English proficiency, referred to as ELL.

The new plan was to be implemented by August 2001, and district officials claimed the district was found in compliance. But according to the auditor’s report, officials had not retained any documentation to demonstrate that the case was closed, nor had the district operated any ELL programs specific to the agreement for at least the past several years.

And according to the FY16 audit, the district was not even in compliance with state ELL requirements.
Specifically, the district was misusing parental waivers for dual-language programs and did not properly implement ELL performance standards in applicable classrooms and lesson plans.

In response to the auditor’s report, the Roosevelt district claimed it had spent the desegregation dollars on a variety of services aimed at students with limited English proficiency.

It employs a “holistic approach” by using administrative staff to assess students among other things, the response said.

Superintendent Dino Coronado did not return requests for further comment.

Ducey straddles fence on Senate election audit

Gov. Doug Ducey said he’s confident in the results of the 2020 election yet wants to see the results of a Republican-backed audit and hand count of 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County.

“I’ve defended our election integrity,” the governor said at a Monday press conference. “I’m not going to change my position at all.”

Ducey said Arizona has had a series of reforms and improvements in the past three decades.

“In many ways I think Arizona is a model state,” he said. “We have a compendium of best practices in our state.”

Despite that, the governor said it was within the power of the Senate, as a separate branch of government, to decide whether yet another audit is needed. But he brushed aside a question of whether that feeds into the conspiracy theories that somehow the results of the election — the one he declared as accurate — were wrong and that people cheated.

“To give an accurate answer, I’d have to see the results of what the Senate is well within its legal rights to do,” he said.

All this comes as Democrats say the sole reason for the audit is to come up with an excuse to make it more difficult to vote.

“Right now Arizona is leading the country in voter suppression bills from Republican legislators,” said Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale. “It is no coincidence this is happening after they lost an election.”

All five Maricopa County supervisors have said a new audit is unnecessary. But only Democrat Steve Gallardo showed up for the Monday press conference — and dealt with hecklers who insisted there was massive fraud and that Donald Trump actually beat Joe Biden in Arizona.

“You lost the election,” he said. “Deal with it.”

The move to audit the ballots comes despite a legally required hand count of a random sample which turned up no errors.

The counting equipment was tested both before and after the election. And the Maricopa supervisors, four of whom are Republicans, even hired outside auditors in a bid to prove that there was no tampering with the machinery.

That still left GOP senators dissatisfied and resulted in them going to court and winning the legal right to access the equipment and the ballots. Yet on Monday, Senate President Karen Fann said she is still working to get this process started more than four months after the election was completed.

“We hope we have something to get out to you very soon,” she told Capitol Media Services.

Some of what needs to be worked out is the mechanics of having people go through 2.1 million ballots and marked down, one by one, how someone voted.

Fann said she hoped to have bipartisan teams reviewing each batch to provide a level of accountability. So far, though, Democrats see the entire effort as purely political show and won’t participate.

“It’s too bad the Democratic Party doesn’t believe in getting answers for our constituents,” she said. “I think that’s our job.”

The Democrats, for their part, say the only reason people have questions is that Republicans, led by Trump, have made repeated and unsubstantiated claims of fraud. And they see no reason to participate.

But it isn’t just the Democrats who question the whole premise behind the audit.

Helen Purcell, a former Maricopa County recorder, and a Republican, said she was approached by an attorney representing GOP senators asking if she would be willing to oversee the process. She refused, calling it “not a necessary process” and saying she trusts the results of the two independent audits already conducted by the county.

Fann said that for the time being the plan is to limit the hand count solely to the presidential race, the one that Biden outpolled Trump in Maricopa County by more than 45,000 votes. That provided a crucial edge to let Biden win Arizona’s 11 electoral votes by 10,457.

The Senate president denied that all this does is feed into the claims, all so far with no basis, that Trump really won here.

“We start with the presidential primarily because that was the closest one in terms of numbers,” Fann said.

So what’s the plan to do the task?

“All this will be made clear as soon as we finish the contract details,” Fann said, referring to the agreement the senate is making with a yet-to-be-identified outside firm. And she promised the contract would be public.

Fann acting like a child

Dear Editor:  

I’m frustrated and upset that Arizona Senate President Karen Fann continues to fuel false information and ignore that facts regarding the integrity of the November 2020 election. No abnormalities were found in either the hand or forensic audits. The certification of votes was verified by a Republican governor and other Republican officials who confirmed the votes were accurately counted and the 2020 elections results were fraud free, secure, and fair.  

Senator Fann quickly forgot that a majority of down line Republican candidates on the same ballot were winners in Maricopa County in 2020. It is baffling that this leader is like a small child who didn’t get her way, so she had a complete meltdown that has affected millions of voters. Her recount ploy is very dangerous for future elections. She is saying that if your party doesn’t win, do anything legal or not to reverse the outcome. Are Arizona voters really in step with this trend?  It has been said many times during this fiasco, there may be no democracy in the next election.  Watch out! 


 Joanie Rose 



Fann not running for re-election

Senate President Karen Fann (Photo by Kyra Haas/Arizona Capitol Times)

Senate President Karen Fann is calling it quits after next year’s session. 

The Prescott Republican, who wouldn’t have been term-limited out until 2024, announced Monday afternoon that she will not be running for re-election. However, she does plan to stick around as Senate president in 2022. 

“It has been a privilege to advocate on behalf of Arizona citizens in my 12 years at the state Legislature and the honor of a lifetime to serve as Senate president,” Fann said in a written statement. “I look forward to a successful session in 2022 advancing policies that benefit all Arizonans, and then enjoying the life my husband and I have built for ourselves in retirement with our family.” 

Fann’s departure means, no matter what, both chambers of the Legislature will have new leadership in 2023 even if Republicans keep the majority – House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, is term-limited. 

This year, much of the Senate’s time has been spent on the audit of the 2020 election results in Maricopa County the chamber ordered and oversaw. Fann has been a vocal supporter of the audit, which drew national attention on Arizona and which some Republicans hoped would lead to the results of the 2020 election being overturned, although Fann has said that was never her goal. Democrats have heavily criticized the “fraudit,” as they’ve called it, as a partisan exercise that has been based on and provided fuel for conspiracy theorists and undermined confidence in elections. 

The auditors’ report found no evidence of widespread fraud, although it did raise concerns about some election processes.  

Attorney General Mark Brnovich is investigating some of the questions in the Cyber Ninjas’ audit report – former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes was interviewed last week by an agent from Brnovich’s office – and the audit is also expected to weigh heavily on next year’s legislative agenda, with Fann and other Republicans calling for new laws in response to the Ninjas’ findings. 

Fann was involved in local politics in Yavapai County before running for the Legislature, joining the House in 2011 and serving there before becoming a senator in 2017. She has been Senate president since 2019, beating Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, who had also sought the position. She succeeded former Sen. Steve Yarbrough, who didn’t run for re-election in 2018 due to term limits. Fann was the second woman in history to run the Arizona Senate; Brenda Burns, who had the job from 1997 to 2000, was the first. 

Mesnard wished Fann the best Monday. 

“There are a lot of unknowns right now with the legislative maps, etc., but I will be giving serious consideration to leadership as we approach the next Legislature,” he told the Capitol Times. 

Mesnard added that, “while I’m sure people are starting to talk leadership, and all the more now with (President) Fann’s announcement, but we have a whole other session in front of us with a leadership team in place, so it seems a bit early to start talking about it. I want to be respectful of the team we have there now. 

Yellow Sheet Editor Wayne Schutsky contributed. 

Fann passes on experienced auditor, picks cheapest

Officials guide a truck into the loading area prior to unloading election equipment into the Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the state fairgrounds, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in Phoenix. Maricopa County officials began delivering equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden on Wednesday and will move 2.1 million ballots to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden's victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Officials guide a truck into the loading area prior to unloading election equipment into the Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the state fairgrounds, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in Phoenix. Maricopa County officials began delivering equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden on Wednesday and will move 2.1 million ballots to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden’s victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Arizona Senate President Karen Fann passed up an opportunity to hire an experienced auditing company to conduct its ballot review, opting instead for a company without experience and whose founder has said he believes President Joe Biden stole the election.  

Arizona Capitol Times received public records from the Senate on offers to conduct the audit of Maricopa County’s 2.1 million ballots from the November election 

The records request revealed only two firms that put in an official offer – neither of which was Cyber Ninjas, the group Fann ultimately selected. Clear Ballot Group, a Massachusetts firm that has conducted election audits in several states, including a statewide audit in Maryland and Vermont, offered to do the audit within six weeks for $415,000.  

On its website, the company says it “offers much more than a post-election audit solution. It’s the only system capable of tabulating other system’s ballots to provide an independent comparison of results for purposes of post-election audits.”  

Keir Holeman, Clear Ballot’s vice president of technical services, wrote in the proposal letter that the group is also conducting audits for multiple counties in Florida and New York as well as projects in South Carolina and Colorado.  

“It is this experience that makes us confident we can help you with your desire to audit the results in Maricopa County,” Holeman wrote.  

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

Holeman did not return multiple attempts for comment. 

One potential hiccup for the group is that they only conduct audits of election results – not equipment and technology.  

Cyber Ninjas and its subcontractors have pledged to conduct a full “forensic” audit of the equipment, including using “kinematic artifact” detection technology (essentially looking at folds in ballots to determine if it’s a fake mail-in ballot) developed by Jovan Hutton Pulitzer, an inventor who years ago developed a handheld, cat-shaped scanner that was dubbed “one of the most ridiculed products of the internet era” by PC World.  

Pulitzer acknowledged recently that he would have some involvement in the Senate’s audit.  

He claimed that “technology” he developed is being used.  

“I am happy to confirm that #ScanTheBallots for #KinematicArtifact detection is being used,” he wrote on Twitter, calling the auditing team hired by the Senate “one of the most impressive and qualified auditing teams ever assembled.”  

A quick dive into Holeman’s online presence shows he’s basically the polar opposite of the Cyber Ninja CEO, Doug Logan. Holeman used to be an elections official in Ohio and said he doesn’t believe the election was stolen.  

According to his LinkedIn, he was the election coordinator for the Montgomery County Board of Elections, then served as a regional director for Diebold Elections, the group known for election problems during the 2000 presidential recount in Florida. (Dominion now owns Diebold.)  

Holeman then went on to become the director of the Warren County Board of Elections and eventually found his way to VOTEC Corporation before starting at Clear Ballot in August 2017.  

Holeman created his Twitter account in January and his first post was a retweet of the FBI looking for information about insurrectionists. His entire feed is now mostly made up of critiques of Republican congressmen over the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and few retweets of others commenting on why they think President Trump should be convicted by the U.S. Senate after he was impeached for a second time.  

Of course, that presence won’t ingratiate an auditor to Senate Republicans, but Fann has made clear that a person’s tweets shouldn’t disqualify them from auditing the election on the Senate’s behalf.  

“Just because somebody found some Tweet that’s within some archive program that none of us ever would have done it (the search) doesn’t mean anything,” Fann said about reporters surfacing old tweets from Logan showing biases about the election results.  

It’s unclear if Fann considered Holeman’s proposal. 

Fann and the Senate skipped out on going to the floor on April 21 in favor of going to a photo opportunity at the border with Gov. Doug Ducey, and her spokesman did not answer several questions.  

Fann additionally passed on hiring a cybersecurity company called Intersec Worldwide, which pitched a process that would take roughly 20,000 hours and cost more than $8 million, not including the auditors’ travel and expenses. Email records show Fann interviewed the company in early-March.  

Intersec’s pitch included biographies for each of its top executives and then broke down its scope of work into five categories: Engagement, evidence preservation, forensics analysis, forensics reports of results and testimony/defense findings.  

David Hughes, the vice president of sales, made the official pitch and said the engagement and evidence need to happen “immediately regardless of who does the work.”  

The engagement phase would include setting up legal agreements, contracts and retainers and would take roughly 500 hours. Securing the evidence, including taking forensic images and copies of hard drives, would take about 2,500 hours, according to the proposal. Those two projects would cost $1.45 million. The actual audit would tack on another $6.6 million. 

Hughes would not answer any questions about the interview with Fann.  

What’s still unclear is how many groups Fann actually interviewed, if Cyber Ninjas received an interview at all and why the Senate took the cheapest offer when the audit liaison Ken Bennett, Arizona’s former secretary of state, repeatedly remarked how $150,000 would not be enough to conduct the full audit.  

Bennett said that the auditors will be accepting outside sources of money, which will not be subject to Arizona’s public records law. He said he hopes for transparency, but also said he wouldn’t do anything to ensure the auditors would be transparent about donors.  

“The only agenda that I’m going to make sure happens is that we do the audit in a fair and open and transparent and accurate way,” he said. “If the agenda of somebody wanting to contribute funds is anything other than that, then it’s a waste of their money.” 



Fann says Supervisors fear outcome of election audit

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

Senate President Karen Fann said Friday that Maricopa County officials may be balking at cooperating with an audit of the 2020 election results because they fear what it might turn up.

“I’m beginning to wonder if they’re not as confident in their (election) system as they say they are,” Fann told Capitol Media Services on Friday of the latest refusal by county supervisors to let Senate-hired auditors review the tallying equipment and hand count the 2.1 million ballots where they are currently located at county election offices.

Her comments come less than 24 hours after the board foreclosed the option of opening up the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center to the outside auditors.

In a letter to the Senate’s attorney, Steve Tully who represents the supervisors, said they stand ready to comply with the original subpoena. That required the equipment and ballots to be delivered to the Senate.

“The request to perform any audit, recount or other related activities at MCTEC is beyond the scope of the subpoenas issued,” Tully wrote.

Fann said efforts are underway to find an alternate location.

It’s not a simple matter of space. She said the very nature of having actual ballots and counting equipment requires that it be in a place that is both secure 24 hours a day while also having the capability of being monitored by those who want to watch.

And if nothing else, Fann said it will add to the $150,000 that the Senate has agreed to pay its audit team. All this, she said, could be avoided if the county would just cooperate.

“For the life of me, I cannot figure out what they’re so afraid of,” Fann said. She said senators simply want to put the issues surrounding the vote to bed.

“If constituents have questions and they want those questions answered, why wouldn’t we do this?” Fann said. “It makes no sense.”

Tully said the board remains ready to deliver the ballots and the equipment to the Senate, which is what is in the subpoena.

“Alternatively, the county is willing to discuss delivery of the requested items to the senators’ custody at a non-county owned location of the senators’ choosing,” he said.

Jack Sellers, who chairs the board, said it’s not like the county is blindly accepting the election results. He said the county conducted “two extensive and independent” audits of the election in February.

“They showed no evidence of equipment malfunction or foul play,” Sellers said in a prepared statement. These findings, in addition to the hand count audit completed by the political parties and accuracy tests before and after the election, affirm no hacking or vote switching occurred in the 2020 election.”

And he took a swat of his own for the Senate’s decision to pursue its own review even after the one done by “certified experts” hired by the county.

“I hope the auditors hired by the Senate will take great care with your ballots and the election equipment leased with your tax dollars,” Sellers said.

All this comes on the heels of the Senate releasing the contract and other documents Fann has signed with Douglas Logan, chief executive officer of Cyber Ninjas, the lead firm hired to conduct the audit.

Questions were raised about that choice after discovery of Twitter posts by Logan suggesting he already has concluded that the election results, at least on the national level, are suspicious.

“The parallels between the statistical analysis of Venezuela and this year’s election are astonishing,” he wrote in a December post, a clear reference to unproven and denied allegations that Dominion Voting Systems, the company that produced the equipment used by Maricopa County, is linked to the family of the deceased former dictator.

Logan also has shared other posts, including one that said, “With all due respect, if you can’t see the blatant cheating, malfeasance and outright voter fraud, then you are ignorant or lying.”

“It was not a mistake to hire him,” Fann said.

“We have four great, reputable companies that are involved with this,” she said, referring to other firms that will work under the control of Cyber Ninjas. “This is being done in the utmost transparency with the most qualified people, with checks, double checks and triple checks to make sure all this is done correctly.”

And what of his Twitter messages which he deleted, but were found through archive searches?

“Just because somebody found some Tweet that’s within some archive program that none of us ever would have done it (the search) doesn’t mean anything,” Fann said. “Is no one allowed to say anything?”

Logan’s qualifications and possible bias aside, the scope of work that Logan has agreed to do for the Senate shows the firm is starting from the position that something is wrong. And it raises questions about the tactics.

According to the contract, Cyber Ninjas may contact individual voters in at least three precincts, even going to their homes, “to collect information of whether the individual voted in the election.”

In fact, the contract says part of the audit team the Senate hired already “has worked together with a number of individuals” — who are not identified in the contract — who knocked on doors “to confirm if valid voters actually lived at the stated address.”

Logan did not immediately respond to calls seeking more information. But Fann said the moves make sense.

“There were a lot of people that filled out affidavits saying that ‘I got 25 ballots at my house and there’s only two of us that live here,’ ” Fann said. And there also was a report of 75 ballots sent to a vacant lot in Tucson.

“They’re going to take those affidavits and they’re going to go to those people and they’re going to say, ‘You signed an affidavit that said that this happened. Is this true? Give us a little information so we can verify this and track it down,’ ” she said.

But not all those contacts will be based on affidavits. The audit team is going to be contacting voters in person to look for inconsistencies.

For example, Fann said, historical records may show a given precinct has never had more than a 35% turnout.

“And all of a sudden they had a 90% voter turnout,” she said. Fann acknowledged that this election did produce record turnout for both presidential candidates.

“But the question is, how do you go from 35% to 90%?” she asked.

Assuming voters talk to auditors at their door, that still leaves the question of what does it prove if those interviews show that 90% of them did not vote. Fann said that will lead to further investigation.

One possibility, she said, is that not all the ballots cast from that precinct were authentic, though Fann said it “obviously didn’t happen.”

She said it’s also possible that ballots from one precinct got mixed with ballots from another one. But that would not change the outcome of the presidential race as it was on all ballots.



GOP lawmakers demand Ward allow audit of her election

Dr. Kelli Ward, chairperson of the Republican Party of Arizona, speaks to a gathering inside the Yuma GOP Headquarters, Monday Aug. 17, 2020, before introducing U.S. Congressman Paul A. Gosar.  (Randy Hoeft/Yuma Sun via AP)
Dr. Kelli Ward, chairperson of the Republican Party of Arizona, speaks to a gathering inside the Yuma GOP Headquarters, Monday Aug. 17, 2020, before introducing U.S. Congressman Paul A. Gosar. (Randy Hoeft/Yuma Sun via AP)

About a third of state Republican lawmakers are calling on newly re-elected state GOP Chair Kelli Ward to either agree to a recount of that vote or back off of her challenges to the presidential race.

In an email Wednesday to Ward, the 14 representatives and four senators said they have been involved in a two-month effort to bring “transparency and accountability in our election process.”

“This included ballot security and integrity, comprehensive audits, and paper trails that allow the average voter to know that their vote counted and that the election results as presented were accurate,” they wrote. That followed the certified election results that showed Joe Biden outpolling Donald Trump in Arizona by 10,457 votes.

At the same time, they noted, Ward won a new term as party chair by defeating Sergio Arellano, a southern Arizona businessman and unsuccessful 2018 congressional candidate, by 42 votes. She has refused his request for a recount, saying there was no procedure, process or rule that allows for that.

“And you certainly don’t allow a challenger who lost an election to demand something that they don’t have the right to, and we don’t have the responsibility for providing,” she said last month on KFYI.

The GOP lawmakers said that’s subverting what they’re trying to do.

“Now, our collective message is being undermined by your insistence that none of these standards should apply to your election as AZ GOP Chairman,” they wrote. “This inconsistency is simply not acceptable.

The lawmakers acknowledged that election of a party chief “pales in comparison” with a presidential election.

“But the principles that surround every election, no matter how big or small, must remain the same,” they wrote.

So they want Ward to either allow an immediate audit of her Jan. 23 election or remove herself from efforts to audit the Nov. 3 election “as you would be an unwelcome distraction and foil for the media to use to discredit our efforts to protect our state’s voters.”

Ward did not return a message seeking comment.

But the signers said the call is merited.

“I support transparency, free and fair elections in every corner of representation,” Rep. Mark Finchem of Oro Valley told Capitol Media Services. Finchem has been at the forefront of arguments that the Arizona results were tainted and incorrect.

Sen. T.J. Shope of Coolidge said it’s a matter of “trying to be consistent.” And he said that’s not what’s happening here.

“I come at it as a guy that doesn’t believe the ‘stop the steal’ stuff,” he said, people who are convinced that Trump won Arizona.

“And here we have somebody who is essentially leading the charge and was former President Trump’s lead surrogate essentially in Arizona saying these things,” Shope said. “And when her election comes up under question, auditing or anything like that is not even on the table.”

Rep. Shawnna Bolick of Phoenix said after the January GOP meeting was over it was brought to her attention that there were missed ballots from one county between the first and second round of voting.

“An audit of the chairman’s election would bring transparency to the process,” she said. Bolick said it would be wise for the party to lead to ensure that the state committeemen who voted “have the confidence in the integrity of the chair’s election,” essentially echoing the reason many Republican lawmakers have argued the need for the state to conduct its own audit of the November vote.

“By conducting an audit we can identify the sources of any potential discrepancies and put this issue to rest,” Bolick said. “Our party needs to rebuild and this is causing further division when we need to focus on growing our party.”

Peoria Rep. Ben Toma agreed.

“We want transparency and an audit of the November election to ensure voter confidence and the same standard should apply to the GOP meeting,” he said.

Rep. Kevin Payne, also of Peoria, was more circumspect in response to a question about his decision to sign.

“The letter speaks  for itself,” he said.


Lawmakers who signed the email to Ward:



Paul Boyer, Glendale

Rick Gray, Sun City

Vince Leach, Tucson

T.J. Shope, Coolidge



Shawnna Bolick, Phoenix

Frank Carroll, Sun City West

Regina Cobb, Kingman

Timothy Dunn, Yuma

John Fillmore, Apache Junction

Mark Finchem, Oro Valley

Quang Nguyen, Prescott Valley

Becky Nutt, Clifton

Joanne Osborne, Goodyear

Kevin Payne, Peoria

Beverly Pingerelli, Peoria

Bret Roberts, Maricopa

Ben Toma, Peoria

Justin Wilmeth, Scottsdale

GOP lawmakers push bill to force hand of supervisors

Warren Petersen
Warren Petersen

Facing defeats in court, Republican lawmakers are moving to change the law — retroactively — in a bid to eventually get their hands on voting equipment and ballots, even if it takes months.

SB1408 would spell out in statute that county election equipment, systems, records and other information “may not be deemed privileged information, confidential information or other information protected from disclosure.”

More to the point, the measure approved Thursday on a party-line 5-3 vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee declares that this information is “subject to subpoena and must be produced.” And it empowers judges to compel production of the materials and records.

Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, who chairs the panel, made it clear the legislation has one purpose: to force the hand of Maricopa County officials who have so far refused to comply with a subpoena the Senate has issued.

They have produced various records.

But the supervisors contend the county is precluded from surrendering access to voting machines and the actual ballots to senators or the auditors they hope to hire. And so far the Senate’s efforts to get a court ruling compelling disclosure have faltered.

“They continue to hold the position that we don’t have the authority to investigate,” Petersen said. He said the authority already is there but this makes it “crystal clear.”

That point, however, remains under debate.

The first subpoenas — there were two at the time — were issued in December. The county filed suit contending the machines and ballots were not subject to disclosure.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Randall Warner never reached that issue. Instead he concluded there is nothing in the Arizona Constitution which specifically allows him to enforce a legislative subpoena.

A new subpoena and cases before two other judges have failed to get a clear ruling, with one judge suggesting that it would first take a contempt citation by the Senate before he could act. But that bid fell apart earlier this week when Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, refused to go along with GOP colleagues, leaving the effort one vote short.

Petersen said Thursday his new bill should resolve the matter once and for all.

“This can resolve our pending litigation,” he said. “This can give the county comfort in handing over what we already believe they can do.”

No one from the county was at the hearing to testify on the measure.

Petersen also said he was not deterred by the prior court rulings against the Senate.

“Just because a judge rules something doesn’t mean a judge is right,” he said.

“That’s a big problem here,” responded Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale.

“There’s a small segment of our population and a large segment of elected officials across the nation who are refusing to accept the results of these judicial challenges,” he said. “That’s the furtherance of ‘the big lie’ that there was some sort of election fraud.”

He said there were more than five dozen election challenges filed across the country, virtually all of these ruling against Donald Trump and his supporters. The kind of efforts like what the Senate is trying to do with its audit of the election, Quezada said, simply adds to the narrative that people should not trust the election system.

The outcome of those lawsuits did not impress Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City.

“Judges don’t want to get involved in political issues,” he said, which is why cases get dismissed on “technicalities” like whether the person has a right to sue in the first place. “This is clarifying language so there’s no other interpretation I think is warranted.”

Petersen called the legislation an “insurance policy” designed to blunt any future arguments by supervisors that they don’t have to surrender what the Senate wants.

“So if they come out and say the law doesn’t allow it, this ensures that it does,” he said.

Even if the measure becomes law — and even if county officials agree that it requires them to surrender the equipment and ballots — that does not portend a quick end to either the legal fight or the questions about whether the results of the November vote were accurate.

It takes a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate to adopt any law with an emergency clause, allowing it to take effect immediately on the governor’s signature. And without the support of Democrats, Petersen can’t get that margin.

That means the earliest the bill could take effect is 90 days after whenever this year’s session ends. And that could push the whole issue into the summer. And Petersen said he’s willing to wait as long as it takes to pursue the equipment and ballots.



GOP senators keep distance from election audit

Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are being examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Thursday, April 29, 2021. (Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic via AP, Pool)
Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are being examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Thursday, April 29, 2021. (Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic via AP, Pool)

As the Arizona Senate debated the merits of allowing the sale of cocktailstogo on the morning of May 13, a standoff between several dozen diehard Trump supporters and a smaller, but just as vocal, contingent of progressive activists seeking an end to the Senate’s audit of the 2020 election was erupting just outside. 

That scene – a peaceful debate about an unrelated issue on the second floor of the Senate, a screaming match about the audit below – highlighted the lengths to which senators have tried to distance themselves from the audit being conducted in their name. The Senate GOP’s recount of Maricopa County ballots, which is now on track to drag on at least a month longer than it was originally expected to end, is the only Arizona political topic on most people’s minds, but most senators would rather talk about anything else.  

Rank-and-file Senate Republicans say the audit is up to Senate President Karen Fann or Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Petersen, the two people who signed subpoenas for the ballots. 

Petersen regularly defers questions to Fann, who defers to the contractors she hired or Ken Bennett, the former Republican secretary of state moonlighting as the Senate’s liaison for the audit. Bennett, meanwhile, insists only Fann or the professional auditors can answer basic questions, including who’s funding the remaining cost beyond the $150,000 the Senate agreed to pay.  

With their ongoing audit, as with all discourse about the 2020 election, almost all Senate Republicans have fallen into one of two camps: banging the drum about election fraud claims believed by huge segments of their base, or ignoring the recount a few blocks north to focus on legislation.  

In the first camp are people like Sen. Wendy Rogers, a freshman Republican from Flagstaff who so fervently admires President Trump that she waged an unsuccessful campaign to name a state highway in her district after him.  

Wendy Rogers
Wendy Rogers

“Multiple courts already determined we have the legal authority to subpoena the ballots for this audit,” Rogers wrote in an email to supporters last week. “The Dems are just terrified that we will find the truth: That Arizona went for President Trump.” 

In the other are people like Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, who says he doesn’t expect the Senate’s audit to find evidence of fraud or change any minds. Once the process is complete, Shope said he expects that people who trust the election system will maintain that trust and people who believe the election was full of fraud will still believe it was somehow stolen. 

In Shope’s eyes, Petersen is responsible for the audit, just as Shope was responsible for an ethics investigation into former Rep. David Stringer, who resigned in disgrace after police reports detailing decades-old allegations of child molestation resurfaced. Shope was the House Ethics Committee chairman at the time, and other House members outside the Ethics Committee knew of the investigation but were not involved.  

While he acknowledged that most people probably won’t draw a distinction between the Senate and its judiciary chairman, he also doesn’t think most Arizonans are paying much attention to the audit. 

“I think outside of our bubble, people aren’t as interested or have moved on overall,” he said. “Within our bubble we like to talk about it.”  

Fellow Republican Sen. J.D. Mesnard of Chandler, meanwhile, said his constituents are paying more attention to the audit than he is. His unsuccessful 2020 running mate, Liz Harris, tried to organize canvassers to go door-to-door interrogating voters about their voting history as part of a planned but ultimately abandoned portion of the audit. She also widely shared the personal cell phone number of the sole Republican senator to vote against holding Maricopa County’s supervisors in contempt for seeking court guidance on responding to subpoenas they said violated state law. She also films multiple daily videos about alleged fraud.  

At one legislative district meeting Mesnard attended during litigation over the audit, he recalled mentioning that there was a new judge on the case only to have the room shout the new judge’s name back at him. But while his constituents – at least those who regularly attend Republican party meetings – are closely tracking every development in the ongoing count, Mesnard said he tries to avoid it.  

“Maybe I’m living in a box because I hear various things, people getting worked up about this or that, but I’m not aware of what specific thing happened,” Mesnard said. “Am I following all the Twitter wars about it and every article that I knew from the beginning would not be kind? I am not.” 

J.D. Mesnard
J.D. Mesnard

Critics of the Senate’s audit regularly appeal to Mesnard, Shope and Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, as the “reasonable” Republicans they believe can stop the Senate from continuing an audit that has once again made Arizona the butt of late-night hosts’ jokes. But Boyer, though he’ll openly talk about being embarrassed by the Senate’s audit, contends there’s nothing he or other senators can do to stop it.  

The only way he foresees it stopping – and he was quick to emphasize that he isn’t proposing this – is if someone else replaces Fann as Senate president and orders it to end. He doesn’t think Fann will stop the audit herself, and it still has broad, though not universal, support in the Republican caucus.  

“We’re never going to be able to vote on the audit,” Boyer said. “That train has already left the station.”  

Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale, said Republicans seem to wrongly assume that they don’t have any influence on the audit process, but every rank-and-file Republican has a trump card he or she can play. All it takes is one Republican telling Fann, privately or publicly, that she needs to stop the audit or lose that senator’s vote on partisan legislation, including the state budget. 

“Each one of them is a 16th vote,” he said. “They can demand whatever they want. If they really wanted to end this, any one of them or a couple of them could go into Senator Fann’s office, sit her down quietly and say, ‘Hey, look, we got to stop now. Otherwise, we’re gonna have some problems,’ and none of them are doing it.”  

After The New York Times published an article over the weekend quoting Boyer as saying the audit made the Senate look like idiots, he heard from other Republicans who privately agreed with him. 

“’That’s pretty accurate,’ is what one member told me, but they would never go on record like I did,” he said. 

Boyer, who also was the sole Republican senator to vote against holding the county supervisors in contempt and was the first Republican legislator to acknowledge President Biden’s victory, said he has a simple explanation for continuing to speak out: reporters call him with questions and he answers truthfully. But he believes his colleagues, even those who are privately skeptical of the audit, are just trying to keep their heads down and waiting for it to blow over.  

“You’d have to ask them, but my suspicion is they wouldn’t want to tick off the Trump base,” he said. 

Recent polling data from HighGround supports that conclusion. Near the end of March, the Arizona firm surveyed 500 Arizona voters about whether they believed there was significant fraud in the 2020 presidential election, and found that only 42% of voters – but 78.3% of Republican voters – believed there was.  

HighGround consultant Chuck Coughlin wrote in a blog post about the results that they explain why Fann and her Senate caucus believe they must proceed with the audit. The 16 remaining Senate Republicans represent districts that were safe Republican districts when they were drawn in 2010 – though Trump lost in Mesnard’s Chandler-based district and eked out a victory with fewer than 400 votes in Boyer’s West Valley district in 2020. 

Coughlin warned that running on election fraud claims won’t be a winning strategy in a general election in 2022. And Quezada said he thinks his Republican colleagues are following the same strategy they do for other controversial issues: hope that voters forget about it. 

“They hope that the momentum is going to die down, but this one’s not,” he said. “It’s getting worse. it’s going in the opposite direction. So I think it’s a major miscalculation on their point.” 

Hold those responsible for Jan. 6 accountable

In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, supporters of President Donald Trump gather outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar)

A year ago today, far-right extremists attempted to overthrow our government in an attempted coup led by the former president of the United States.

As a former police officer with the Phoenix Police department, I can only imagine the horror felt by the Capitol police officers defending our democracy that day. Before joining the Phoenix P.D., I served my country in the Arizona Army national guard and later with the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps. I believed in the rule of law and wanted to play a part in administering justice and helping to spread American values across the globe. But what I saw on January 6, with mobs threatening to execute the sitting Vice President, looked like something I’d only ever associated with third-world dictatorships in faraway places.

The events that unfolded on January 6 make clear that American democracy is under attack. To ignore or minimize the ongoing attack on our democratic institutions will most certainly destroy our country and our constitutional freedoms.

Conservative extremists have manifested their right-wing rhetoric into actual violence against the foundations of our democracy and those who defend it. Continued polarization leaves us vulnerable as a country to attacks that threaten our national security both from within and outside our borders.

To this day, foreign influences and followers of the former president have exploited the polarization in our country, radicalizing our fellow Americans and refusing to acknowledge the truth about who’s in charge in a democracy: the people.

Even after seeing the violence in the U.S. Capitol, Republicans across the country and especially here in Arizona marched forward in their efforts to undermine democracy and overturn the results of the last election. After initially defending the election process in November 2020, Attorney General Mark Brnovich sided with Republicans to persuade a judge to enforce subpoenas for the so-called audit that was designed to sow doubt in our elections and undermine the democratic process.

Republicans in the State Senate wasted at least $425,000 of taxpayer money in that months-long effort, and the total cost to Arizonans could be much higher. Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, who attended the rally at the U.S. Capitol and was close to the steps where the mob stormed the building, now looks to control the levers of our democracy that administer our elections by running for secretary of state.

News reports link Congressmen Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar to the planning of January 6, which both deny, and the two have only fanned the flames of division in our country over the last year. 

Our country is on rocky ground, and the future of our society remains uncertain. If there is a bright spot, it’s that Arizonans can rely on U.S. Armed Forces veterans like Senator Mark Kelly and Congressman Ruben Gallego representing our state in the halls of Congress. Both were at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, and both have called for a thorough investigation of the events leading up to that fateful afternoon.

America needs answers, and we need to hold those responsible fully accountable if we’re going to prevent another January 6. We’re counting on U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly, U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, and the commission tasked with investigating the insurrection. Many think we can never go back to the way things were before January 6, 2021. But if our leaders do their job, I believe we still have the power to reclaim our position as the world’s exemplar of democracy and the rule of law.

Signa Oliver is a former Phoenix police officer and a U.S. Army veteran. She currently serves on the board of VetsForward. You can follow her and VetsForward on Twitter at @Signalaw and @AZVetsForward. 

Judge orders pause in election audit

The Senate’s audit of Maricopa County election returns will continue, at least for the time being.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury on Friday ordered a halt to the process through at least noon Monday. He said there were sufficient questions raised about the procedures being used by Cyber Ninjas, the Florida firm hired by the Senate to do the work, and whether they complied with state law.

But Coury made his order contingent on the Arizona Democratic Party posting a $1 million bond. That would compensate Cyber Ninjas should they need to hire additional help to make up for lost time.

After the hearing, however, attorney Roopali Desai, who represents the party, said her client won’t be putting up the cash. She said the amount sought by the judge to cover the cost of the delay of a few days has no bearing on a project that, according to the Senate, was supposed to cost just $150,000.

And then, Desai said, Cyber Ninjas is “not trustworthy.” She said there is nothing to prevent the company from claiming it needed the entire $1 million for compensation.

“It’s a huge risk for the party to take,” she said.

But Desai said Friday’s hearing was not a loss or a waste of time.

She pointed out that, separate from the question of halting the work, Coury did order the company to comply with all election laws. More to the point, the judge wants to see copies of all of their procedures, including hiring and training, to ensure that the ballots and the election equipment now at Veterans Memorial Coliseum are protected.

“They’re going to have to come to court on Monday and explain that, Desai said.

Coury’s order came despite objections from attorney Kory Langhofer, who represents the Senate, that the judge really has no authority to intercede.

It starts, Langhofer said, with the fact that legislators are immune from civil suit while the legislature is in session. The lawsuit by the Arizona Democratic Party and Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo names Senate President Karen Fann and Sen. Warren Petersen, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

And he said Cyber Ninjas, by virtue of having been hired by the Senate, is now and agent of the legislature and entitled to the same immunity.

The larger issue, Langhofer told Coury, is the constitutional separation of powers.

He noted that lawmakers have said the purpose of the audit is to determine if there are weaknesses in state election laws and whether revisions are necessary.

“How the legislature conducts its own investigations in determining whether new legislation is necessary and what that legislation might look like isn’t a question on which the judicial branch can opine,” Langhofer said.

But Coury said his overwhelming concern is the protection of both the integrity of the ballots as well as the secrecy of information turned over to the Senate — and now in the hands of Cyber Ninjas. So he scheduled a hearing to review all that on Monday.

Dissatisfied with that response, Langhofer late Friday asked Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick to overturn the order. But Bolick, who is the duty justice, said he saw no reason to second guess Coury’s order to produce documents about hiring and training.

“I think that Judge Coury was overtly mindful of the fact that courts have to tread very carefully in this area,” Bolick said. “And I do not see anything in the order that makes me think that we ought to intervene at this point.”

But Bolick said he and his colleagues may be forced to take up the issue later of whether Coury ultimately has any power to intercede in the audit.

Desai said the lawsuit, filed late Thursday, is not about the authority of the legislature to subpoena the ballots and equipment to conduct an audit. That, she said was already decided by a different judge.

“The question here that we are raising is that the audit that the Senate and its agents are conducting violate many provisions of state law,” Desai said.

She told Coury that there need to be procedures in place to ensure that the ballots and equipment are protected. There also needs to be a “constant chain of custody of every single ballot and every piece of equipment.”

Then there’s the question of who has been hired by Cyber Ninjas to actually do the work.

That, she said, starts with doing background checks on the people who will be handling the ballots and getting access to the equipment, as well as providing sufficient training. To this point, she said, none of that information has been provided.

And there’s something else.

“There must be sufficient safeguards in place to ensure the audit is not biased, skewed or subject to tampering,” Desai said.

That goes directly to the fact that former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, named by Fann to be the Senate’s liaison with Cyber Ninjas, has admitted that the work cannot be done for the $150,000 the Senate has agreed to pay. That in turn has led to Christina Bobb who works for the conservative One America News Network announcing she had raised $150,000 through a web site called “Voice for Votes” to cover the additional costs.

Cyber Ninjas has declined to disclose any outside source of dollars. And the Senate, in response to a public records request by Capitol Media Services, said it has no information on money given directly to the company.

And Voice for Votes, set up as a social welfare organization under federal tax laws, is not required to disclose its donors.

Desai said if private money is, in fact, going to Cyber Ninjas, “there are serious questions about who is influencing, directing and controlling these workers.”

“The Senate has told us they’re running this so-called audit, that they have abdicated their duty entirely to rogue actors who are making a mockery, with all due respect, of our election laws and our procedures,” she said.

And then there’s the question of exactly who Cyber Ninjas has hired, a list that is not public. In fact, Bennett on Thursday even refused to allow reporters to film the review process at least in part because it would allow the recording of the faces of the workers.

“We continue to have no indication of who’s handling the ballots, whether they are known insurgents, representatives of recognized hate groups or on the FBI watch list,” Desai said.

That suggestion drew derision from Langhofer.

“When we start talking about the merits, let’s just first of all separate the hyperbole and the political arguments from what is cognizable in this courtroom,” he told Coury.

“There is no evidence that I have seen, and certainly that’s not been presented here, that there are hate groups running this audit,” Langhofer said. “And to intimate that, with literally no evidence, is a completely unfair smear and an attempt to prejudice your honor into thinking if you rule for the Senate, the sovereign Senate, the state, you’re somehow supporting hate groups.”

But the judge did pay specific attention to a statement from Joseph LaRue, a deputy Maricopa County attorney. He told the judge that there was evidence that people conducting the audit were using pens with blue ink — ink that could be read by ballot scanners and could be used to alter ballots from what the voter intended without necessarily leaving a trail.

The judge seemed convinced and said that only red pens should be used on the floor.

Judge sets contempt hearing for Senate

Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan, center, Ben Cotton, right, founder of digital security firm CyFIR, and Randy Pullen, left, the former Chairman of the Arizona Republican Party and Arizona Senate Audit spokesperson, depart after announcing their findings to the Arizona Senate Republicans hearing review of the 2020 presidential election results in Maricopa County at the Arizona Capitol Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Phoenix. The final report of the election review in Arizona’s largest county found that President Joe Biden did indeed win the 2020 presidential contest. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A superior court judge on Tuesday left open the possibility of finding the Arizona Senate in contempt of court in the coming weeks.  

A liberal watchdog group asked in a hearing to hold the Senate in contempt for not obtaining documents from Cyber Ninjas and its sub-vendors, per an earlier court order. 

But Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Kemp wasn’t ready to make that ruling, and he won’t until at least Dec. 2, when a contempt hearing is scheduled. 

American Oversight in May sued the Arizona Senate for a bevy of records related to the election review of the 2020 general election in Maricopa County. While the Senate has made public some of its audit-related documents, records in possession of contractors and legislative privilege continue to be sticking points. 

If Kemp does find the Senate in contempt, Senate attorney Kory Langhofer said he’s not worried about winning at the appellate court level, saying it was “ridiculous” to argue that holding the Senate in contempt would, in turn, compel Cyber Ninjas to hand over its records. 

“(Senate President) Karen Fann cannot snap her fingers and get these documents; the problem is Cyber Ninjas,” Langhofer said, adding that American Oversight could sue the contractor itself. 

However, American Oversight attorney Keith Beauchamp argued the Senate has not pursued every option to comply with the court order to produce records in Cyber Ninjas’ possession. 

Beauchamp offered up some options, arguing the Senate could sue Cyber Ninjas for breaching its contract, reach out for assistance from the Sheriff’s Office, or refer the matter to the attorney general. Beauchamp also suggested the Senate withhold payment and threaten to take back what it’s already paid to the contractor.  

But Beauchamp also said the burden is on the Senate, not American Oversight, to show it has taken all reasonable steps to comply with the court’s previous order. 

“I have illustrated a number of steps that they could take that they haven’t yet,” Beauchamp said. “And frankly, the only steps they have taken, limited ones, have been because we are seeking contempt.” 

He also suggested a more severe option.  

“You could fine them,” he told Kemp. “You could put them in jail.”  

But Langhofer said the options Beauchamp mentioned wouldn’t solve the problem. 

Langhofer said anyone could refer the issue to the attorney general, including Beauchamp, and that he didn’t know of anyone being held in contempt for not contacting law enforcement, especially about an issue being publicly discussed in hearings such as that one. The Senate is already withholding $100,000 of the $150,000 it agreed to pay Cyber Ninjas, Langhofer said. He added that the court should not compel the Senate to sue Cyber Ninjas to avoid being found in contempt.  

“I think that moves the court into an advocacy role, which is inappropriate,” Langhofer said.  

The Senate notified Cyber Ninjas last week that it breached its contract by not complying with the court order and has also reached out to sub-vendors in an attempt to obtain responsive records. Langhofer said the sub-vendors have not responded, and Cyber Ninjas have continued to respond, essentially, with “pound sand.” 

Cyber Ninjas is not a party in the American Oversight lawsuit, though they are a party in a separate public records lawsuit brought by the Arizona Republic. Cyber Ninjas maintains that it should not be a party in either case and that it is not bound by Kemp’s rulings in the American Oversight case. 

In a friend of the court brief, Cyber Ninjas attorney Jack Wilenchik said the only record the Senate was entitled to was the Cyber Ninjas’ final audit report and that ruling otherwise would set a “terrifying precedent” for government contractors. 

“CNI’s own records are not public records simply because they may relate to that report, which seems to be the contention here,” Wilenchik wrote. 

During the hearing, Kemp also did not grant a stay on his Oct. 14 order compelling the Senate to release many of the documents it claimed fell under legislative privilege. The Senate asked for the stay to give it time to seek a stay or review from the Court of Appeals.  

Kemp said he thought the Senate would be unlikely succeed on appeal and that the potential harm to the Senate of releasing documents did not outweigh the harm to American Oversight of not receiving them.  

“This is a very important public policy issue with very strong public interest in this case,” Kemp said.  

He scheduled a status conference at 10 a.m. on Nov. 29.  

If the Senate does not dissuade the court from holding a contempt hearing, that will take place at 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 2. 

“We want the documents; we don’t want a contempt hearing,” Beauchamp said. “But if we can’t get the documents, we ought to get a contempt hearing to find out why the Senate won’t do everything within its power (to get the records).” 


Judge: Audit policies, procedures open to public

Some of the 2.1 million ballots cast during the 2020 election, are brought in for recounting at a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican lead Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix. The equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden and the 2.1 million ballots were moved to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden’s victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Arizonans are entitled to see the policies and procedures being used in the Senate’s audit of the 2020 election returns, a judge has ruled.

At a hearing Wednesday, attorney Kory Langhofer who represents the Senate, argued there are constitutional provisions that protect lawmakers from being sued. He argued these extend to work being done on behalf of the Senate by Cyber Ninjas, the private firm hired by Senate President Karen Fann to conduct the review.

And Langhofer said even if there are questions about how the audit is being conducted there’s no need for judicial intervention

“The legislature can be trusted to handle its affairs responsibly,” he told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Daniel Martin. “We have to trust the legislature will act responsibly.”

Martin, however, said there’s no legal basis for those arguments.

He said one constitutional provision cited by Langhofer does protect lawmakers from “civil process” — having to be hauled into court — during the legislative session. But that, said Martin, does not extend to others, even if they are working under contract for the Senate.

There is another clause that spells out that no member of the legislature can be liable in any civil or criminal prosecution for words spoken in debate. And Martin said that might even apply to communications between lawmakers and their contractors.

But this, he said, isn’t that.

“The policies and procedures presently in issue cannot fairly be characterized as communications for that purpose,” Martin said. “And even if they could, they would not meet the standard (under Arizona case law) as matters that constitute an integral part of the legislative deliberative process.”

In ordering the documents made public, the judge also effectively rejected arguments by attorneys for Cyber Ninjas that what is in them constitutes some sort of trade secret.

Wednesday’s ruling may not be the end of the fight. Martin gave the attorneys for the Senate and Cyber Ninjas until noon Thursday to try to get an appellate judge to overturn or at least stay his disclosure order. Absent that, he said, the policies become public.

Martin, however, refused to put the audit on “hold” or otherwise restrict how it is being conducted at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. He said there was not enough evidence at this point to support such a move.

But he did leave the door open to that issue depending on what the Arizona Democratic Party, which has sued to halt the audit, finds in the policies. Attorney Andy Gaona argued what is occurring is leaving the election equipment, the ballots and files with personally identifying information “to an audit that is being done by a known conspiracy theorist.

Martin, for his part, did not get into the issue of statements made by Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan questioning whether Joe Biden really won the election.

Instead, he said, this is a simple question of law. And he said that, absent a clear showing of harm, Arizona court rules require pretty much everything introduced as evidence to be public.

What that also means is that any hearing into the adequacy of the company’s policies to protect the ballots and personal voter information will not be closed to the public, as Cyber Ninjas had asked.

Strictly speaking, Wednesday’s ruling, coming from a trial judge, sets no new precedents. But it still is a setback for the contention of Langhofer, on behalf of the Senate, that much of what lawmakers do, including this audit, is beyond the scope of the judicial branch to review.

Langhofer echoed statements by Fann that the audit is necessary so that lawmakers can find out what occurred in the 2020 election where Biden outpolled Trump in Arizona by 10,457 votes. That victory was gained by Maricopa County’s tally with the Democrat winning by 45,109 votes.

“They’ve got tens of thousands of constituent calls that are very concerned about this,” he said. “Rightly or wrongly, there is widespread concern about the conduct of the 2020 election.”

Since lawmakers don’t have personal knowledge of what actually happened to speak about it and craft legislation, they hired Cyber Ninjas to conduct a review, Langhofer said. And that, he argued, makes the conduct of the audit protected by the “speech and debate” clause of the Arizona Constitution.

Gaona, however, said none of that shields the taxpayer-funded audit — and the promised protections of ballot security as well as transparency in the process — from public scrutiny.

Anyway, he noted, both Fann and former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, whom she hired to be the Senate’s liaison to Cyber Ninjas, already have made multiple statements about the audit and the procedures, all assuring the public that everything was being done in a transparent fashion.

“They should not be permitted to pick and choose which communications are withheld from the public, and even from the parties in this case,” Gaona said, pointing out to Martin that Cyber Ninjas, while ordered by the court to produce the policies for review, won’t even share them with the challengers.

Gaona also asked Martin to brush aside Langhofer’s argument that the court — and, by extension, the public — should trust the Senate, Cyber Ninjas and the policies to protect the ballots, equipment and voter information.

“I think that ship has long since sailed,” he said.

“There is no trust currently in the legislature,” Gaona continued. “And if the idea here is, as President Fann has repeatedly urged, is that this was to be a transparent process, one that would be fair and that we could all trust the results of, then the simple thing for them to do is to release these policies and procedures for public scrutiny.”

Cyber Ninjas needs to complete its review by May 14, the day its temporary lease of Veterans Memorial Coliseum runs out.



Lake, Finchem ask federal court to ban voting machines

Mark Finchem and Kari Lake confer earlier this year on the House floor. (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)

Two Republicans seeking statewide office are asking a federal judge to block the use of machines to tabulate the votes in Arizona in the 2022 election.

Gubernatorial hopeful Kari Lake and Mark Finchem, running for secretary of state, contend that the machines are unreliable because they are subject to hacking. And they say that the use of components in computers from other countries makes them vulnerable.

But attorney Andrew Parker who filed the lawsuit on their behalf said there is something even more basic.

He said that the tabulation of votes is an inherently governmental function. Yet by using machines built and programmed by private companies the state has effectively farmed that out.

And what’s worse, Parker said in his filings, is that the technology is kept secret from the public.

“This lack of transparency by electronic voting machine companies has created a ‘black box’ system of voting which lacks credibility and integrity,” he wrote in a copy of the lawsuit furnished to Capitol Media Services.

What he wants is a court order to have the 2022 election conducted with paper ballots which would be counted by hand, calling it “the most effective and presently the only secure election method.”

Neither Lake nor Finchem would agree to be interviewed on the lawsuit.

But Lake, in a Facebook interview with Trump supporter Mike Lindell, said the litigation is the result of what she believes was a stolen 2020 election.

“We know how tragic it was that this election (was) corrupted the way it was here in Arizona,” she said. “And we don’t want it to happen again.”

The lawsuit also cites what Parker said were “irregularities and evidence of illegal vote manipulations”  in voting systems used in the 2020 election. While most of the incidents were from elsewhere, the list includes claims from the Cyber Ninjas “audit” of Maricopa County’s election process about things like software and patch protocols not being followed and missing files.

County officials responded to each of the allegations months ago, saying those findings were in error and proved that Cyber Ninjas, which had never done such a review, clearly did not understand election equipment, procedures or laws.

But Parker also said the lawsuit is not an attempt to undo the 2020 presidential results in Arizona, which gave Joe Biden the state’s 11 electoral votes.

“It is only about the future — about upcoming elections that will employ voting machines designed and run by private companies, performing a crucial governmental function, that refuse to disclose their software and system components and subject them to neutral expert evaluation,” he wrote. “It raises the profound constitutional issue: Can government avoid its obligation of democratic transparency and accountability by delegating a critical government function to private companies?”

At the heart of the complaint are the contentions by some, particularly among those like Lake and Finchem who still deny the results of the 2020 election, that it was stolen. While some of the issues involve unproven allegations that forged ballots were inserted into the system, there has been a consistent litany of complaints that the hardware and software used to tally ballots was hacked or, worse, was programmed to produce a win for Biden.

“The parallels between the statistical analysis of Venezuela and this year’s election are astonishing,” wrote Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan even before being hired by Senate President Karen Fann to review the results. That refers to claims that there was a link between Dominion Voting System and the family of now-deceased dictator Hugo Chavez.

“I’m ashamed how few Republicans are talking about it,” Logan said.

Parker makes no such claims. Instead he wants a judge to prohibit the use of electronic voting machines in Arizona “unless and until the electronic voting system is made open to the public and subjected to scientific analysis by objective experts to determine whether it is secure from manipulation or intrusion.”

Arizona does have various systems designed to check equipment.

For example, counties are required to conduct “logic and accuracy” tests, both before and after the official tally. That process, done in public, involves taking a known set of ballots and running them through the tallying equipment to ensure that the results reported by the machines matches what has been marked.

Parker contends those tests don’t prove anything to deal with what he said are “security problems inherent in the use of electronic voting machines.”

“All post-election audit procedures can be defeated by sophisticated manipulation of electronic voting machines,” he claims.

He specifically cited the refusal of Dominion to surrender its passwords to Cyber Ninjas for examination, with Dominion attorneys saying granting such access to the workings of its equipment violated the company’s protections against illegal search and seizure.

But what Parker does not mention is that there was an agreement between the Senate and the county that allowed three independent experts, including one recommended by the Senate, to examine the equipment. They reported that the system was not connected to the internet and that there was no evidence of data deletion, data purging, data overwriting or other destruction of evidence.

In seeking a court order, Parker wants more than just the use of paper ballots in 2022.

He also wants each ballot to have a unique identification number known only to the voter so each can tell if his or her ballot was counted properly. And Parker said each ballot would be printed on specialized paper that cannot be counterfeited.

The Republican-controlled legislature mandated the use of “anti-fraud ballot paper” in 2021. But it was voided by the Arizona Supreme Court which ruled that the provision was placed illegally into unrelated budget legislation.

A similar measure was introduced this year but has not been approved.

While the issue of voting machines has largely been a Republican talking point, the lawsuit does have at least one indication of bipartisanship: attorney Alan Dershowitz is part of the legal team.

“You have to understand I’m a liberal Democrat,” he said during the Lindell Facebook interview.

“I’m happy with the results of the election,” Dershowitz said. “This is about whether or not votes are being properly counted.”


Let’s look into Sen. Fann’s complicity to prolong no-win situation

Dear Editor:

Reporting in Arizona newspapers over the last couple of days documents many instances where Arizona Senate President Karen Fann’s poor judgment and lack of leadership saddled taxpayers with an unqualified ballot counting and audit company instead of the one U.S. company with the professional tools to do the job.  

Too many taxpayer dollars – over $425,000, according to recent reporting from the Arizona Republic – and months of time have been squandered on Cyber Ninjas, a company whose principals lack principle, and which possesses neither the expertise, experience, nor tools to produce verifiable and credible results.  

Was Karen Fann duped by strong-arm politicians intent on hammering home  The Big Lie? Or has she been deliberately deceptive in knowingly hiring a company with partisan interests and then covering up the facts? It’s time we dig deeper for the truth, not just about the ballots and the audit, but about Karen Fann’s complicity in prolonging a no-win situation. 

Brandy Reese 


Media to get day in court over Senate election audit

Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan, left, a Florida-based consultancy, talks about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican lead Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, as a Cyber Ninjas IT technician demonstrates a ballot scan during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix. The equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden and the 2.1 million ballots were moved to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden's victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan, left, a Florida-based consultancy, talks about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican lead Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, as a Cyber Ninjas IT technician demonstrates a ballot scan during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix. The equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden and the 2.1 million ballots were moved to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden’s victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A judge on Tuesday said he has yet to be convinced that the rights of Maricopa County voters are being protected in the audit being conducted at the demand of the state Senate.

In a wide-ranging ruling, Judge Daniel Martin affirmed that the Senate has the authority to review the 2.1 million ballots and the machinery used to tabulate them as part of its legislative function. But he rejected claims by attorneys for the Senate that its members are constitutionally immune from being sued over how the audit is being handled by an outside contractor.

“The manner in which that audit is being conducted must be balanced against the constitutional rights of the voters in Maricopa County, including the rights to secrecy and confidentiality of information,” he said.

Martin acknowledged that not all the procedures in state law and the official Election Procedures Manual for handling the ballots and protecting the security apply in a post-election audit, particularly one that has no possibility of overturning the results. Whatever comes out of the audit will not affect the fact that President Biden outpolled President Trump in Arizona.

“Certain of those procedures, however, plainly apply, and require the application of at least minimal safeguards to the audit process,” the judge said. And that means neither the Senate nor Cyber Ninjas have a free hand to do what they will with the ballots and the equipment.

All that, Martin said, means the outcome of the challenge by the Arizona Democratic Party will depend on what kinds of policies and procedures have been implemented.

It starts, the judge said, with what is required by the Senate which, in turn, communicates with Cyber Ninjas through former Secretary of State Ken Bennett who Senate President Karen Fann has tasked with being her voluntary liaison with Cyber Ninjas.

At the same time, Cyber Ninjas is claiming that Bennett has ultimate responsibility for physical security at Veterans Memorial Coliseum where the audit is being conducted as well as the security of the hardware there.

Daniel Martin
Daniel Martin

“To date, there has been no showing of how Mr. Bennett intends to achieve these goals,” Martin said.

All that, in turn, goes to the question of whether Cyber Ninjas has to share with challengers — and with the public — its policies.

On Tuesday, Martin gave the First Amendment Coalition the right to intercede in the case. That came over the objection of attorneys for both the Senate and Cyber Ninjas who argued not only that the policies used to conduct the audit should be kept confidential but that any hearing on them should be closed.

That ruling allows attorney Dan Barr to argue that the public has an interest in knowing exactly what is happening at the audit site and, more to the point, how the ballots and equipment are being protected — or not.

“I question whether there are any trade secrets here to begin with,” Barr told the judge. “I find that fairly dubious to begin with.”

Beyond that, he said there is a constitutional right of the public to observe and assess the proceedings.

“I can’t imagine a higher public interest here than the validity of the vote, the care that a private company gives to live ballots which are protected by the state constitution,” Barr said.

But the judge put off until Wednesday any ruling the question of whether the policies and procedures that are being used by Cyber Ninjas are subject to public disclosure.

Hanging in the balance is whether the hand count and examination of both the ballots and equipment will continue, and under what conditions.

Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan, left, a Florida-based consultancy, and former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, right, talk about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix. The equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden and the 2.1 million ballots were moved to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden's victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan, left, a Florida-based consultancy, and former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, right, talk about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Fann said the audit will help resolve concerns by constituents about whether the results of the 2020 election — and the vote for Biden — were accurate. But the legal position of the Senate is that it needs the review to determine if there are weaknesses in current election laws that need to be addressed.

It was that argument that resulted in Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomason concluding two months ago that the Senate had the right to enforce its subpoena.

But Thomason made it clear that did not overcome his concerns about the confidentiality of the materials. And attorney Roopali Desai who represents the challengers said there is enough evidence of problems to bring the process to a halt unless and until questions are answered.

For example, she told Martin that Cyber Ninjas and the people it hired have access to voter files.

“They say that there are qualified people trained to handle the ballots,” Desai said. “We’re asking who are these people, how they have been hired, have there been sufficient background checks done, and are they trained?”

She also said Cyber Ninjas has said it has an earnest desire to comply with the law.

“Well, what steps are they taking to make sure that their desire is a reality?” Desai said.

But Alexander Kolodin who represents Cyber Ninjas told Martin that an injunction against proceedings, even for a day, “may derail this audit.” He pointed out the Senate has possession of Veterans Memorial Coliseum only through May 14.

Anyway, he argued, there’s no basis for a court to intercede, especially on a complaint by the Arizona Democratic Party.

“This audit is the will of the Senate, the people’s elected representative,” Kolodin said. “A political party should not get a heckler’s veto by filing a late action to stop the legislature from carrying out the people’s work.”

Martin, however, said the Democratic Party has standing to raise the questions about the procedures being used to review the ballots and equipment. And he rejected arguments that the lawsuit, filed just a week ago, came too late.

Reporter forced from Senate audit for photographing ex-lawmaker, indiscernible ballot

Former state representative Anthony Kern counts ballots on April 30 during a Senate audit of the 2020 election at Veterans Coliseum. This photo led to auditors kicking pool reporter Ryan Randazzo of the Arizona Republic out of the arena for alleged violation of a rule prohibiting the photographing of ballots. Randazzo’s tweet sparked a long conversation on the social media platform in which users questioned his participation in the audit because he was a losing candidate in the election, he was photographed in the mob of Trump supporters during the siege on the Capitol Jan. 6 and he has been involved in the Stop the Steal movement. (Photo by Ryan Randazzo/Arizona Republic)
Former state representative Anthony Kern counts ballots on April 30 during a Senate audit of the 2020 election at Veterans Coliseum. This photo led to auditors kicking pool reporter Ryan Randazzo of the Arizona Republic out of the arena for alleged violation of a rule prohibiting the photographing of ballots. Randazzo’s tweet sparked a long conversation on the social media platform in which users questioned his participation in the audit because he was a losing candidate in the election, he was photographed in the mob of Trump supporters during the siege on the Capitol Jan. 6 and he has been involved in the Stop the Steal movement. (Photo by Ryan Randazzo/Arizona Republic)

An Arizona Republic reporter had his press access for the state Senate audit revoked Friday after he tweeted a photo of former Republican lawmaker and Jan. 6 protester Anthony Kern reviewing Maricopa County 2020 ballots at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum. 

The reporter, Ryan Randazzo, was working as the press pool reporter and posted that he was removed from the Coliseum on Twitter. 

“Well, a man in a cowboy hat and a badge that said Wake TSI just came over, asked if I tweeted the picture of Anthony Kern, and when I said yes he escorted me out of the building and said my press privileges were ‘revoked,’ Randazzo tweeted. 

Randazzo added in a subsequent tweet that he was told he could stay in the venue’s parking lot. 

Senate liaison and former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett said Randazzo was removed because there was a ballot in the image he tweeted. 

“I think he was trying to get Anthony Kern’s face, but he ended up getting the ballot,” Bennett said. “We were very clear that reporters would not be releasing close up images of ballots.” 

@ArizonaAudit, the Twitter account for the audit, responded to a user who said the ballot in the photo “looked quite blurry to me” by telling them to “Go get an eye exam.” 

To participate in the press pool, journalists agreed to ensure photos of ballots did not have contents that were distinguishable by the naked eye or via a zoom lens. They did not agree to avoid photographing or posting images that contain ballots entirely.  

There is no agreement to avoid photographing faces. 

Arizona Senate President Karen Fann said on Twitter that Randazzo’s tweet violated a judge’s order to not release the contents of ballots publicly and accused him of “doxing” workers at the Coliseum. In fact, the judge’s orders do not apply to the press, only the Senate. And doxing, which lawmakers just voted to make a crime, is defined as making someone’s private or identifying information public with malicious intent.  

Kern’s pinned tweet on his Twitter profile is an April 22 announcement saying it wa“Very exciting to be involved in Arizona’s massive and historic election audit which begins today.” 

Details of the ballot were not visible in the photo, and Randazzo said that when security personnel approached him, they asked if he had tweeted a photo of the former lawmaker, not the ballot.  

Kern on twitter accused Randazzo of committing a felony by photographing a ballot, and asked Attorney General Mark Brnovich to look into it.  

The audit’s own cameras show images of ballots, though they’re no clearer than the image Randazzo posted, which he shot from the press section an estimated 125 feet away from where the actual counting is happening, and which was too pixilated to make out the actual words on the ballot.  

Kern lost his 2020 re-election bid, the only Republican member of the state House to do so, and was present Jan. 6 when insurrectionists stormed Congress to try to stop lawmakers from certifying the results of the 2020 election, which President Biden won.  

As a 2020 candidate, Kern’s name is on some of the ballots the auditors are reviewing — he lost his state House of Representatives re-election to represent District 20.  

Bennett was unaware that Kern ran in 2020. 

“What, he lost? Was he in the 2020 election?” Bennett asked. 

Bennett said he was not involved in hiring Kern, saying that responsibility fell to the temp agency that hired counters for Wake TSI, the firm overseeing the hand recount under Cyber Ninjas, whose CEO has spread unproven claims about the election in Arizona online. 

In the Statement of Work for Cyber Ninjas, the firm leading the audit, the firm says it will use “non-partisan counters,” drawn from “a pool of primarily former law enforcement, veterans, and retired individuals” for the recount. 

“These individuals will undergo background checks and will be validated to not have worked for any political campaigns nor having worked for any vendor involved in the voting process,” the section stated. 

Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas, told reporters that the only vetting ballot-counters would undergo was a review of their social media accounts. It’s unclear why that review didn’t throw up red flags for Kern. 

Bennett said no counters were asked their political party affiliation and Kern did not receive special treatment. 

“When you’re hiring somebody, you can’t ask what their political party is,” Bennett said. So, I think in that sense, he was nonpartisan because they didn’t ask him whether he was Republican or Democrat or Independent or whatever.” 

Kern is also on the Brady List, a database of police who have engaged in a pattern of dishonesty. It is unclear whether that came up in a background check.  

“I don’t know anything about that – I was not involved in his hiring,” Bennett said. 

Also on hand for the recount today was U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, a Gilbert Republican who voted against certifying the results of Arizona’s presidential election. 

Republican’s canvass flawed, experts say

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

A months-long “independent” canvassing effort in Maricopa County culminated in an 11-page report that made big claims about “ghost” voters and lost votes. 

But problems were evident from the first page. 

“When it comes to the integrity of the data presented, look no further than the cover page of the report which can be easily disproven,” pollster Mike Noble with OH Predictive Insights said. 

Unsuccessful state legislative candidate Liz Harris led volunteers in canvassing shortly after the election as part of her “Voter Integrity Project.” Folks signed up to volunteer on the website itsmellsfunny.com.  

Although Harris was an early advocate for what would become the Arizona Senate’s audit of Maricopa County 2020 general election results, the canvassing was not an “official” part of the audit. 

In May, Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, paused any official canvassing after the U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter raising concerns about voter intimidation.  

“This is something that she did on her own with apparently hundreds, if not thousands, of grassroots people,” Fann said. “It was not, as you know, through our audit. We had told the DOJ that we had suspended any canvassing indefinitely.”  

The Senate’s contractor, Cyber Ninjas, initially included canvassing in its statement of work and professed to have already gone door-knocking ahead of the Senate’s review. They said the already completed canvassing effort “brought forth a number of significant anomalies suggesting significant problems in the voter rolls,” though did not provide specific examples. The Cyber Ninjas’ full review report has not been released, with a delay attributed to three members of its audit team testing positive for Covid. 

Fann said Wednesday she had not yet read Harris’ report but was eager to do so. 

“I am going to obviously suggest that she send that report to our attorney general because that’s what we’re going to do with our audit information,” Fann said, adding that she thought the canvassing efforts would help the Attorney General’s Office “get to the bottom of some of the issues that’ve been coming up.”  

But elections experts and pollsters took issue with Harris’ report, starting with the cover.  

The front page purports to show a vacant lot supposedly connected to two mail-in votes.  

But the lot isn’t actually vacant, as ABC 15 reporter and former state election employee Garrett Archer noted on Twitter. An aerial map available online at the Maricopa County Assessor’s website includes a photo of the lot, which houses a single-family home.  

Harris’ crew later changed the photo to another parcel, but Archer noted that a valid registered voter lived at the address as of December 2019 as well and the U.S. Postal Service forwards mail for one year.  

The canvass report claims there were 173,104 “lost” votes and 96,389 “ghost” voters based on data it gathered from a smaller sample size. It stated that canvassers attempted to contact 11,708 voters, but interviews “yielded data on 4,570 registered voters.” 

The disappearing vote claim is based on interviews with 964 individuals that “were registered to vote in Maricopa County but whom the county said did not vote,” according to the report. “Of those 964, 34.23%, or 330 people, said they had actually voted.”  

The canvass team used that figure to estimate that, of the 2.6 million total voters in Maricopa County, “173,104 voters had their votes stolen.”  

The report’s other primary claim is that 96,389 mail-in votes were “cast under the names of registered voters who were either unknown to the residents of the registration address or who were verified as having moved away prior to October 2020.”  

Noble said the report lacked transparency, “aside from a few Microsoft Excel tables.”  

“Survey work is an art form as much as it is a science and you have to be careful when extrapolating these canvass numbers,” he added. 

In an open letter to fellow Arizona Republicans, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer said Harris claimed when the two met on May 18 that many voters did not actually live where they were registered. 

“These issues have very straightforward possible explanations, but I asked Harris to send me examples such that I could investigate her concerns. She never sent examples,” Richer wrote. 

Tammy Patrick, former federal compliance officer for the Maricopa County Elections Department, said the report’s claims were based on inevitably flawed data.  

“The challenge is that if they’re basing their information on what someone tells them at their front door, they are not going to have correct information for a variety of reasons,” Patrick said.  

Patrick is now a senior adviser to the elections program at the Democracy Fund, a nonpartisan foundation that advocates for the U.S. democratic system. She said that someone answering questions at their door months after the election isn’t necessarily going to remember how or when they voted.  

“It’s very difficult to get an accurate assessment of an election based on door-to-door canvassing, just due to the various types of research challenges in that sort of methodology, whether it’s reporting bias or fulfillment bias or whatever – there are a variety of technological terms that point to why this is a very bad and unscientific way of getting to any sort of truth,” Patrick said.  

She said that there are also legitimate reasons, such as military duty outside of the country, why people might be registered at a home they’re not currently residing in.  

“For them to say that, ‘We knocked on the door of a house and they’ve never heard of the name … there’s a lot of people who move frequently in Arizona,” Patrick said. “That doesn’t mean that the ballot that that individual cast was not eligible to be cast.”  

Patrick also noted that mail-in voting, which Harris’ report recommended doing away with completely, has long been the preferred method of voting in Arizona with few complaints until the most recent election 

“For the last three decades, it’s been the case that Arizonans have liked to vote by mail,” she said. “Now, in this moment, they have a single election where they’re unhappy with the outcome of that race, and they’re trying to use it to call into question.” 

Senate committee subpoenas Maricopa County BOS

In this November 6, 2020, photo, Arizona elections officials continue to count ballots inside the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office in Phoenix. The Arizona Senate got affirmation from a court that its subpoena for Maricopa County’s 2.1 million ballots and election equipment for an audit of the 2020 election is valid. (Photo by Associated Press)

The head of the Senate Government Committee said Monday she is ordering Maricopa County officials to show up next week to explain why they aren’t providing documents demanded by Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

And the issue is the contention by an outside expert with ties to the “Stop the Steal” movement that more than 200,000 early ballots had signatures that did not match — far more than the county’s own estimates.

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction, noted that it has been several weeks since Jennifer Wright, one of Brnovich’s assistants, sent a third request for public information. To date, Townsend said, there has been no response.

Kelly Townsend

So Townsend, who has questioned the results of the 2020 election, is using the legislative right of subpoena to tell the supervisors or their representatives to show March 28 “and explain to us why they are not producing the information requested by the attorney general.”

But Townsend made it clear she wants that same information turned over to her and the Republican-controlled committee she chairs.

“If they cannot produce that information to us they are going to produce an explanation as to why they are not producing that to us or to the attorney general,” she said.

A county spokesman said the supervisors had just received the subpoena from Townsend.

But there was no immediate response to questions about why the county has not fully provided the attorney general with the information requested. And a spokeswoman for Brnovich said that, as of late Monday, the documents have yet to be provided.

Part of the request from Wright is technical.

For example, she said, an earlier production of records referred to certain policies. But Wright said what was missing are the actual policies.

All this comes as Republican lawmakers insist that changes are needed in how elections are run to protect against fraud.

In fact, the Government Committee which Townsend chairs also was hearing evidence late Monday about whether to make changes in existing election laws, ranging from outlawing unmonitored drop boxes for ballots to eliminating virtually all early voting in future elections and requiring ballots be counted by hand.

The subpoena, however, is different.

It goes to theories about the election having been stolen from Donald Trump, theories that will not die despite court rulings, random hand counts, and the lack of any hard evidence to support them.

And it specifically raises questions about how Maricopa County verified the signatures on the envelopes for early ballots cast in the 2020 general election and how election workers decided which match and can be counted, and which do not.

There were more than 1.9 million early ballots cast in Maricopa County in the last election.

Townsend said the county said no more than 25,000 of these ballots had apparent signature mismatches that required further review or “curing,” where voters explain to election officials why a signature may not match what is on file. After that, she said, 587 were confirmed signature mismatches and the votes not counted.

But Townsend is relying on research done by Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai, an MIT lecturer who has espoused various election conspiracy theories and criticized Covid vaccines. He contends that county officials counted ballots that were questionable at best.

She said that he brought together three experts and three novices to review a random sample of 499 ballots, comparing the signatures on envelopes with other signatures that are publicly available, like mortgage documents that are on file at county offices. And Townsend said those six people concluded 60 of the 499 were mismatches, or 12%.

“Based on that study, if you extrapolate that, over 204,430 should have been cured, versus 25,000 the county disallowed,” she said.

“The question is how does this happen, why wasn’t this cured,” Townsend said. “And so there’s a lot of unanswered questions that the attorney general would need to be able to answer but cannot because of the obstruction coming from the board of supervisors.”

All this is occurring as the audit ordered by Senate President Karen Fann, R-Phoenix, of the Maricopa County election returns has yet to be completed. While a hand count of the ballots showed that Trump, indeed, lost Maricopa County, Fann is awaiting reports about the tabulation machines and whether there is evidence they were hooked up to the internet and whether the results were altered.


Senate mulls next step in auditing 2.1M ballots

These are the 2.1 million ballots cast in November in Maricopa County, loaded onto a truck and ready for delivery to the Senate -- which may not be able to handle them. PHOTO COURTESY MARICOPA COUNTY
These are the 2.1 million ballots cast in November in Maricopa County, loaded onto a truck and ready for delivery to the Senate — which may not be able to handle them. PHOTO COURTESY MARICOPA COUNTY

Pallets of ballots sit on trucks in Phoenix as senators figure out what to do next, three months after they declared they wanted their own audit of the presidential election.

The 28 tons of paper packed in hundreds of neatly stacked boxes with nowhere to go serve as a visual representation of the Senate’s audit attempt, which has been full of setbacks and false starts since it began. Republican senators have alternately plunged ahead — drafting a resolution to arrest the Maricopa County supervisors who blocked their way and announcing they hired an auditor — and fallen back, losing a vote on their contempt resolution and denying they ever selected an auditor after public pressure.

The Senate won a court battle February 26, after a Maricopa County judge found  its subpoenas could be enforced. 

Now, Republican senators are like a dog that caught the car it chased and doesn’t know what to do, said Democratic Sen. Martín Quezada. 

“I think from the very beginning this was all a big soapbox they were standing on just trying to make noise,” he said. “I don’t think they ever expected this was actually going to happen, but now they have it, and they don’t know what to do. And literally what are they gonna do? If I was the Senate president, I wouldn’t know what the hell to do with [2.1 million ballots].”


Subpoenas the Senate filed in December and January make clear that the ballots and election equipment must be delivered to the Capitol. Accordingly, the county loaded ballots onto trucks March 1 with the intention of delivering them to the Senate, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers wrote in a letter to each senator March 3. 

Instead, Sellers wrote, Senate attorney Kory Langhofer — who also represented the Trump campaign in a lawsuit to challenge the administration of the election — sent the county an email at 5:08 p.m. March 1 saying the Senate was unprepared to receive any of the ballots. The county then learned from a statement the Senate GOP spokesman gave a reporter that the Senate claimed there was an “understanding” that the county would let the audit occur in the county’s election facilities – an understanding the county did not share.

In this November 6, 2020, photo, Arizona elections officials continue to count ballots inside the Maricopa County Recorder's Office in Phoenix. The Arizona Senate got affirmation from a court that its subpoena for Maricopa County’s 2.1 million ballots and election equipment for an audit of the 2020 election is valid.
In this November 6, 2020, photo, Arizona elections officials continue to count ballots inside the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office in Phoenix. The Arizona Senate got affirmation from a court that its subpoena for Maricopa County’s 2.1 million ballots and election equipment for an audit of the 2020 election is valid.

These back-and-forth letters between the clashing parties now raises the question of whether the Senate Republicans will even push forward with its own audit – something they have fought over for nearly four months. Municipal elections are ongoing and the county’s buildings are occupied, Sellers wrote.

“Please advise us when the Senate is ready to receive the subpoenaed materials and where they should be delivered. If the Senate no longer wants the materials delivered, the county stands ready to discuss next steps,” Sellers said. 

Senate President Karen Fann could not be reached for comment, but the Senate said in a press release that the “best way to maintain the security of machines and ballots was to leave them at the county and have the independent auditors come to them, as was done with the first two audits.” 

Of course, the county, not the Senate, conducted those two other audits. And Gilbert Republican Warren Petersen, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman who signed the subpoenas alongside Fann, disputes whether the county’s audits were even audits.

Hobbs’ Advice

Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs wrote a letter to county election officials and senators on the evening of March 3, instructing them how to best proceed with the audit – should it happen – and reminding them of her concern over this entire debacle. 

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

“As you know, there is no credible evidence for any of the conspiracy theories that have abounded about the 2020 General Election, including those made by associates of Allied Systems Operations Group,” Hobbs wrote, urging Senate Republicans “not to waste taxpayer resources chasing false claims of fraud that will only further erode public confidence in our election processes and elected officials.”

But she still laid out what she views as a transparent and bipartisan process to audit the 2.1 million ballots from the county. Most of which are related to provisions in the Elections Procedures Manual.

Hobbs wrote that the senators need oversight, potentially from her office, the Governor’s Office or the Attorney General’s Office. Hobbs advised: Make sure the process is open, safe and secure; that senators they follow the law and suggest they only use red pens to mark ballots so as to not alter or add anything that could have the appearance of changing votes. And that should be done with a bipartisan group on live video feed, which should be retained for 24 months. 

She made it clear again that she is not in favor of the audit and disagrees that it will help people “trust” the election results, after all this time.

“I believe we can agree that proceeding without clear procedures for the security of the ballots and election equipment when they are in your custody, and clear procedures to ensure the integrity, independence, and transparency of the audit itself and the auditors selected, will only open the door to more conspiracy theories and further erosion of voters’ confidence in Arizona’s elections processes,” Hobbs wrote.

Not in Our House

Maricopa County spokesman Fields Moseley said supervisors had no intention of allowing senators to use their facilities for an audit they never supported in the first place. 

Fields Moseley
Fields Moseley

As Moseley sees it, the February 26 court ruling, which states that the Senate has broad constitutional power to oversee elections, would allow Republican senators to share ballots and equipment with anybody they deem fit – including Rudy Giuliani, as AZGOP Chair Kelli Ward said the Senate plans to do. 

“We have to give them everything,” Moseley said “We don’t have any control.”

Giuliani was former President Donald Trump’s personal attorney and spent the weeks after the election holding unofficial hearings, including in Arizona on November 30, trying to prove Trump won the election. Handing materials over to him would likely mean Trump and his campaign team would have access to millions of Arizonans ballots.

County elections spokeswoman Megan Gilbertson saw it differently. 

“There are many laws around the security and secrecy of ballots. Arizona’s Constitution mandates that the secrecy in voting be preserved,” she said, adding that the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office included some statutes in its legal briefings. 

It’s illegal for anyone other than an election official, postal worker or the voter’s family or caregiver to possess someone else’s early ballot, and it’s illegal to show your completed ballot to anyone else — though “ballot selfies” are allowed. 

Still up in the air are details such as when the Senate will get the materials, where Senate leaders plan to conduct the audit and what, exactly, those auditors will focus on – or who for that matter will even conduct the audit. 

Former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks at a hearing of the Pennsylvania State Senate Majority Policy Committee, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, in Gettysburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks at a hearing of the Pennsylvania State Senate Majority Policy Committee, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, in Gettysburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

At the end of January, the Senate Republican caucus announced that it had selected an “independent, qualified, forensic auditing firm” to analyze the 2020 election results, but it didn’t name the firm in the announcement.

On February 2, the Senate’s attorney, Langhofer, informed Maricopa County’s attorneys via email that the Senate had selected Allied Special Operations Group, the firm that employs the “military intelligence expert” formerly known as Spyder. 

Allied Special Operations Group has made a host of inaccurate claims, including mixing up voting precincts in Michigan and Minnesota, and pushed debunked conspiracies, such as claiming Detroit had a turnout of 139%.

Fann later said she did not plan to hire the group. She further denied picking an auditor in the first place, even when shown the Senate press release that says she hired one.

Langhofer said he expected the number of vendors with access to the ballots to be “very limited” and that the Senate is still working out logistics of where ballots will be stored and how many of the 2.1 million ballots will be reviewed. He said the Senate wants “a truly independent review of the election results in order to assess how well the processes in Arizona work” – and wasn’t planning to share the materials with Giuliani. 

Langhofer said the Senate is still considering proposals from potential auditors and he had received several calls on the subject March 2.

“I expect they’ll have a firm plan soon, but as of now, nothing’s finalized,” he said.

County officials and Senate Democrats are hesitant to believe there will be a nonpartisan independent audit, saying the best firms have already conducted an audit through the county and came back with no evidence of fraud. 

Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said she had not heard from either Fann or Petersen on whether Senate Democrats, or at least the Judiciary Committee, of which she is a member, would have any involvement in the auditing process. She said she would like to be involved, to make sure ballots and election equipment stay secure and there is oversight of the process. 

“They certainly aren’t conducting themselves in a manner indicating that they have much of a plan,” she said. “But this isn’t a game. What’s at stake is the integrity of the very evidence of how thousands of voters voted in our 2020 election, so we need to take the subpoena seriously and figure out a plan as to how the audit can actually be conducted in a safe, secure and accurate manner.”

Arizona Capitol Times reporter Kyra Haas contributed to this report. 

Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously reported that attorney Kory Langhofer represented President Trump in a lawsuit attempting to prove voter fraud. Actually, they lawsuit did not involve voter fraud. 



Senate must do audit right or not at all

In this November 6, 2020, photo, Arizona elections officials continue to count ballots inside the Maricopa County Recorder's Office in Phoenix. The Arizona Senate got affirmation from a court that its subpoena for Maricopa County’s 2.1 million ballots and election equipment for an audit of the 2020 election is valid.
In this November 6, 2020, photo, Arizona elections officials continue to count ballots inside the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office in Phoenix. The Arizona Senate got affirmation from a court that its subpoena for Maricopa County’s 2.1 million ballots and election equipment for an audit of the 2020 election is valid.

Cross-partisan experts agree that the 2020 election was among the most secure and successful in modern American history. Arizona was no exception—historic numbers of Arizona voters exercised their fundamental right to vote. Since 1991, Arizona voters have been voting by mail, and mail in voting now accounts for more than 80% of all the votes.  No one has credibly claimed fraud in those decades of mail-in voting. In a year that has been difficult on so many fronts, Arizonans—no matter their political party—should be congratulating our hard-working election officials on a job well done and celebrating our democracy.

Instead, in an effort to undermine trust in the election’s outcome, many continue to repeat the falsehood that the presidential election was fraudulent. Disappointingly, some of my former colleagues in the Arizona Senate have fed this narrative and have subpoenaed 2.1 million Maricopa County ballots and election equipment for yet another audit. Superior Court Judge Timothy J. Thomason recently upheld the legal validity—if not the wisdom—of those subpoenas.

There is no reason for the Senate to spend taxpayer money to engage in another audit. Multiple audits have already shown that there were no irregularities in Maricopa County. And multiple lawsuits were unable to provide any evidence of fraud. Arizona’s own Republican Attorney General and Governor also recognized that Arizona’s 2020 elections were legitimate, as did the Republicans on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

However, if the Senate insists on continuing down this path and proceeds to conduct an additional audit or recount, it is essential that they do so in a way that protects the voters’ privacy and the integrity and security of the subpoenaed ballots and election equipment, and follows Arizona’s existing requirements surrounding audits and recounts. The Senate must also select an independent, reputable, unbiased organization to administer the audit. This is the only way to keep the public’s trust, ensure the integrity of the audit, and protect the privacy of Maricopa County voters.

Fortunately, the Senate seems to recognize these concerns. Following the ruling by Judge Thomason, Maricopa County prepared to comply with the subpoena by packing and loading onto a truck all 2.1 million ballots. The Senate realized that it had no plans for securely handling that volume of material. The parties now appear to be in an odd stand-off, with the County ready to deliver the ballots and the Senate unable to accept them.

Bob Worsley
Bob Worsley

The Senate should not accept delivery of the ballots unless and until it can ensure compliance with the existing Arizona rules for handling and auditing ballots. These rules require, for example, that audits be done by members of two different political parties while a live camera feed is running. It also requires procedures ensuring chain of custody and an access log. The Senate must share with the public all procedures it plans to follow to ensure ballot security, and must ensure public access to the audit to the fullest extent possible. Finally, to ensure the perception of an unbiased audit, the Senate should not associate itself with discredited and biased auditors. Anyone who has publicly perpetuated unfounded claims of fraud in the 2020 election must be disqualified as biased.

Forgoing these safeguards will undermine the public’s trust in the audit’s outcome and the election—supposedly the very goal of this audit. It will also needlessly put the privacy of the 2.1 million Maricopa residents who voted in 2020 at risk.

You might disagree with me, but as our former Senator Barry Goldwater used to say, we can disagree without being disagreeable. Though Joe Biden may not have been your candidate of choice, the election is over. Any audit must follow existing Arizona requirements, be impartial, and protect voters’ privacy. If the Senate cannot abide by those requirements, it should drop its subpoena and move on from the 2020 election.

Bob Worsley is a former Senator who represented Legislative District 13.


Senate panel OKs far-reaching election bill

Auditor General Lindsey Perry gives public comment on Senate Bill 1629 which would require the Auditor General’s Office to conduct election audits every election cycle. (Photo by Camryn Sanchez/Arizona Capitol Times)

The Senate’s most comprehensive bill to revamp election laws passed through Senate Government Committee Thursday with overwhelming Republican support.  

This session, Republicans have introduced dozens of election-related bills in the House and Senate.   

SB1629 requires biannual election audits on Maricopa and Pima county, gives the power of running these election audits to the Auditor General’s office and affects other elements of elections such as election officer training rules. The bill is sponsored by 13 out of the 16 Senate Republicans and was filed on January 31. 

Sen. President Karen Fann, R-Prescott and Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, are staunch supporters of the bill and they are two of its sponsors, but they said they do not know what total appropriation will be required to bring it to life, which concerns Democrats. 

Two amendments were added to the bill that were adopted today including one from Borrelli that appropriates $4.6 million to the Auditor General’s office and 35 full time employee positions to do the required audits. 

Borrelli is the prime sponsor of this bill and said in committee, “we’re going to be leading the way and setting the gold standards for other states to handle this,” before voting ‘yes’ to pass it 4-3 on party lines. Borrelli is a supporter of the controversial audit of the 2020 presidential election in Maricopa County and supports decertifying the election in Trump’s favor. 

The current Arizona Auditor General is Lindsey Perry and she had no involvement in the 2020 audit. Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale, opposed the bill, calling it an overreach of election oversight and saying he also opposes the unspecified appropriation to the secretary of state’s office to maintain a ballot image portal. 

Perry spoke at Thursday’s hearing about her possible new role and signed in as “neutral.” She said that the $4.6 million appropriation is sufficient for her office to conduct these election audits, but also testified that auditors would have to be pulled from other assignments and new, less experienced auditors would have to be hired, which is difficult as they have a staffing shortage that could affect other non-election related audits. Perry also said that this is not a function her office has handled in the past. 

“We audit. We are not elections experts,” she said.  

Quezada said he read “between the lines” and interpreted Perry’s testimony to mean her office is unprepared for the task of auditing county elections, but Republicans on the committee did not feel the same and said that she would be able to perform this role successfully. 

The Senate Republicans have the 16 members needed to pass this bill without any Democratic support, but they may not have the 16 votes. All eyes are now on Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, who has spoken against revamping election laws and the audit in the past. He did not say yet if he supports this bill but mentioned some concern over the possible appropriation.  

Senate to issue new subpoenas for election audit

Some of the 2.1 million ballots cast during the 2020 election, are brought in for recounting at a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican lead Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix. The equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden and the 2.1 million ballots were moved to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden's victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Some of the 2.1 million ballots cast during the 2020 election, are brought in for recounting at a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican lead Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix. AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Senate Republican leaders are setting the stage for a new legal fight with Maricopa County.

Kory Langhofer, the attorney for the Senate, said he will be issuing subpoenas today for all five Maricopa County supervisors, demanding they appear to explain why they won’t surrender certain equipment and information for review as part of the audit of the 2020 General Election returns. Langhofer also said the Senate wants to hear from Scott Jarrett, the county’s director of election day and emergency voting.

But that may just be part of it.

The Senate also may subpoena Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone, a Democrat. That’s because it is Penzone who is telling the supervisors they shouldn’t surrender the county’s computer routers because it would result in “horrendous consequences” for law enforcement personnel.

Those subpoenas will set a date and time for the county officials to appear. And that hearing, in turn, could turn into a debate of not just the legal issues involved but a venue for a very public airing of the merits — and potentially the politics — of the Senate audit.

Potentially more significant is what happens if the senators won’t accept the explanation and the county won’t budge.

That would send the case back to court. And then a judge would have to decide whether prior rulings requiring the county to surrender the ballots and election equipment applies to what senators now insist is necessary.

Senate President Karen Fann said she remains adamant that what the Senate wants is essential to completing the audit. And she told Capitol Media Services that the reticence to produce it makes her desire it even more.

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

“What are they hiding?” she asked, saying they may not have the confidence in the results they claim. Those results gave Democrat Joe Biden 45,109 more votes in the county than Republican Donald Trump. And that edge was enough to have Biden defeat Trump by 10,457 votes statewide.

The county already has surrendered all nearly 2.1 million ballots as well as the tallying machines and other election equipment. All of that has wound up at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum where the Florida firm of Cyber Ninjas is conducting the review.

But Fann said the company she hired needs two other things to complete its work.

One is a list of passwords to some of the counting equipment that was located at polling centers. County officials have said they don’t have those in their possession because they belong to Dominion Voting Systems, from whom the county leases the equipment.

Fann said she is skeptical, given that the county has claimed to have done its own forensic audits. She questioned how that could have been done without being able to look at everything, including the source code.

A bigger fight, however, surrounds the routers. These are the devices the county uses to funnel computer traffic among its computers.

The routers themselves contain no information on what was transmitted or received.

But what they would show are the unique IP — for internet protocol — addresses of any traffic, both sent and received. And that could answer the allegation that someone, somehow, electronically injected extra votes for Joe Biden into the results.

It is that new request by the Senate that has angered Penzone and caused the supervisors to balk.

“Its most recent demands jeopardize the entire mission of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office,” he said in a prepared statement.

“We are talking about confidential, sensitive and highly classified law enforcement data and equipment that will be permanently compromised,” the sheriff said. “The current course is mind-numbingly reckless and irresponsible.”

Paul Penzone
Paul Penzone

Penzone provided no details on how review of the computer traffic from computers used by the sheriff’s office would compromise any investigation or the safety of any officer. But he hinted he would be willing to provide specifics if asked — or subpoenaed.

“It is my hope that additional education of the exposure of this data and equipment will compel the Senate Republican caucus to take a more responsible course of action,” he wrote.

Jack Sellers, who chairs the supervisors, said there’s a separate problem.

“We have learned providing the physical routers will cripple county operations and cost as much as $6 million if we must replace the routers while the Cyber Ninjas have them,” he said. And Sellers said providing “virtual images” of the routers, while dealing with the technical issue of removing them, is not more acceptable because that still leaves the security issues cited by Penzone.

If senators are not satisfied with the explanation, the next step would be for them to ask a judge to declare that they are entitled to the additional information and access.

There is precedent for that — or at least the basic premise.

In February Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomasson swatted down a series of arguments by county officials who argued the lawmakers have no legal basis for the subpoena they issued. And Thomasson brushed aside claims by county officials that the real purpose of the subpoena is not to use the information gathered to review existing election laws but instead to try to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

“Granted, Fann has made public comments about concerns of ‘many voters’ regarding the accuracy of the presidential election and the need to ‘audit’ the election,” he wrote.

“The court is not in a position to determine if the ‘real’ purpose of the subpoenas is to try to ‘overturn’ the result of the election,” Thomasson wrote. Anyway, he said, such a move “would clearly be futile” given that the Electoral College has voted, Congress has confirmed the results, and President Biden has been sworn in.

Anyway, the judge said, is even if the election could somehow be challenged, “there is still a perfectly valid legislative purpose for the subpoenas,” meaning the oversight that the legislature has of elections.


Senator sics attorney general on supervisors

Rep. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, said he and other veterans serving in the Arizona State Legislature know how challenging it can be to transition from the military to civilian life. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Jessica Boehm)
Rep. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Jessica Boehm)

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich is investigating whether Maricopa County broke state law by refusing to comply fully with Senate subpoenas, and it could cost the county tens of thousands of dollars. 

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu, sought to use a 2016 law allowing lawmakers to request attorney general investigations of any local government that could break a state law to punish Maricopa County. Under the law, the state’s top law enforcement officer must investigate the complaint and direct the state treasurer to withhold state shared revenue from a city, county or other local jurisdiction that broke the law. 

Borrelli’s request is a novel use of the complaint process, which has most commonly been used against liberal cities that attempt to pass ordinances such as plastic bag bans. Instead of going after a new county ordinance, he wants Brnovich to state that the county violated state law by not complying with a Senate subpoena. 

Maricopa County declined to provide passwords, routers and network logs requested by the Senate for its ongoing review of the 2020 election, saying it didn’t have access to administrator-level passwords on its election equipment and that turning over routers and network logs would hamper county operations, including endangering law enforcement. Besides, the county argued, election equipment was never connected to those routers in the first place.  

The Senate already has a recourse for forcing compliance with a subpoena: a majority of senators can vote on a resolution to hold county supervisors in contempt. But a February contempt resolution proved that the Senate did not, and still does not, have the votes to hold county supervisors in contempt and send the sergeant at arms to arrest the supervisors.  

Senate President Karen Fann also could return to court to force the county to abide by the Senate’s subpoenas, which eventually worked in February. County officials sought a court order because Fann’s initial subpoenas for ballots appeared to contradict a state law governing the storage of ballots after an election, and handed over nearly 2.1 million ballots after a judge ruled the subpoena valid.  

Borrelli, a retired Marine gunnery sergeant, said during an appearance on right-wing television network One America News that Fann supported his complaint after her attempts at diplomacy failed.  

“When diplomacy breaks down, what happens? They always send in the Marines,” he said. “Well, I guess you can kind of do the math on that one.”  

While Brnovich’s office is investigating the Borrelli complaint, the attorney general has not commented on requests from Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs to investigate aspects of the Senate’s audit and reported attempts by Arizona Republican Party chairwoman Kelli Ward, as well as President Donald Trump and his allies, to interfere with certifying the election.  

A Brnovich spokesman on Monday would not confirm whether Brnovich is looking into the requests from Hobbs, but noted that state law requires an investigation of Borrelli’s complaint and public disclosure along the way. Criminal investigations, in contrast, are typically kept under wraps until they’re complete.  


Some lawmakers want to eliminate voting machines

Arizona Senate Election Audit
A contractor working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, yawns as Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted on May 6, 2021, at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. Some Arizona lawmakers are floating the idea of doing away with voting machines and using exclusively hand counts in future elections. PHOTO BY MATT YORK/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Some Republican lawmakers are considering long-term changes to how Arizonans’ votes are counted as the hand recount of Maricopa County’s 2.1 million ballots drags on at Veterans Memorial Coliseum more than six months after the election. 

One proposal is nixing voting machine use altogether and switching to hand counting ballots in an effort to avoid unfounded vulnerabilities these lawmakers see with the machines, particularly Dominion Voting Systems. Dominion has faced unproven allegations since the election that its hardware and software were either programmed or hacked to switch Donald Trump votes to Joe Biden 

“I know the grassroots wants that,” state Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said. “There’s a lot of push nationally to get rid of the machines because people feel like they can be manipulated.” 

The idea is one in a long list of proposed unusual tweaks to how Arizona does elections, from Rep. Mark Finchem’s push for adding UV-light activated watermarks to ballots to Townsend’s calling for all voting equipment and materials to be made in America. 

Proponents of getting rid of voting machines want volunteers at the precinct level to hand count ballots on Election Day. 

Townsend said she hadn’t heard as much interest in ditching voting machine use at the Capitol, and she said she’ll need to do more research before she’s fully onboard. However, she and some of her colleagues have voiced support for the idea online. 

“Can we get something besides Dominion Voting Systems?” Townsend asked on Twitter on May 20. “Better yet, how about we go back to hand counts at the precinct level and ditch the machines altogether?” 

State Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, also supports the idea. 

“Elections should be held on election day only and we should use only paper ballots. No machines!” Rogers tweeted May 21. 

Rogers was at the Coliseum June 2 with a group of Pennsylvania lawmakers considering taking a page from the Arizona playbook back to the Keystone state. Pennsylvania state senators Doug Mastriano and Cris Dush and state Rep. Rob Kauffman have been outspoken critics of Pennsylvania’s 2020 election results, claiming widespread fraud. 

After the tour, Rogers tweeted again about moving to a hand count as one of her overall Cyber Ninjas CEO observations. She wrote that Americans understand how to count and that counting should be done “at the local community level” with paper ballots only. 

“We should declare voting day a national holiday, so everyone can vote and participate in the counting,” she wrote. 

State Rep. Mark Finchem, who’s running for Arizona secretary of state in 2022, is fully behind getting rid of voting machines, claiming the “immense cost” of the Senate audit and the original cost of the machines suggests it would be more cost effective to pay people to hand count the votes. 

“Many Arizonans are now calling for an end to machine tabulation, and a return to the hand tabulation of ballots,” Finchem wrote in his newsletter last week.  

The Senate is paying contractor Cyber Ninjas $150,000 to conduct its review, though it’s unclear how much is being spent beyond that and who’s footing the bill, as the auditors collect donations from a 501 (c) (4), which keeps donors’ identities secret. 

Arizona already has a statutory requirement for a hand count of 2% of ballots cast on Election Day and 1% of early ballots. Bipartisan audit boards with members selected by the Republican, Democratic and Libertarian party chairs found no variances between the hand count and voting machine results for the 2020 general, primary and presidential preference elections. 

The Senate’s recount, originally expected to take roughly three weeks, has already taken five, with a weeklong pause for high schools to use the Coliseum for a string of graduations in May. 

The counters are roughly halfway done, according to the audit team. 

“Audit update: As of June 1st, we have surpassed counting 1.2 million ballots. Thank you to all our AZ volunteers!” the @ArizonaAudit Twitter account tweeted June 1. 

Republican chair of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission Amy Chan pointed to the slow-going of the activities at the Coliseum as an example of why moving exclusively to a hand count would be difficult and create problems. Chan was former Secretary of State Ken Bennett’s elections director. Bennett is one of the Senate’s volunteer audit liaisons. 

“You’ve seen how long it’s taken them to count 2.1 million, and we don’t know how accurate their count’s going to be at the Coliseum, and they’re still not done,” Chan said “I think anyone can see that the problem with doing away with machines entirely would be accuracy and speed, among other things.” 

Chan said that risk-limiting audits conducted after elections are important parts of the process, and she said she believes the sample hand counts and logic and accuracy tests are needed. 

“They ensure that the machines are doing what we want them to accurately calculate the election results,” she said. 

Townsend said she doesn’t think that’s good enough, and she doesn’t think time is of the essence either. 

“Do we want instant results, and we don’t mind if there’s insecurity and we have hackers telling us, ‘Your machines are lame,’ and we don’t care because we want the results that night?” she asked. “Or do we want to know that the results are accurate, and we’re willing to wait a little bit longer? How long are we willing to wait? No one really knows those answers yet, so we have to explore that.” 

She said she’s looking ahead for other steps to take when it comes to future elections, including holding a national convention in September to discuss election issues with legislators in other states. 

“One of the topics I would like us to address in a bipartisan way is how do we get our people confident in their voting system. What’s it going to take?” she said. 

Townsend chaired the Arizona Balanced Budget Amendment Planning Convention in 2017 when delegates from 19 states met at the Arizona Capitol to begin preparations for a constitutional convention to curb federal spending through a balanced budget amendment. That convention was the first national convention in more than 150 years. 


Stephen Richer prefers boring, takes on Trump

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer speaks at a press conference May 17 to defend his staff against “defamatory lies” spread as the Arizona Senate conducts its audit of the 2020 election. PHOTO SCREENSHOT
Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer speaks at a press conference May 17 to defend his staff against “defamatory lies” spread as the Arizona Senate conducts its audit of the 2020 election. PHOTO SCREENSHOT

There’s a lot of unintentional irony surrounding Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer.  

He first became known in political circles for auditing the office he now controls when it was occupied by his predecessor and political opponent Adrian Fontes in 2019. Now he’s becoming a national figure as he speaks out about the Senate audit of the 2020 election, which Maricopa County Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers calls “a grift disguised as an audit.” 

Richer, who was a corporate transactional lawyer before seeking his first political office in 2020, made sure to point out that what he did and what the Arizona Senate is doing could not be more different.  

“I think you would find that the ‘F’ word is not mentioned once in the (audit) report,” he said referring to accusations of “fraud” from the election where he won by 4,599 votes. “Mine was entirely based on news reports, statutes and interviews. I did not jump to a single conclusion, and where conclusions could not be drawn, I acknowledge as such.” 

After nearly five months in public office, Richer, a conservative Republican who identifies as a “hardcore libertarian,” is still relatively unknown outside of a handful of tweets and recent media appearances. 

He’s a nerd at heart who has found a great obsession with his face buried in a book, usually in the fantasy fiction genre. He said he reads a lot and it became a big part of his life growing up. 

That’s when all he wanted to do was “play StarCraft or sports,” until Harry Potter came into his life. Back then his mom essentially forced him to read the first book of the series. 

“She said, ‘I’m gonna read these first two chapters to you and you have to sit and listen to this’ and she did and then I just took it upstairs that night and I just kept reading and that was the first time in my life that I enjoyed reading and I started reading just for fun,” he said.   

As his Twitter presence and occasional quotes in stories have shown, he also has a keen appreciation of Star Wars and is ready to go toe-to-toe with anybody on pop culture references. Whether it’s related to fantasy, or a rom-com or even a Channing Tatum dance movie from the mid-2000s.  

“I hosted a birthday party by renting out the theater for a new Step Up movie one time,” he told Arizona Capitol Times during a phone interview after a 12-hour day at his office in downtown Phoenix.  

Richer’s political life has gone the way he didn’t really anticipate. During his campaign for office against the incumbent Fontes, he was hoping for more media attention, but didn’t really get it. Now, he wants nothing more than to “make the Recorder’s Office boring again” and stay out of the spotlight, but the world had other plans.  

He ran for office because he said he likes “being a part of society.”  

“I always found this world to be fascinating,” he said. “I was certainly a consumer of politics. The only thing I’m not really is, ironically by nature, a very confrontational person. 

He said he chose to run for the Recorder’s Office because he heard unflattering stories about the way Fontes ran it and he wanted to change that. 

“That was exciting to me and it was a nice blend between the world of politics and the world of management, which are the two things I really enjoy.” 

He won the race and spent several months learning how to operate the office, spending between nine and 12 hours a day there. Then, it took weeks and months of intense scrutiny of the office followed by an onslaught of defamatory statements and accusations that he broke the law for him to start fighting back and defending his office and other county officials.  

What put him in the national spotlight was saying on Twitter on May 16 that President Trump’s allegation that the Maricopa County voter database had been deleted was “unhinged.”   

But the next day at a press conference he said he would rather make his office boring again and normally tries his best to hide from an Arizona Republic reporter. He prefers exchanging memes with the Capitol Times than giving quotes.  

He then launched into a full-throated defense of the people in his office and called for an end to the “defamatory lies.”  

“This isn’t a game. These are real humans. These are people who work in the county. … they work hard, they’re good people, they’re normal people who go home and they root for the Suns or they watch Netflix,” he said. “They are not monsters and stop treating them as such.”  

In 2019, after authoring the audit into the Recorder’s Office on behalf of the Arizona Republican Party under former Chairman Jonathan Lines, Richer joked to a crowd of party members that he was the only speaker to have his name on-screen behind him because he was relatively unknown compared to the other speakers, most of whom were elected officials. He still acts like that’s his current reality. 

“Who would want to read that?” he asked Capitol Times before agreeing to an interview for this story.  

It’s sometimes hard to tell when he’s being overly sarcastic and when he’s not. But when he wants to come off as serious, he will do so without leaving it open for interpretation. 

The serious attitude came across without question in a letter he presented to the county Board of Supervisors on May 17, responding to accusations Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, and her team of hired contractors lobbed against him. 

He reiterated those points and defended his frustrations, saying he gets “exasperated” when people are trying to argue that the election is fraudulent, but will still run for higher office anyway and act like there’s nothing bizarre about that.  

“It is so illogical, it makes my skin crawl,” he said.  

Richer would much rather talk about Harry Potter, or the Phoenix Suns, a Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan flick or “Emma Stone, our local Arizona girl, with Ryan Gosling.” 

“That’s a pretty darn good combo right there,” he said.   

During a recent phone conversation, Richer made several references to the 1999 movie You’ve Got Mail starring Hanks and Ryan and would have continued on even longer if the topic of the conversation did not change.  

He may avoid interviews when he is able to, but when he starts talking, he always has something to say.  

Ultimately, he said, he isn’t a normal person. 

He struggled to describe what he meant because he honestly had no idea what “normal people will do.”  

His wife is also a lawyer and works all the time like he does. They don’t have children, which is what launched into the topic about being “normal.” 

“I don’t eat dinner,” he said as his only example of what he thinks normal people do.  

And to be fair, he’s not wrong. 


Townsend to lead Senate government committee

Kelly Townsend

One of the Legislature’s most vocal champions of the partisan Senate audit and a supporter of efforts to overturn President Joe Biden’s narrow win in Arizona has been named the chairwoman of the Senate Government Committee. 

Sen. Kelly Townsend announced Monday afternoon that Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, had appointed her to head the influential committee. Former chairwoman Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who has been one of the few Senate Republicans to publicly criticize the Senate’s audit of the 2020 election results in Maricopa County, resigned from the committee in September, creating the vacancy. Townsend, by contrast, both supported the audit and joined some of her fellow legislative Republicans last year in asking Congress to recognize an alternate slate of Republican electors. 

“It is my intention to work collaboratively with all members to get solid election reform passed,” Townsend, R-Mesa, said in a statement on her Telegram account. “I am looking for legislation that ensures that Arizonans can have confidence in the voting system.” 

Townsend pledged to get to work immediately meeting with stakeholders and touring county recorders’ offices to learn about current election procedures. 

“With it being already November 1, it is crunch time and we cannot lose another day when it comes to election reform,” she said. “I pledge open communication with the public and with my colleagues to get this done.” 

Majority Whip Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, who like Townsend opposed certifying President Joe Biden’s narrow win in Arizona and who has also been a strong supporter of the audit, will serve as the committee’s vice chairman. Townsend held this position before. Both Borrelli and Townsend signed onto a letter last month calling for audits nationwide and possibly decertification of the results of last year’s presidential election. 

Townsend is stepping into what could be one of the highest-profile and most controversial positions in the Senate in 2022. Some GOP lawmakers, including Townsend, have been calling for changes to voting laws and procedures in response to the audit report, and next year’s session could be marked by bitter partisan battles over measures Republicans say will help safeguard against fraud, but Democrats view as attempts to make it harder to vote and put the Legislature’s thumb on the scale in the wake of Biden’s win. 

Sen. Martín Quezada, the senior Democrat on the Government Committee, condemned Townsend’s appointment, saying Fann made a reckless decision and it signals Republicans are not done “attacking our Democracy.” 

“Townsend has built her reputation on pushing baseless conspiracy theories about our elections and attacking Arizonans’ right to vote,” said Quezada, D-Glendale. “This is a senator who had the gall to demand the Legislature override the will of Arizona voters and falsely declare Donald Trump the winner of Arizona.”  

Townsend sponsored numerous election-related bills this year. A measure of hers that would have made changes such as requiring people who register to vote in Arizona to cancel any out-of-state registrations and giving anyone who votes at a polling place a paper receipt made it to the Senate floor but ended up not passing due to a dispute between her and Ugenti-Rita. The session ended with Townsend and Ugenti-Rita each joining the Democrats to vote against and kill each other’s bills. Townsend tweeted on Friday that Ugenti-Rita “killed my election bills,” leading them to rehash their dispute on social media. 

“You are the reason your bills didn’t pass,” Ugenti-Rita tweeted at Townsend. “You refused to amend your bills to secure enough votes. Stop blaming others and take responsibility for your choices.” 

Townsend replied that the measures could have been amended in committee but that Ugenti-Rita “stonewalled and killed the bills.” She said she would have had to “gut the bills down to practically nothing” to get Ugenti-Rita’s vote. 

“I still wonder, why did you want to neuter election integrity so that the 2022 primary was the same security situation?” Townsend said. (Ugenti-Rita is running for Secretary of State.) “Why wouldn’t you want to fix it in time?” 

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, who has been critical of both the audit and some of the “election integrity” bills backed by his fellow Republicans, said Fann “pretty much had to” appoint Townsend, since she would have been criticized heavily if she hadn’t. 

“I wish Kelly all the best,” Boyer said. “My suspicion is she will run all the bills that she never got through the committee last year.” 

Boyer said he expects most of those bills to get through committee, but he’s going to examine them on a case-by-case basis. 

 “If there’s a compelling argument, I’ll support it. If not, sorry.” 

With a two-vote Republican majority in the Senate, Townsend and the Republican leadership can’t lose a single GOP vote if they want to pass any controversial election-related measures on a party-line basis. 

“If it’s needed, then fine, but I’ll have to be convinced with a very good argument. Up until 2020, I couldn’t recall hearing many cries of how the system was broken,” Boyer said, adding that most people thought the system worked well after the 2016 election. 

“I don’t know what happened in those four years other than the former president lost,” Boyer said. 

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include comments from Sens. Martin Quezada and Paul Boyer. 

Visiting politicians at ‘Madhouse’ to see ‘first domino’

In this Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020 file photo, President Donald Trump supporters cheer as Georgia State Rep. Vernon Jones speaks, at the capital, in Atlanta. Jones was one of several politicians to tour the Arizona Senate’s election audit at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in hopes of replicating the process for their own states. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart, File)
In this Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020 file photo, President Donald Trump supporters cheer as Georgia State Rep. Vernon Jones speaks, at the capital, in Atlanta. Jones was one of several politicians to tour the Arizona Senate’s election audit at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in hopes of replicating the process for their own states. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart, File)

Delegates from roughly a dozen states have made the pilgrimage to Arizona in hopes of replicating the state Senate’s partisan election audit, but legal and political barriers will probably keep them from succeeding.  

From the beginning, staunch supporters of the events transpiring at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, or the Madhouse on McDowell, have looked at Arizona as the “first domino to fall.”  

Now, as the work of Cyber Ninjas and other independent contractors begins to wane, Republicans from other states are trying to carry the torch forward.  

Audit spokesman Randy Pullen confirmed that visitors from 13 states — Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming — have visited Arizona to see the first-of-its-kind exercise, but he also told a pool reporter it was as many as 17 states.  

Arizona Capitol Times requested a complete list of audit visitors from the state Senate, but did not immediately receive documents. 

Liz Howard, the senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Project, said states like Pennsylvania, Georgia and Wisconsin – three of the closest margins of victory for President Joe Biden over Donald Trump in November – have made the most noise about bringing “partisan reviews” to their states. However, she said it is absolutely untrue that if, as conspiracy supporters content, widespread fraud is found the election results can be decertified. 

“I am unaware of any state law – anywhere – that would allow for an election to be overturned months after it has been completed,” she said, adding that the people making these claims still have not provided any evidence in court or otherwise of such wrongdoings. 

Christina Bobb, a partisan personality on pro-Trump network One America News, has given new life to that theory of decertification.  

She said on her Instagram page that Arizona would be that first domino, suggesting that other states are trying to follow suit because three states are needed “to raise a constitutional question.” 

Whether that is true is open to debate, but Bobb’s credibility as a journalist is in question. She worked in the Trump administration, did consulting work on his legal team over election lawsuits last year and has acted as a liaison between Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, public records and previous reporting shows. 

From left in this June 13 photo posted on Sen. Wendy Rogers’ Twitter account are Rogers, OANN reporter Christina Bobb, disgraced former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, and Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City. Greitens was one of several politicians to get a tour of the Arizona Senate’s election audit at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. PHOTO FROM TWITTER
From left in this June 13 photo posted on Sen. Wendy Rogers’ Twitter account are Rogers, OANN reporter Christina Bobb, disgraced former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, and Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City. Greitens was one of several politicians to get a tour of the Arizona Senate’s election audit at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. PHOTO FROM TWITTER

While there’s no legal route to decertification, Howard said other states are looking to mimic Arizona’s audit to try to use a new review as justification for future election legislation. 

“I think that that conspiracy theorists are pushing for these partisan reviews because they are unhappy with the election outcome and they cannot accept the election outcome that they don’t like,” Howard said. “We are seeing legislators across the country, again, on a partisan basis, use ‘The Big Lie’ and the false allegations of fraud that President Trump made that have been repeated by others, to pass legislation to make it more difficult to vote.” 

Howard said that’s already happened in several states, and has been attempted in others, including Arizona. A recent Brennan Center report showed that “at least 14 states enacted 22 new laws that restrict access to the vote” this year through May 14.  

Tammy Patrick, former federal compliance officer for the Maricopa County Elections Department, said she’s worried about so many states lending legitimacy to the Arizona audit. Patrick is now a senior adviser to the elections program at the Democracy Fund, a nonpartisan foundation that advocates for the U.S. democratic system. 

“I’m just concerned every time I see a picture that they post or a tweet that comes out from the individuals conducting this exercise because they’re furthering this narrative that is undermining the very foundation of our democratic processes,” Patrick said. 

She said lawmakers are perpetuating falsehoods that the 2020 election can somehow be overturned despite there being no legal path to do so and ignoring the fact that hand counts and audits have already been conducted. 

“Our foreign adversaries are sitting back and just gleefully watching Americans eat their own,” Patrick said. “We don’t need to have foreign adversaries attack our elections because we’re doing it ourselves.” 

The U.S. Justice Department appears to be trying to get ahead of any move to replicate Arizona’s review in other states. On June 11, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the department planned to scrutinize post-election audits to make sure they “abide by federal statutory requirements to protect election records and avoid the intimidation of voters.”  

Garland also said the DOJ would publish guidance on the criminal and civil statutes that apply to these reviews.  

“Many of the justifications proffered in support of these postelection audits and restrictions on voting have relied on assertions of material vote fraud in the 2020 election that have been refuted by law enforcement and intelligence agencies of both this administration and the previous one, as well as by every court – federal and state – that has considered them,” Garland said.  

Garland’s statement rankled several audit-faithful Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, who threatened for the second time to lock up Garland and others from the department if they interfered with the audit.  

“You will not touch Arizona ballots or machines unless you want to spend time in an Arizona prison,” she tweeted June 11. “Maybe you should focus on stopping terrorism. The Justice Department is one of the most corrupt institutions in the USA.” 

For the record, Arizona legislators cannot arrest the U.S. attorney general.  

Arizona’s Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich also responded, accusing Garland of posturing and warning him to back off. 

“We stand ready to defend federalism and state sovereignty against any partisan attack or federal overreach,” he wrote in a letter June 14.  

The letter was his first public show of support for the audit and was seen as a campaign move given his recent announcement seeking the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Mark Kelly. 

Another hurdle for some of these other states is that their laws and political makeup won’t allow them to directly copy Arizona’s audit.  

Georgia state Sen. Brandon Beach, who visited the audit, admitted his Legislature cannot pull a similar maneuver. 

“We don’t have the power because we’re not going to get 29 senators to sign a petition to call for a special session,” he told a conservative outlet this month, adding that he and others may try to put pressure on Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.  

Georgia has already held a statewide recount of all nearly 5 million ballots cast in the 2020 presidential election, which upheld the results and found no evidence of widespread fraud. 

A Republican candidate hoping to unseat Kemp in the 2022 election made his way to Veterans Memorial Coliseum earlier this month to lend further credence to events and hoping to use it to bolster his gubernatorial run. Vernon Jones, a long-time Democrat who announced he was switching to the Republican Party on January 6, had no problem growing accustomed to how those involved with the audit have treated the local media providing daily coverage. He got testy with an Arizona Republic reporter, which quickly went viral over his inability to answer questions and repeatedly cut off questions from being asked.  

Jones is one of many polarizing figures who have pledged fealty to Trump in their hopes of winning longshot elections in their home states.  

If any state has the potential to take over Arizona’s reins it appears to be Wisconsin. Four of its state lawmakers visited the Arizona audit with approval from state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. At the end of May, Vos hired three retired police officers to help a state committee review the 2020 election. 

The Wisconsin delegation was joined by former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned in disgrace in 2018 after a litany of scandals, including accusations of blackmail, violent sexual abuse and campaign finance violations. 

Howard, who was one of several observers Secretary of State Katie Hobbs selected to view the processes on the Coliseum floor, said everything about this is dangerous to democracy.  

“People that are promoting ‘The Big Lie’ are running for secretary of state,” she said, mentioning a Michigan candidate and Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, as two examples. “I’m very concerned about this.” 

She said her time as an observer solidified her suspicions that the contractors had no idea what they were doing, and is concerned over the possibility of this repeating elsewhere because she does not think it’s a legitimate audit.  

“I have worked on post-election recounts and audits with election officials for going on a decade now. What they’re doing at the Coliseum is not a recount and it’s not an audit,” she said, adding that “it would be funny if what they’re doing wasn’t so scary.” 

“It really does look and feel like you are with Lucy and Ethel at the Chocolate Factory,” Howard said, referencing one of the most iconic comedy bits from “I Love Lucy.”