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.”

Public in the dark on private election audit funds

Senate President Karen Fann (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Senate President Karen Fann

Just days after outlawing counties from taking outside grants to run elections, the state Senate is now accepting private donations to complete its audit of the 2020 election.

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said the cost of the review of the general election is running higher than the $150,000 budgeted. She blamed at least some of that on the lack of cooperation by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

But there are so far no answers about whether the public will ever find out who is providing the cash.

Potentially more significant, Fann acknowledged that the private companies that already have been hired for the $150,000 review may separately be taking money from outside sources directly — and not through the Senate. And that would be a way that could hide not only who is giving the money but exactly how it is being used, beyond what’s in the Senate contract.

The disclosure comes just days after lawmakers approved — and Gov. Doug Ducey signed — legislation saying that outside cash should not be used to run elections. Proponents said it raises too many questions about whether the dollars are being allocated in a way that would be unfair.

Beyond that, they said that elections are a government function and should not be financed by rich outsiders.

But Fann told Capitol Media Services she has no conflict between that new law and using outside dollars to conduct what the Senate says is another government function: reviewing the 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County and the integrity of the election equipment to determine if the results reported — the ones giving Arizona’s 11 electoral votes to Joe Biden — were accurate.

“We’re in a no-win situation,” Fann said.

It starts with the refusal of the supervisors to let the private companies Fann hired do their review at county offices. The board’s position is that the results have been reviewed multiple times and they see no reason for additional waste of time and money.

“For example, right now we are arranging 24-hour security at the (state) Coliseum since the Board of Supervisors is refusing to let us anywhere near the building,” she said.

“I want to make sure we have 24-hour surveillance, both live-streaming and video at all times, as well as physical security guards there,” she said. “In that case, I’ve even had people that have security firms with bonded security people say, ‘Hey, we’re willing to contribute, we’re willing to donate the time for some of your folks.’ ”

Fann said some checks have come in, unsolicited.

But that’s just the tip of the financial iceberg.

Christina Bobb who works for the conservative One America News Network says she already has raised $150,000 through a web site called “Voice for Votes” to cover the costs incurred by the Senate as it attempts to determine if the results announced are accurate. That organization is set up under federal tax law as a social welfare organization which can engage in lobbying and advocacy, making the donations not tax deductible.

And as a social welfare organization it is not required to disclose its donors.

If the dollars were given to the Senate, there would at least be some official record of how the money was spent.

But the cash could end up going directly to the contractors that Fann hired to conduct the audit. And at that point there would be no public record at all.

Christina Bobb
Christina Bobb

Bobb did not return messages seeking details of the money she has raised, where it has come from, and whether the dollars would go to the Senate or to the contractors.

There is precedent for the state to accept donations.

In 2015 lawmakers set up a fund to raise $50 million to construct border walls in Arizona. But that was disbanded when just $55,000 was raised.

Allowing outside firms who already have contracts with the state to raise extra money on their own, however, appears to be without precedent.

Fann acknowledged she had discussions with these outside firms about getting extra cash outside the purview — and the view — of the state.

“Many of them said there are organizations out there, there are grassroots, there are people willing to donate time and their expertise to help out,” she said. “Some people have offered to donate services, whether it’s with the analysis of this stuff, whether it’s helping with security.”

But she did acknowledged that there could be questions about firms that have contracts with the state out soliciting money on their own, with no disclosure to the public about who is providing those dollars. What Fann does not have as of now are answers.

“If the vendor is going to get grants for something, if they are getting people donating work or whatever, I can certainly ask them to see if and when that happens,” she said.

“I would like to know who it is and to what amount and for what,” Fann said. “We can certainly ask those questions.”

The Senate president said she’s in a no-win situation in agreeing to take outside cash.

“It doesn’t matter what we do,”’ she said, with some criticizing the use of taxpayer dollars to conduct an audit while others don’t want outside funds from unknown sources to finance it.


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.”