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Arizona Senate President Defends Election Audit, Which Could Last Another Month

By Ben Giles, Mark Brodie
Published: Tuesday, May 18, 2021 - 6:33pm
Updated: Wednesday, May 19, 2021 - 11:43am

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Contractors working for Cyber Ninjas
Jeremy Stahl/Pool
Contractors working for Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate, examine and recount ballots from the 2020 general election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 13, 2021, in Phoenix.

Defying calls by Maricopa County officials to end a controversial review of the 2020 election, Arizona Senate President Karen Fann said Tuesday that the review is justified and will continue.

And the head of the private cybersecurity company hired by Fann to lead that effort said the process could last into the summer.

Fann, a Prescott Republican, defended her decision to order an audit and hand recount of the general election returns in Maricopa County at a quasi-legislative hearing on Tuesday afternoon. The Senate president had invited Maricopa County officials to attend in a letter last week to address “serious issues” found by firms conducting the review.

A bipartisan group of Maricopa County elected officials declined, and spent Monday debunking Fann’s claim that there were any serious issues to be found. 

The GOP-controlled Board of Supervisors were particularly livid at a claim, tweeted by an official account for the audit, that county election officials deleted a database from voting systems turned over to the Senate under subpoena.

In a letter to Fann, officials wrote Monday the “false and malicious” tweet was a sign of the incompetence of the firms hired by the Senate president. In a separate document sent to Fann, the county provided a detailed account of how the election systems database works.

At Tuesday’s hearing, the head of one such firm — Ben Cotton of CyFIR — walked back the claim that the county deleted or spoiled evidence, and said the database had been “recovered.”

To county officials, the episode was evidence that the firms hired by Fann “are in way over their heads.”

But Fann and Sen. Warren Petersen, a Mesa Republican who helped the Senate president subpoena ballots and voting materials from Maricopa County, used Tuesday’s hearing to defend the qualifications of their hired contractors and the benefits of what they described as a groundbreaking process for reviewing elections.

“I've had other senators and senate presidents and speakers from other states that have contacted me, that said, this is an issue that they are struggling with as well,” Fann said. “They have said, this is what's going to lay the groundwork as to, you know, what is the future of how do we audit our elections if need be.”

Senate President Karen Fann
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Arizona Senate President Karen Fann on May 8, 2020.

Fann said that it’d be helpful if the county worked with the Senate to complete their work — an offer preemptively dismissed by Supervisor Jack Sellers, chair of the Maricopa County Board. 

In past statements, Sellers has noted the Senate-ordered audit has perpetuated lies about the election and led to threats against county elected officials and staffers. Fann’s letter last week, combined with the tweet accusing county officials of destroying evidence, was the last straw.

“The accusations from the Senate President are deeply offensive and this letter will be the last time we respond to requests from this sham process,” Sellers said in a statement Monday. “To the Senate, we say: finish what you're calling an audit and be ready to defend your report in a court of law."

It could be a month, if not longer, until that work is complete. Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan, hired by Fann to spearhead the audit, acknowledged a hand recount of nearly 2.1 million ballots cast in the county was far behind schedule.

Logan, who spread conspiracy theories about the election before beginning his work as the head of the Senate-ordered review, said Tuesday their work will continue well into next month — though he assured Fann and Petersen they’d finish by the end June, when the Senate’s rental agreement at Veterans Memorial Coliseum expires once more.

The audit is on a one-week hiatus, forced to clear out of the coliseum to make way for high school graduation ceremonies. Ken Bennett, a former secretary of state appointed by Fann as a liaison for the audit, said ballots and voting systems would be moved back into the coliseum over the weekend.

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