The state Senate-ordered recount of Maricopa County ballots begins Friday in the midst of heated disputes over lack of transparency and a fresh legal challenge.
It was unclear, for example, who actually would be counting the ballots, who beyond Arizona taxpayers were paying for the audit and why news reporters weren’t allowed inside to do their jobs of describing the scene to the public.
An emergency court hearing was scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday.
Former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, the Senate’s point person for the audit, and the CEO of the lead company for the audit provided some details at a contentious news conference Thursday night. It began after Maricopa County officials deposited the last of more than 2 million ballots into the Senate’s custody at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix.
Doug Logan is the CEO of a Florida company called Cyber Ninjas, which will lead a team that includes three other firms. Logan has used social media to promote a range of unfounded election fraud claims and was involved with a previous effort to overturn election results in Michigan.
Logan said Thursday he himself would not touch any ballots.
He said he expects the counting to begin Friday and last 16 days, with more than 250 people working in two shifts.
The recount will focus exclusively on two races won by Democrats — the presidential contest and the race for U.S. Senate.
Pennsylvania-based Wake TSI, one of the four companies working on the project, will handle the counting process. Counters will include former law enforcement officers, veterans and retirees, Logan said. He said three counters will count each batch.
Logan provided few details on the guidelines for selecting counters. Logan said he did not know if each team examining ballots would include one Republican and one Democrat (observers, who will not count ballots, are mostly Republicans).
The audit will include another check of the signatures voters put on their ballot envelopes from early voting and an analysis of ballot paper fiber.
Representatives of the companies also will knock on doors to ask if residents cast ballots in the election.
Logan said those canvassers would not ask how a voter voted, but he did not say who did the statistical analysis to determine which voters to question. That information would be released later, he said.
Unlike at county election offices, where journalists are invited to photograph and film an audit process, reporters can’t go inside unless they sign up to work six-hour shifts as observers. And observers can’t have cameras or notepads of their own.
A media coalition including The Arizona Republic, the Arizona Broadcasters Association and the Arizona Mirror is seeking their reporters’ immediate access to the coliseum to observe the audit of the ballots and tabulating equipment.
“It’s clear this audit has been bought and sold by hyper partisans intent on sowing doubt,” said Greg Burton, The Republic’s executive editor. “Senate leaders have throttled legitimate press access and handed Arizona’s votes to conspiracy theorists.”
Cyber Ninjas CEO ‘ecstatic’ if no fraud found
Standing on the floor of the coliseum with the ballots boxed on pallets inside a fenced area behind him, Bennett said the public could see plenty via round-the-clock video of the facility that will stream online at azaudit.org.
“You can see everything that’s happening through the cameras,” he said.
Bennett said he would hold daily press briefings.
Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, has called the audit a circus and critics contend the firms behind this effort already have made up their minds about fraud or wrongdoing in the last election.
Logan emphasized Thursday he would be happy not to find any wrongdoing.
“If we go through here and we don’t find any fraud, I’m going to be ecstatic. I’m going to love that. And I want to be able to tell people about it. If we go through here and find fraud, I want to fix it,” he said.
And he argued the process is designed so that no one can influence it.
“It’s really, really important to us that we have integrity in the way we do this count and in the results that come out of it. And it’s really important to us that there’s full transparency in everything that we do,” Logan said.
Who’s paying the bills?
There was little transparency Thursday, though, about who exactly is footing the bill.
The Senate contracted with Cyber Ninjas to conduct the audit and produce a report in about 60 days for $150,000.
But Logan confirmed Thursday his company had received outside funding for the audit, too.