The Republican-backed audit of the 2020 election in Maricopa County, Arizona, is getting more expansive and may extend beyond initial expectations.
With the audit reaching the one-week mark at the end of last week, former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who is the state Senate audit liaison, offered an update on the controversial review, which includes 2.1 million ballots cast, a forensic audit of the voting machines, and follow-up interviews with voters.
Bennett declined to offer an estimate of the number of ballots that have been counted or whether any fraud has been found, although it had been initially estimated that an audit report would be released within 60 days of it starting. The audit, which has been the focus of a legal challenge by Arizona Democrats trying to stop it and praise by former President Donald Trump and his allies, who insist the 2020 contest was stolen, is about to start “phase two” following an off-day on Sunday, he added.
The GOP-controlled state Senate hired a Florida-based firm, Cyber Ninjas, to lead the audit, and the legislature leased Veterans Memorial Coliseum through May 14. Despite earlier assertions about wrapping up the audit by that date, when the venue is reserved to host several Phoenix high school graduations, Bennett now says there is “no deadline” for it to end. He earlier said it would take 60 days to issue a full report.
The audit would resume roughly a week later, said Bennett, who added that state fair officials gave permission to use the coliseum “for as long as we need it” after the ceremonies, according to the Arizona Republic.
The report said organizers are planning to increase the number of hand counters, gaining staff from temp agencies, and jump from 20 counting tables to 46 tables by May 3. The change would more than double the number of counters from 60 to 138 per shift.
The county election department announced Friday its staff was responding to a request by Bennett to pick up election machine equipment it delivered last week in compliance with a subpoena. Bennett told the right-wing website Gateway Pundit that made up about four of six original truckloads of machines, and an IT company would likely finish capturing information from the remaining hardware in a couple of days.
“All of the forensic data has been captured off of those machines, and now they’ll move into phase two, which is analyzing that data,” Bennett said.
The audit, which is looking at the presidential race and U.S. Senate contest, has been subject to intense scrutiny for multiple reasons, including restricted media access to the facility, questions about the auditor’s qualifications and adherence to state election laws, and criticism about who is funding the audit on top of the $150,000 being doled out by the state Senate.
FundTheAudit.com has raised over $1 million for the recount process but does not list donors. According to Internal Revenue Service rules, the private fund does not have to reveal donor identifications.
The Arizona Democratic Party and Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo, the sole Democrat on the board, sued to stop the audit on April 22, the day before the review began, raising concerns about adherence to state election regulations and maintaining the sanctity of the secret ballot. The audit has been allowed to continue, thanks in part to the Democrats being unwilling to pay up for a $1 million bond for a temporary pause, but Cyber Ninjas was ordered to release its policies for ensuring ballot secrecy and voter privacy.
Cyber Ninjas, whose CEO, Doug Logan, has been subject to scrutiny over his promotion of voter fraud allegations and “Stop the Steal” posts on social media, filed on Friday for an emergency status conference with county Judge Daniel Martin following the release of a document about security plans the firm said should not have been disclosed.
Other critics of the audit include prominent Arizona Republican Cindy McCain, a GOP-dominant County Board of Supervisors who initially fought against the state Senate subpoenas for the audit in court, and Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who has called the audit “a farce.”
After all, the Maricopa County Elections Department’s two previous audits finding no irregularities in last year’s general election.
Hobbs, a Democrat, released a statement Friday that said initial reports from an observer from her office “indicate that my concerns about the reliability of this so-called audit are valid.”
But Arizona GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward, a vocal Trump supporter, fired back at Hobbs on Friday, saying the official was not sending observers from the secretary of state’s office.
“Of the three ‘observers’ representing Hobbs, two are none other than an election consultant with Protect Democracy and an attorney with the Brennan Center,” Ward said.
Protect Democracy outlined a letter to organizers of the audit on April 6, signaling the group’s intent to sue if auditors follow through with plans to knock on doors to confirm valid voters actually lived at the stated address, a move they claim would be “voter intimidation” tactics.
The Brennan Center sent a letter to the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department on Feb. 29, saying, “We are very concerned that the auditors are engaged in ongoing and imminent violations of federal voting and election laws” and requested to deploy federal monitors at the coliseum.
Trump has celebrated the audit, releasing multiple tweet mails, and on Tuesday, insisted it will show Arizona was a “scam election” state.
The hand recount will not change the results of the election, as officials in the state have already certified President Joe Biden‘s victory and other results. Arizona Senate President Karen Fann insisted in a radio interview that the audit is meant to restore trust in the system and influence potential changes to the law.