Democrats won’t put up $1M to pause Arizona election audit

PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona judge cited deep concerns about ballot secrecy on Friday during an audit of the 2020 election results from the state’s most populous county, but the process will move forward after Democrats decided not to put up a $1 million bond to fund any increase in costs from the delay.

That price tag was too steep, Democrats said, letting the audit continue in Maricopa County — home to Arizona’s largest city, Phoenix — while leaving in place the judge’s orders that the Arizona Senate and its auditors follow state law on ballot secrecy and voter privacy as they do a hand recount of 2.1 million ballots.

Conspiracy theories about the election have proliferated nationwide since President Joe Biden’s victory but have had particular staying power in Arizona, which flipped Democratic for just the second time in 72 years. Supporters of former President Donald Trump who believe he was the election’s rightful winner are pinning their hopes on the Maricopa County audit to finally produce evidence of fraud.

Multiple lawsuits and audits have found no issues affecting the election outcome in Arizona.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury ordered the Senate auditors to produce their training materials and policies before a Monday hearing.

To conduct the audit, Republicans who control the state Senate hired Cyber Ninjas, a cybersecurity firm with no election experience owned by a man who shared unfounded allegations of election fraud on his since-deleted Twitter account.

The part of the order that would have paused the recount between 5 p.m. Friday and noon Monday won’t be enforced because the Arizona Democratic Party did not want to risk $1 million for the brief halt, attorney Roopali Desai said.

“The reality is there are many parts of Judge Coury’s order that are really important and that we’re really applauding,” especially the fact the auditors are being required to produce policies, procedures and training materials, Desai said.

A lawyer for the Senate, Kory Langhofer, filed an immediate appeal with the Arizona Supreme Court. He asked for Coury’s orders to be put on hold, arguing that the Senate is a separate branch of government and the judge exceeded his authority by telling it how to conduct the audit. Justice Clint Bolick held a hearing Friday afternoon and denied the request, saying Coury did not abuse his discretion in issuing the order.

Desai had urged Coury to act, saying the Senate outsourced the audit and Cyber Ninjas was just making things up as they went along. She said there’s no evidence the audit was following state law on ballot secrecy or security.

“The Senate has told us that they are running this so-called audit, but they had abdicated their duty entirely to rogue actors who are making a mockery … of our election laws and our procedures,” Desai told the judge. “There’s no safeguards in place. There’s no proper training, there’s no procedures, no rules.”

Among Desai’s concerns was the use of blue pens by people counting ballots, which emerged as the recount was set to begin Friday. State law bans black and blue pens from ballot counting rooms because those colors can be read by machines and voters are instructed to use them.

Coury said he doesn’t want to micromanage another branch of government, but the court must protect the constitutional rights of voters.

The Arizona Democratic Party and the lone Democrat on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors sued on Thursday, saying Senate GOP leaders are failing to uphold promises to maintain ballot secrecy and voter privacy. Those assurances were given by Senate President Karen Fann and Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Petersen earlier this year when a judge ordered the county to hand over all 2.1 million ballots and the machines used to count them.

Repeated reviews of the election results have found no issues that would overturn Biden’s narrow victory in Arizona. Last month, Maricopa County released the results of two new audits of its equipment that showed no malicious software or incorrect counting equipment and that none of the computers or equipment were connected to the internet.

Experts on election administration and security have expressed alarm at the Senate’s audit, which they say isn’t following standard procedures to transparently and accurately count votes.

Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan has said his personal views are irrelevant because he’s running a transparent audit, with all activities captured on camera and some of them livestreamed online.

But he’s refused to reveal who’s counting ballots or allow the media to observe. He’s acknowledged that the $150,000 the Senate agreed to pay him won’t cover his costs, but he’s refused to say the audit’s price tag. Cyber Ninjas is accepting donations from a fund organized by a conservative cable channel, One America News Network, but Logan won’t disclose the donors.

“If we go through here, and we don’t find any fraud, I will be ecstatic. I’m going to love that, and I want to be able to tell people that,” Logan told reporters Thursday night. “If we go through here and we find fraud, I want to fix it, so that our country’s democracy works.”

People who doubt the election haven’t been convinced by the overwhelming evidence to date that it was fair, so they’ll be unlikely to have their concerns assuaged even if Logan declares everything was above board, said Tammy Patrick, senior adviser at the Democracy Fund and a former Maricopa County elections official.

“There’s absolutely nothing that’s going to convince them of that fact,” Patrick said during a call with reporters Friday. “So to what end are we doing this, really?”

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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