By Mimi Nguyen Ly
The Arizona Democratic Party filed a lawsuit on Thursday seeking to stop the state’s Senate from carrying out an audit of the 2020 election results in Maricopa County.
The complaint (pdf), filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, comes just before the audit is set to begin on Friday. In preparation, 2.1 million ballots, as well as voting equipment that includes 385 tabulators, were delivered to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, the site of the planned audit.
An emergency court hearing has been scheduled for the case, CV2021-006646, at 11 a.m. on Friday.
The Arizona Democratic Party and Steve Gallardo, the sole Democrat on the five-member Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, argue in the lawsuit that the planned audit is in violation of “various statutory and Election Procedures Manual provisions.” They allege that the planned audit lacks various safeguards and requirements to be secure and reliable, and as such, it would “undermines the integrity and security” of the state’s elections and voter information.
Plaintiffs are seeking a restraining order and a preliminary and permanent injunction to stop the audit requested by the Republican-majority Senate leadership.
The lawsuit comes as Republicans introduced a bill late January to address legal issues outlined in the Democrats’ lawsuit. The bill is currently with the House after passing the state Senate in February.
The latest auditing efforts come after the Senate leadership issued subpoenas in mid-January to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors seeking materials for a full audit of the 2020 general election. In response, county officials asked a court to declare that the subpoenas were unlawful and unenforceable. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomason ruled in February that the subpoenas are valid, and that the Senate has “broad constitutional” oversight powers that allow it to carry out whatever election review it chooses.
Fight Over Disclosure
Democrats in the latest lawsuit argued that the private auditors and their agents “are not authorized to review confidential voter registration records” and “are not authorized to gain possession or control of voted early ballots,” citing state law.
In particular, the complaint notes that “certain parts of a voter’s registration records, including date of birth, signature, and country of birth, may not be viewed, accessed, reproduced, or disclosed to a member of the public who is not an authorized government official.” It also notes that “only election officials, postal workers, and certain family members and other authorized individuals may ‘gain possession or control’ of voted early ballots.”
The Democrats also allege that the private auditors “have not been appointed in writing or taken an oath required under [Elections Procedures Manual Chapter 10 Section 1A (pdf)] and thus are not authorized to touch any ballot, computer, or counting device.” They also allege that the private auditors “are not properly trained in signature verification.”
In a brief comment, Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, a Republican, said that the ballots are protected by bonded and certified 24-hour security forces, kept in locked cages and a public live stream is on 24 hours a day, reported The Associated Press.
The Democrats’ lawsuit comes at the same time that Republicans are trying to pass a bill that would address similar legal issues surrounding confidentiality and disclosure to facilitate the elections auditing process.
On Feb. 18, the state Senate passed a bill that would amend a portion of the state law such that county election equipment, systems and records, and other information that is under the control of county personnel “may not be deemed privileged information, confidential information, or other information protected from disclosure.”
It also subjects such records to a subpoena and stipulates that they “must be produced” and the legislature’s authority to conduct related probes “may not be infringed by any other law.”
The bill is currently held in the state House.
Back and Forth Allegations
Maricopa County Supervisor Gallardo wrote on Twitter late Thursday, “The sole reason for this lawsuit and injunctions is to protect the sanctity of the ballots, and more importantly, to preserve voters’ privacy from a sham audit that has been corrupted by agitators and conspiracy theorists.
“This corrupted process will not be transparent, dark money influencers have handed picked the folks to observe and witness the ‘audit’ that will be conducted by an uncertified and unqualified group,” Gallardo alleged.
The Arizona Senate Democrats released a statement in support of the suit. “It’s clear that this audit is no more than a temper tantrum from those still upset that they lost the election and it is deeply damaging to the integrity of our elections and our democracy,” their statement reads, in part.
President Joe Biden was the first Democratic presidential nominee to win Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located, in decades.
Kelli Ward, Chair of the Arizona Republican Party, questioned the Democrats’ move in a statement on Thursday. “The Democrats are STILL trying to stop the Maricopa County audit and defy the AZ Senate subpoena. What are they hiding? Hearing tomorrow on this ridiculous temporary restraining order,” she wrote on Twitter.
The Epoch Times has reached out to Senate President Fann for comment. Last month, she asserted that the audit would reassure voters that the 2020 results were accurate.
Need for Senate Audit?
Two separate forensic audits of the 2020 general election have been conducted by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. But Arizona state Sen. Warren Peterson, the Republican Chair of the Judiciary Committee, told Fox 10 in January that the county’s audit “will not prevent the Senate from doing their own audit.”
“My concern with the county audit is that the scope of the audit is an inch deep. With the limited scope they have asked to be audited, they are guaranteed to find nothing,” he said.
The Arizona Senate has hired four out-of-state firms to carry out the audit, which are Wake Technology Services, CyFIR, Digital Discovery, and Cyber Ninjas. Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based cybersecurity company, was arranged to lead the audit.
The Arizona Senate said that its “broad and detailed” audit “will validate every area of the voting process” and includes, but is not limited to, scanning all the ballots, a full hand recount, auditing the voter registration and votes cast, the vote counts, and the electronic voting system.
The Senate said that its leadership will not be directly involved in the audit process to maintain integrity and transparency. A report of all the findings is expected after about 60 days.
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors had previously resisted the Senate subpoenas and repeatedly maintained that there were no issues with the conduct of the 2020 election.
The GOP concerns come after controversy in December 2020, when former state Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Eddie Farnsworth, a Republican, issued two subpoenas after former President Donald Trump’s team presented allegations of fraud and other irregularities before members of the Arizona Legislature at an election integrity hearing on Nov. 30, 2020. One major allegation on the day came from Maricopa County GOP chairwoman Linda Brickman, who alleged that she personally observed votes for Trump being tallied as votes for Biden when input into the voting machines.
Farnworth’s subpoenas called for a scanned ballot audit and a full forensic audit of voting equipment and software used in the 2020 general election. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors days later voted to file a complaint over the subpoenas.
The court later found the dispute was moot in light of the fact that the 2020 subpoenas were no longer enforceable. But the latest auditing efforts came as a result of new subpoenas issued in mid-January by Petersen and Fann.
Tom Ozimek contributed to this report.