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Arizona secretary of state alleges procedure errors at audit

PHOENIX — Observers working for Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) are keeping tabs on a mounting number of security flaws and procedural violations committed by ballot counters hired by the Republican-controlled state Senate to conduct an audit of votes cast in Maricopa County last year.

In notes maintained over the past week, the observers noted confidential documents left in the open, a security gate that was left unlocked for several days and, at one point, a software update that was so riddled with errors and bugs that the cybersecurity company overseeing the audit was forced to roll back to an earlier edition.

Auditors hired by the Republican state Senate say they have counted about half the 2.1 million ballots cast last year in Maricopa County, Arizona’s largest. President BidenJoe BidenPutin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting How the infrastructure bill can help close the digital divide Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE won Maricopa by 45,000 votes, and he became the first Democrat to win Arizona’s electoral votes since former President Clinton.

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But Republicans and former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says Putin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE cried foul over the results, alleging unsubstantiated and easily disproven conspiracy theories in the weeks and months after Hobbs certified the state’s election results.

The state Senate hired a Florida-based firm, Cyber Ninjas, to conduct an audit of Maricopa County’s votes, over the objection of the Republican-controlled county Board of Supervisors and the Republican county recorder, in charge of overseeing election administration, who won his seat over a sitting Democrat in the same election Trump alleges was stolen.

The Board of Supervisors, Hobbs and election administration experts have all raised concerns about the team led by Cyber Ninjas, which has never conducted an election audit. Republican leaders in the state House have intentionally stayed away from the audit, fearing a deeper stain on their party in future elections.

At one point, the auditors were looking for bamboo interwoven within the paper fabric of the ballots themselves, apparently hunting for proof of a conspiracy theory that suggested ballots had been flown in from China.

At the same time, security personnel were enforcing strict bans on cellphones and certain colored pens in and around the area where ballots were being tabulated — except, Hobbs’s observers noted, when state Senate Republicans or their top liaison were the ones in violation.

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The observers witnessed state Sen. Wendy Rogers (R) taking notes with a black pen, in violation of the stated rules. Rogers and former Secretary of State Ken Bennett (R), who serves as the Senate’s liaison to the audit team, were both seen with cellphones in violation of policies.

"Ballots have been secured from the moment they arrived by armed off-duty officers," Randy Pullen, a former state Republican Party chairman who is handling communications for the auditors, said in a text message. "There were no black or blue pens on the floor once the ballot counting began."

On May 31, observers noted Cyber Ninjas implemented a software update at stations meant to conduct forensic audits on the ballots. The software update “created so many errors and problems during the first shift that they stated they were going to roll back to the old software during the afternoon shift.”

Observers are required to wear pink T-shirts on the floor of the coliseum where votes are being counted, so they are readily identifiable to others in the room. Pullen told one observer his shirt made him “look like a transgender.”

Pullen dismissed the line as a joke.

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"Volunteers have red shirts, yellow shirts, green shirts, blue shirts, orange shirts and white shirts on the floor to identify their job. Every color has a nuisance associated with it. Our 300+ volunteers make jokes about the colors of their shirts every day," he said.

In an interview last week, Hobbs said she was concerned by the mounting evidence of irregular procedures, and Cyber Ninja’s general lack of experience with election audits. She said those factors would cast a pall over any final report the auditors produce.

“There’s really nothing going on here that gives any confidence that they’re going to produce a report that is valid. They’re not going to produce results that are going to be able to be replicated,” Hobbs told The Hill. “They don’t know what they’re doing and they didn’t have a clue how long it was going to take them to do this.”

Hobbs said Wednesday she would run for governor next year. In a statement, she highlighted the Republican-led audit.

“Right now, our state government is being run by conspiracy theorists who are more focused on political posturing than getting things done, and that needs to change,” Hobbs said.