Arizona audit muddles on with no clear end in sight

Arizona’s partisan election audit is muddling along with no end on the horizon as Republicans in the state Senate and Democratic outside groups battle over the process.

The glacial pace of the audit — which state Senate Republicans kicked off in December — was put into sharp relief this week with each side complaining that the other had not provided needed documents related to the count.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Kemp shot down a motion from the GOP to dismiss a lawsuit from liberal watchdog group American Oversight seeking documents related to the state Senate’s audit.

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Attorneys for the Republicans had argued that the information, which is currently in the possession of the private contracting firm Cyber Ninjas, is not obtainable under public disclosure rules. But Kemp rejected that argument Wednesday.

"Nothing in the statute absolves Senate defendants' responsibilities to keep and maintain records for authorities supported by public monies by merely retaining a third-party contractor who in turn hires subvendors," the judge wrote

Kemp’s ruling also dismissed a GOP effort to combine the lawsuit from American Oversight with one also seeking public records brought by The Arizona Republic.

American Oversight Executive Director Austin Evers hailed the ruling, saying it was a key step in providing more transparency to Arizonans over the audit.

"Starting now, the Arizona Senate is going to have to face real, public accountability," Evers said.

“For months, the public has been asked to trust the word of senators about the sham audit of the 2020 election,” he added. “This ruling makes clear that the Senate must immediately begin releasing records to the public.”

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Republicans later fired back on Thursday, saying it was local authorities in Maricopa County — Arizona’s largest county and the results of which are at the heart of the audit — that are the ones dragging their feet.

State Senate President Karen Fann (R) said that more documents were needed from the officials and that if they were not obtained, the deadline for a final report could slip.

“We need to get the additional information because how do you do a final report if you don’t have all the information?" Fann, who had previously said a report could be published in August, said at a briefing Thursday.

"If we don't get the information, it will be an incomplete report,” added state Sen. Warren Petersen (R).

Republicans and audit conductors at the hearing laid out steps that would need to be taken to complete the audit, including obtaining the county’s computer network routers and door-to-door canvassing to gauge residents’ participation in the November election — efforts that could further prolong the count.

The back-and-forth claims represent a microcosm of the growing battle over the election audit.

Republicans in the state, fueled by conspiracy theories from former President TrumpDonald TrumpFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Missouri Rep. Billy Long enters Senate GOP primary Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election MORE that the November election was “stolen” from him, have said the audit is necessary to reveal potential misconduct in the race in Maricopa County, home of Phoenix. Democrats, meanwhile, say the count marks an effort by the GOP to overturn the results of the election in the state.

President BidenJoe BidenFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries FDA aims to give full approval to Pfizer vaccine by Labor Day: report Overnight Defense: Police officer killed in violence outside Pentagon | Biden officials back repeal of Iraq War authorization | NSC pushed to oversee 'Havana Syndrome' response MORE won Arizona by more than 10,000 votes, fueled in large part by a strong showing in Maricopa County. His victory marked the first time that a Democratic presidential nominee had won the state since 1996. 

Beyond their general claims against the audit’s intention, Democrats have also panned Republicans for contracting out the count to Cyber Ninjas. They say that group is led by an election conspiracy theorist who has no experience in electoral recounts. They also say the location where the ballots are being stored and counted for the audit is not secure

“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,” Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) told The Hill in May. “They’re not following best practices. In fact they’re doing a lot of things that make no sense if you’re trying to get a valid result.”

The audit has already slipped by several informal deadlines Republicans had set.

Randy Pullen, a former Arizona GOP chairman who is involved in the audit, said two months ago that he expected the count to be done by the end of May, boasting of the system’s effectiveness. 

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“I’m pretty confident we’ll easily be done by the end of the month,” Pullen told The Hill at the time.

While there is no clear completion date for the Arizona audit, the process’s ultimate conclusion is unlikely to mark the end of similar counts across the country. Republican allies of Trump from other battleground states like Pennsylvania have made the pilgrimage to Maricopa County to review the process, hinting they could start similar efforts of their own. 

Similar counts elsewhere have been urged on by the former president himself — the de facto head of the Republican Party — almost assuring that Republicans will not drop the mantle of “election integrity” anytime soon.

“The irregularities revealed at the hearing today amount to hundreds of thousands of votes or, many times what is necessary for us to have won,” Trump said in a statement after Thursday’s briefing in Arizona. “There was no victory here, or in any other of the Swing States either.”