Maricopa County supervisors order election audit in response to allegations

By: - January 27, 2021 1:06 pm
election audit sign

A protester holds a sign outside the Executive Tower in Phoenix on Dec. 14, 2020. The protesters believe Donald Trump won re-election in 2020 and objected to the state casting its electoral votes for Joe Biden. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Rampant but baseless allegations of fraud and misconduct in the 2020 general election prompted the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to order an audit of equipment used to tally the November vote, a move the supervisors hope will instill confidence in an election that some Republicans have spent more than two months undermining.

But already a top legislative Republican said the county’s planned audit is insufficient.

The audit will determine whether Maricopa County’s ballot tabulation machines have been hacked in any way or if any malicious software has been installed in them. It will investigate whether the machines were connected to the internet at any point during the 2020 election — something election officials have repeatedly said did not happen — and that no votes were switched. And it will ensure that the machines, which Maricopa County leased in 2019, were acquired through a proper procurement process.

Allegations of fraud began swirling around Maricopa County within days of the Nov. 3 election, as President Donald Trump and many of his supporters began spreading false and baseless claims about rigging and vote switching. Many of those allegations focused on Dominion Voting Systems, which provides the ballot counting machines used by Maricopa County and many counties in other swing states that, like Arizona, voted for Joe Biden in the presidential race.

Though a handful of lawsuits in Arizona have failed to produce any evidence of fraud, many of the allegations and conspiracy theories have persisted. Scott Jarrett, who oversees Election Day voting in Maricopa County, said an audit will help build confidence that the election was fair.

“We know that there’s a lot of misinformation and disinformation out there about this election. …  I know that information, those rumors are not true. But there are … a good number of people in our community who do have mistrust. They’ve heard those rumors and they don’t know what to believe,” Jarrett told the supervisors.

Supervisor Steve Chucri said there are a great many Arizonans who have questions about the election. Even if the board disagrees with people, it’s important to understand their concerns. 

“My mother is not politically engaged, and she questioned this equipment. My contractor questioned this equipment. These people aren’t crazy. They’re average Arizonans,” he said.

Supervisor Steve Gallardo, the lone Democrat on the Board of Supervisors, said he wrestled with whether to support the audit. He said he knows in his heart that the election was conducted honestly and fairly, and said “the accusations, the rumors, the flat-out lies” about the election are a slap in the face to Maricopa County’s election workers. Gallardo, a former elections worker himself, noted that several audits required by state law have already shown Maricopa County’s machines to be accurate. 

The allegations of fraud arose not in response to genuine concerns, Gallardo said, but because some people didn’t like the results of the election.

“They continue to spread lies and conspiracies about how our elections are conducted. Now, our machines are the target. They continue to spread false allegations about how our democracy works,” Gallardo said in a fiery speech before the board voted on the audit.

But even though those people will never be convinced that the election was fair, Gallardo said, he supported conducting another audit to help alleviate people’s concerns.

“I understand there’s going to be folks out there who don’t accept the outcome of our election, and to be honest, I can care less what they think. We’re never going to convince them,” Gallardo said. “I put them aside. But I will go along with this, and I’ve said I would. Let’s go ahead and, for the fourth and final time, have an audit.”

Gallardo, along with Jarrett and Supervisor Clint Hickman, noted that the board held numerous meetings in the community and spoke before legislative committees prior to Nov. 3 to explain to people how the election would work. And Hickman said many of the questions he gets from constituents would be answered if they would watch the three-hour meeting where the supervisors approved the canvass or a six-hour hearing before the state senate’s Judiciary Committee in which election officials described the county’s election procedures in great detail.

Whether the audit will assure voters is one thing. Whether it will assure Republican leaders in the Arizona Senate, who want to conduct an audit of their own and are locked in a legal battle with the county over subpoenas for election equipment, is another issue altogether.

Former Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Eddie Farnsworth held a hearing in December to probe the integrity of the election, and even though the hearing turned up no evidence of fraud or misconduct, he and Senate President Karen Fann issued subpoenas for ballots, equipment, software and data related to the election for the purpose of conducting a forensic audit of the election. The supervisors had already said they would conduct an audit after lawsuits challenging the election results concluded.

Fann said she hasn’t yet reviewed the scope of the audit that the supervisors ordered, and therefore can’t say whether she’ll continue to push for her own forensic audit.

“My main concern is making sure the audits will answer all the questions and concerns our constituents have so we can reinstall confidence in our elections. I believe this is what the (Board of Supervisors) stated as their goal, as well,” Fann said.

Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, who succeeded Farnsworth as Senate Judiciary chairman earlier this month, said the scope of the county’s audit is only an “inch deep” and said it won’t stop the Senate from conducting a separate audit.

“With the limited scope they have asked to be audited, they are guaranteed to find nothing,” Petersen said before the meeting.

Petersen did not respond to a follow-up question about what he’d like to see included that won’t be part of the county’s audit.

Maricopa County will contract with two companies, Pro V&V and SLI Compliance, to conduct the audit. Those are the only two auditors certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, according to county spokesman Fields Moseley. A proposed settlement agreement between the Senate and the county would require the Senate to use an EAC-approved auditor.

One potential sticking point could be the actual ballots cast by voters in the election. The Senate subpoenas demanded copies of both the actual ballots and the electronic images that Maricopa County’s ballot tabulation machines make of ballots when they’re scanned and counted. The county has argued that state law strictly governs possession of those materials and says it can’t legally turn those over to anyone. 

Supervisor Bill Gates, the board’s vice chairman, was adamant that the audit will not include a recount of any kind. He told Arizona Mirror on Tuesday that state law narrowly defines the circumstances in which a recount can occur, and nothing in the 2020 general election warrants one.

Chucri said during Wednesday’s meeting that it’s important to work with the legislature as the county conducts the audit. The county should listen to lawmakers and accept feedback from them, he said.

“But make no mistake, this is the audit that we’re doing. And we’re not going to continue to go and turn over rocks,” Chucri said.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”