UPDATED: Ken Bennett strikes deal to stay on as Senate’s ‘audit’ liaison

By: - July 28, 2021 11:17 am
Ken Bennett

Senate liaison Ken Bennett watches as Maricopa County ballots from the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors hired by the Arizona Senate on June 12, 2021, at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Photo by Michael Meister | The Arizona Republic/pool photo

Former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett said Wendnesday morning that he intended to step down as the Senate’s liaison to the ballot review of the Maricopa County election amid growing tensions between auditors and Bennett, before reversing course hours later and saying he would stay in his role.

Bennett said late Wednesday afternoon that he had reached an agreement with Senate President Karen Fann that would allow him to continue as the unpaid liaison between the state Senate and the companies it hired to recount and examine Maricopa County’s 2020 election. He would not share details of the agreement, but said they would be made public Thursday.

Bennett’s role in the self-styled audit had been to lend the appearance of expertise to the effort. He served as secretary of state between 2009 and 2014. The secretary of state’s office nominally oversees elections in the state, though county elections offices actually conduct elections. The primary role for the secretary of state is to set policy for those local elections officials to enable them to do their jobs. The office also oversees campaign finance and lobbying reports, among other disclosures from public officials.

Wednesday morning, Bennett sounded off on an “audit” process that he said was flawed, and on Fann, who had effectively prevented him from doing the job he was supposed to do.

“I won’t pretend to be part of a process or pretend to be the liaison when I’m not,” Bennett told KFYI’s James T. Harris. “Right now, I’m the liaison in name only.” 

Last week, Bennett was blocked from entering the building where the self-styled audit was taking place after he shared data with outside critics of a ballot count that is said to have wrapped up. 

On Tuesday, Fann said in a written statement that Bennett would be part of the draft and final reports, even though she barred him from attending the final days of the so-called audit’s work. She reiterated that in a Wednesday morning email to the Arizona Mirror.

“After the auditors have submitted their draft report, it is the Senate’s intention to include Ken in this process as the authorized Senate liaison since the audit’s inception,” Fann wrote. She said a physical recount of ballots is now complete and now the Senate is planning to send those ballots back to Maricopa County. 

Bennett told Harris he was surprised by Fann’s comments.

“I will absolutely be a part of helping vet the final report, but it’s not just at the last minute — slam, bam and endorse it for us,” Bennett said in the KFYI interview. “I cannot put a rubber stamp on a product that I am being locked out of its development.” 

Bennett said he hopes that he is given a “few hours” or a “day or two” to review the draft report before it is made public, but said that materials being used for it have been largely out of his view. 

Bennett has openly talked in recent days about “serious issues” with how Cyber Ninjas, the firm leading the Senate’s election review, has conducted its work. He has specifically criticized the way volunteers entered in tally sheets from vote counts, something that was also flagged by observers sent by Secretary of State Katie Hobbs

Bennett said told Harris that he planned to submit a resignation letter, and said he will only be a part of the final draft process if he has access to the source materials that make up the final report. 

“This is the audit of the people of Arizona, not the Senate,” Bennett said. 

Former Arizona Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen has been tasked with many of Bennett’s previous duties, Bennett said in the interview. 

UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect new developments. The headline has also been changed. The original headline was “Ken Bennett plans to step down as Senate’s ‘audit’ liaison”.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joined the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.