The cost of Arizona's "audit" is quickly adding up

Arizona’s Maricopa County announced that it plans to replace all of its audited voting machines

By Jon Skolnik
Published June 29, 2021 5:26PM (EDT)
Contractors working for Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate, examine and recount ballots from the 2020 general election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 1, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Maricopa County ballot recount comes after two election audits found no evidence of widespread fraud. (Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images)
Contractors working for Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate, examine and recount ballots from the 2020 general election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 1, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Maricopa County ballot recount comes after two election audits found no evidence of widespread fraud. (Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images)

Arizona Republicans are not backing down in their effort to wrest control over the state's election audit in Maricopa County, despite mountainous evidence that fraud played no part in the state's general election results. 

On Thursday, the Republican-controlled state Senate approved a measure to strip Democratic State Secretary Katie Hobbs of her responsibilities in handling election-related litigation, according to a New York Times report. The move, which transfers Hobbs' authority to the state's Republican attorney general, Mark Brnovich, came as part of a recent piece of budget legislation. 

The legislation itself includes a number of provisions aimed at combating future election fraud – a phenomenon which Arizona Republicans have baselessly alleged impacted the 2020 general election results in President Biden's favor.

One provision mandates an examination of voter registration databases for counties with populations north of one million residents, where incidentally many Democratic-majority cities, like Phoenix and Tucson, are located. Another item in the bill would allot $500,000 to a state-sponsored investigation into whether social media algorithms on platforms like Facebook and Twitter are biased in favor of certain political parties. This algorithmic favoritism, state Republicans say, effectively serves as a kind of election contribution that is not formally registered with the state. Also in the bill is a provision that would establish an Election Integrity Fund, which is designed to finance more safeguards against potential fraud. 

Hobbs last week said that the budget legislation "was unlike anything I have ever seen before."

"The sheer amount of policy issues that were tacked [sic] on to the budget in the middle of the night is a shocking abuse of power," she declared.

Hobbs also added that Republicans were "weaponizing the process to take retribution against my office."

The legislation comes amid legal tumult over the future use of voting machines that Arizona Republicans subpoenaed back in April to conduct their audit of the 2020 presidential election. 

On Monday, the county announced that it would not reuse the machines after being in the hands of the state Senate's contractors, most of whom have stayed entirely mum on precisely how the audit is being conducted. 

The county's Board of Supervisors on Monday expressed to Hobbs concerns about the integrity of the machines, since the contractors (who now retain custody of them) are not legally certified to conduct an election recount, according to The Arizona Republic. Back in late May, Hobbs herself aired out these same concerns, threatening to "consider decertification proceedings" if the Senate intended to reuse the machines.

It remains unclear whether Maricopa County, which holds a $6.1 million, three-year lease with Dominion (whose election machines were subpoenaed), will be able to effectively break its contract with the company without incurring the cost of the full lease. 

Currently spearheading the audit is the formerly unknown Florida-based cybersecurity firm, Cyber Ninjas, a company which has no apparent experience in auditing elections. This week, Cyber Ninjas' CEO, Doug Logan, a known proponent of the Stop the Steal movement, appeared in a recently released film entitled "The Deep Rig" that parroted talking points from QAnon – a conspiracy theory that alleges that a cabal of pedophilic, Satanic cult of liberal elites are attempting to overthrow the U.S. government.

"If we don't fix our election integrity now, we may no longer have a democracy," Logan argued in the film, citing a baseless theory that the CIA is waging a "disinformation" campaign around election fraud.

Though the audit may boast lofty long-term goals (i.e., getting Donald Trump reinstated as president), its short-term consequences may not be paying off for Republicans. According to a Bendixen & Amandi International poll, about half of Arizonans do not support the recount, with a slight majority favoring Biden over Trump in the next presidential election. 

Some state Republicans have disavowed the recount, as Salon reported last month. One Arizona GOP operative told Politico that the audit "is a joke," adding that Republicans in other states should "avoid it. The election is long over, time to look forward."

Fernand Amandi, one of the poll's author's, echoed to Politico that the recount cuts two ways. "As bloody red meat for the MAGA Republican base, the audit is manna from heaven, but the problem is that Arizona is not a red state any more. It's a swing state," he said. "The audit may be serving two interests: firing up the MAGA base but giving Democrats the opportunity to make the case to Arizona voters to stick with them."

A report of the audit's findings may still be weeks or even months away.


Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik is a staff writer at Salon. His work has appeared in Current Affairs, The Baffler, AlterNet, and The New York Daily News.

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