Reporter Barred From Watching Arizona Senate's Election Recount Over A Tweet

By Ben Giles
Published: Friday, April 30, 2021 - 4:00pm
Updated: Sunday, May 2, 2021 - 8:40am

Former state Rep. Anthony Kern
Thomas Hawthorne/Arizona Republic/Pool
Former state Rep. Anthony Kern is among the workers examining the nearly 2.1 million ballots on April 30, 2021.

A reporter observing the Arizona state Senate’s recount of the 2020 election was removed after tweeting a photo of a former Republican lawmaker counting ballots.

The Arizona Republic’s Ryan Randazzo posted a picture of former state Rep. Anthony Kern seated at tables where workers are examining the nearly 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County last fall. 

Shortly after, a worker for Wake Technology Services, the firm responsible for the recount, escorted Randazzo out of Veterans Memorial Coliseum and revoked his press privileges.

Senate President Karen Fann, a Prescott Republican who led the effort to subpoena ballots and voting systems from Maricopa County and ordered the audit, claimed in a tweet that Randazzo violated an agreement brokered between the Senate and a coalition of media organizations. Fann wrote the media agreed not to zoom in on workers’ faces or ballots. In a separate tweet, Fann’s liaison, former GOP secretary of state Ken Bennett, claimed Randazzo was removed because the press agreed not to post ballot photographs.

Neither claim about the media’s agreement with the Senate is true.

Chris Kline, the president of the Arizona Broadcasters Association, confirmed the only commitment made was to avoid viewing or broadcasting “identifiable ballot information.” While Randazzo’s photo does depict a ballot in the foreground, Kline noted it’s completely illegible.

Kline also confirmed the press never agreed to not show the faces of workers hired to conduct the recount, nor was it ever a condition made for access.

The agreement has allowed limited media access to a controversial election review that reporters were initially barred from observing. When the audit and recount began in earnest on April 23, Bennett only allowed reporters access if they agreed to actively participate in the process by volunteering as recount observers.

Mark Henle/Pool Photo
Workers fill the floor of the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the site of the Maricopa County ballot audit, on April 27, 2021.

Tuesday was the first date pool reporters were welcomed inside Veterans Memorial Coliseum in teams of three to observe the recount process. 

Reporters have not been given access to other aspects of the audit, including reviews of election equipment.

In a statement, Kline wrote that in the course of reporting, “cameras may show the faces of people involved in both the counting and observing process.” He also noted those faces are already visible on nine live cameras, set up by the firms running the recount, streaming the entire process on the Coliseum floor.

So far Randazzo’s ban has not been extended to other reporters scheduled to take turns watching the process.

Kern’s involvement, not just as an observer, but as a paid worker recounting votes, is noteworthy given his past support of claims the election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. 

His hiring also contradicts a previous statement by Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan about what qualifications were necessary, or disqualifying, to recount Maricopa County votes. On April 22, Logan — who’s been criticized for his own social media posts spreading conspiracies of fraud about the 2020 election — told reporters background checks were conducted on all applicants to avoid biased workers.

“We chose three categories of individuals to work with: former law enforcement, veterans and retired individuals,” Logan said. “Everybody went through a full background check, made sure there was nothing on their social media or other details that showed any strong opinions one way or another. That was the main criteria.”

Yet Kern spoke at a “#StoptheSteal” rally last year, and has frequently shared views that the election was stolen or fraudulent. The Peoria Republican was later pictured on the steps of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021, when rioters stormed the Capitol seeking to overturn the presidential election.

And while Kern once worked for the El Mirage Police Department, he was fired from the job after lying to his supervisor and placed on the Brady list, a catalog of officers with a history of lying or committing crimes. 

Kern’s name is also on some of the ballots being recounted as a candidate. The Republican lost his re-election in Legislative District 20, which covers parts of Glendale, Peoria and Paradise Valley. 

Firms hired by the Republican-led state Senate are only recounting votes cast for president and U.S. Senate. Democrats won both of those federal races in Arizona.