Arizona Senate's Auditors Must Vacate Veterans Memorial Coliseum On May 14

Published: Wednesday, May 5, 2021 - 5:02pm

A review of the 2020 election in Maricopa County, ordered by the Republican-led Arizona Senate, is far behind schedule and won’t be finished in the time frame officials previously promised.

That puts completion of the audit and recount of nearly 2.1 million ballots cast in November in doubt.

Firms hired by Senate President Karen Fann (R-Prescott) have been conducting the review inside Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds since April 23. In late April, Fann’s liaison, former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, told reporters they’d pick up the pace after getting off to a slow start. 

As of Wednesday morning, though, Bennett estimated that roughly 200,000 ballots had been recounted so far. The recount effort, led by the Florida-based cybersecurity company Cyber Ninjas, has increased its capacity by adding more tables at which groups of three workers count votes for president and U.S. Senate on ballots. The firms have struggled to fill those tables, however — this week, less than half the tables have typically been staffed.

Bennett has told reporters the Senate is trying to amend its agreement at the coliseum to continue working past May 14, a deadline in the contract Bennett previously vowed would be met.

But Jen Yee, assistant executive director of the Arizona Exposition and State Fair, told the Arizona Republic she’s not heard anything about extending the rental agreement.

“An extension is not feasible due to Phoenix Union High School graduations,” she said in an email.

The high school district has the coliseum booked the entire week of May 17, an arrangement well known prior to the Senate’s agreement. In fact, an attorney for Cyber Ninjas cited the contractual May 14 deadline in court while arguing against a complaint by the Arizona Democratic Party seeking a temporary halt of the audit and recount. The attorney claimed it would cost the firm hundreds of thousands of dollars to make up for lost time if even a few days of work was barred by the court.

Bennett has since said there’s no deadline for when the audit and recount must be complete. On Tuesday, he claimed it’s possible firms could store ballots and equipment at the coliseum, wait out the week’s worth of high school graduation ceremonies, and resume counting the following week. 

“There’s no use rushing,” Bennett said Monday. "Accuracy is more important than speed, and whatever it takes to get it done right, that’s what we’ll do, and that’s what the contractors will do.”

But the rental agreement signed by the Senate — an agreement a state official now says is unlikely to be extended — requires the Senate and its firms to remove all voting equipment and election materials, including ballots from the coliseum no later than May 14.

Critics have warned that the GOP-led audit sets a precedent for partisan election reviews that could be replicated in future Arizona elections and elsewhere, run by firms without election audit and recount experience. Cyber Ninjas in particular has been criticized for a lack of qualification to review the election and for the apparent bias of its CEO, Doug Logan, who’s promoted conspiracies of election fraud on social media.