'It's time to be done with the craziness': Arizona Republicans fight back against election fraud claims

Republicans in Arizona’s largest county are escalating their defense of their 2020 vote count, putting them increasingly at odds with former President Donald Trump and a sizeable chunk of their party that believes without evidence that something was amiss.

Maricopa County’s top officials, almost all of them Republicans, on Monday blasted the GOP state Senate president and the auditors she hired to run an unprecedented, partisan recount in the county. Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers, a Republican, said Karen Fann is making an "attempt at legitimatizing a grift disguised as an audit."

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors met during a public meeting where the words "grift," "craziness" and "circus" were all used relating to the audit.

The majority Republican Board of Supervisors took particular issue with the allegation that the county deleted election databases. The supervisors, along with newly-elected county recorder Stephen Richer, said it was simply not true.

The county outlined the technical aspects of the allegation in a 13-page letter that sent to Senate president Karen Fann.

Officials said the auditors, the Cyber Ninjas, didn’t properly download the databases and nothing was deleted. The board of supervisors bashed the Cyber Ninjas firm, saying plainly that the audit should end.

"I want to be clear that I believe Joe Biden won the election, alright?" said Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gate. "And the reason I feel confident in saying that, particularly in Maricopa County, is that we overturned every stone, we have professionals. Both in early voting and Election Day voting, they did everything right. 

"We asked the tough questions and certified the election back in November," Gates continued. "But now it’s time to say enough is enough, it’s time to push back on the big lie."

"This board is done explaining anything to these people who are playing investigator with our constituents’ ballots and equipment paid for with real people’s tax dollars," Sellers said at the start of an extraordinary meeting to refute allegations of wrongdoing raised last week by Fann and amplified by Trump.

"We’re here to discuss a letter from the president of the state Senate asking the board to explain itself," Sellers said in a news conference. "This board is done explaining anything to these people playing investigator with our constituents ballots and equipment paid for with real people’s tax dollars. The ballots and money aren’t make believe. It’s time to be done with this craziness and get on with our county’s critical business."

The showdown in Phoenix follows several days of heated rhetoric stemming from the state Senate’s unprecedented, partisan recount and audit of the 2020 election in Maricopa County. The Senate used its subpoena power to take possession of all 2.1 million ballots, the machines that counted them and hard drives full of data, then hired a firm run by a Trump supporter who has promoted election conspiracies to comb through all of it.

Promoted heavily in right-wing media, the audit has become a cause celebre among some of Trump’s most loyal fans, who believe it will uncover evidence of the former president’s claim that he was the rightful winner of the election.

Senate President Karen Fann last week sent a letter to Sellers questioning records that document the chain of custody of the ballots and accusing county officials of deleting data.

Trump sent a statement saying, in part, that "the entire Database of Maricopa County in Arizona has been DELETED! This is illegal and the Arizona State Senate, who is leading the Forensic Audit, is up in arms."

Sellers pushed back, accusing the Senate’s contractors of incompetence. The Senate hired Cyber Ninjas, a small Florida-based cybersecurity firm with no experience in election audits whose owner, Doug Logan, shared far-fetched allegations of election fraud on his now-deleted Twitter account.

"They can’t find the files because they don’t know what they’re doing," Sellers said. "We wouldn’t be asked to do this on-the-job training if qualified auditors had been hired to do this work."

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, one of the county’s top election officials, on Saturday called the statement "unhinged" and called on other Republicans to stop the unfounded accusations.

"We can’t indulge these insane lies any longer. As a party. As a state. As a country," Richer tweeted.

Richer was elected in the same election many in his party are now questioning, defeating an incumbent Democrat. As recorder, he oversees the voter registration database and the mail voting operation, including signature verification, while the county board oversees the team charged with election-day operations and counting ballots.

Republicans who have disputed fraud allegations have faced a severe backlash.

Clint Hickman, who until recently was the GOP chairman of the Board of Supervisors, has been the subject of conspiracy theories, including that a massive fire at the egg-producing farm his family owns was cover for burning Trump ballots.

State Sen. Paul Boyer had to change his phone number, flee his house with his wife and young son and get police protection after he voted against holding the Board of Supervisors in contempt earlier this year. His vote killed a resolution that would have authorized the arrest of county officials during a dispute over whether the Senate had the power to subpoena ballots.

Boyer recently said the Senate’s handling of the audit has been embarrassing.

FOX 10 has reached out to Senate audit liaison Ken Bennett for a response, who said he will respond during a Senate hearing tomorrow. The county has said they will not attend and called it "political theater."

County sheriff Paul Penzone also released a statement about the audit, calling it "political theater."

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Read the letter from from Sellers, Richer, Gates, Penzone, Chucri, Hickman, and Gallardo: https://www.maricopa.gov/DocumentCenter/View/68972/20210517-Response-Letter-to-Senate-President-Fann---FINAL

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