Arizona audit of 2020 election hits hand-count milestone; triggers interest in Secretary of State race

A Republican-led hand recount of ballots cast in Arizona’s most populous county hit a major milestone Monday when counters finished tallying all the regular ballots cast in November’s presidential and U.S. Senate election, the Arizona Senate’s liaison said.

Ken Bennett, a Republican former secretary of state who has been monitoring the contractors actually recounting the 2.1 million ballots, said all that remains are a small number of boxes filled with Braille, large-type, overseas military and duplicated ballots.

Bennett didn’t give a count for the remaining ballots, but they are a tiny fraction of the hundreds of boxes of ballots that were toted to the state fairgrounds in April. Counting was expected to only take a few weeks but ended up taking nearly two months.

"We have probably by the end of today essentially completed the counting, but there are other aspects of the audit that could happen simultaneously," said Bennett.

Senate President Karen Fann was on hand June 14 to tour the audit as it seemingly nears the end.

The GOP-led Senate ordered the audit after backers of President Donald Trump claimed without evidence that fraud led to his loss in Arizona and other battleground states. The Republican-dominated Maricopa County Board of Supervisors has repeatedly said the election was fair and free of any problems.

Bennett said the formal hand recount ordered by Senate President Karen Fann will be completed by the end of the month. Now that the main counting is complete, workers have been reassigned to help photograph each ballot as part of a second stage of the review designed to ensure that no phony ballots have been slipped in.

"It’s all aspects related to the authenticity of the ballots," Bennett said, including folds in ballots, alignment marks, ensuring the ballot was marked by a hand-held pen or marker and not done by a printer.

Separately, the contractors are perusing the computer programs used to count the ballots and examining the vote count machines.

Bennett and others involved with the "audit" have not released any information on results. They are expected to be released in a report at some time after the recount’s conclusion.

Outspoken progressive Democrat John Brakey stressed that the findings should instill trust, but there are plenty of people with their own motives.

"I’m involved with this and work very closely with Ken, but there are factions here who think they can make a movie. I find that very bad. Embarrassing to me," said Brakey, an audit advisor.

Senate Republicans issued a subpoena to take control of 2.1 million ballots, voting machines and election data from the state’s largest county after former President Donald Trump claimed without evidence that his loss in Arizona and other battleground states was marred by fraud. The county balked but handed them over after a judge ruled the Senate had the authority to seek the materials.

The Senate’s Republican leaders hired several firms led by Cyber Ninjas, a small Florida-based consultancy with no election experience before this year, to audit the materials.

The review won’t change the outcome of the election. But some Trump supporters believe it will turn up evidence to support his narrative of fraud.

Social media rumors have alleged that there are hundreds of thousands of ballots missing.

"Anyone who says there’s 200,000 short is guessing," Bennett said. "Randy [Pullen] says that’s crazy, I say it’s not a finding we’ve made yet."

What is clear is the audit has helped heat up the Arizona Secretary of State’s race.

Arizona House Minority leader Reginald Bolding announced his run Monday. He joins former Maricopa County recorder Adrian Fontes on the Democratic side and Republicans Michelle Ugenti Rita and Mark Finchem, both members of the state legislature in the race.

"This is an opportunity for national attention and recognition for a lower level seat, at the state level…totally flies under the radar of national attention," said Frank Gonzalez of the UArizona School of Government and Public Policy.

Counters had to vacate the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in mid-April to make way for for high school graduations. When they restarted after a week on May 28, more tables and counters were added to try to speed up the process.

Voting-rights advocates and election administrators say the 2020 election was conducted well and worry the Arizona GOP review is using slipshod procedures and investigating far-fetched conspiracy theories.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Continuing coverage of the Arizona election audit:

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