Maricopa County replaced election equipment following controversial audit

Officials with Maricopa County announced on July 14 that they have obtained new election equipment to replace those that were subpoenaed by the Arizona State Senate in a controversial audit of votes.

The ballot equipment machines would cost Maricopa County taxpayers $6 million to lease for the equipment that was barely used and not usable. 

According to a statement released by Fields Moseley, the replacement of election equipment came after the Arizona Secretary of State's Office notified the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors that equipment that were subpoenaed will not be certified for use in future elections.

In late May, the Secretary of State's Office had threatened to decertify Maricopa County's election equipment.

Related: Arizona election audit: Secretary of State threatening to decertify Maricopa County election equipment

Katie Hobbs Arizona Secretary of State says they notified Maricopa County about this concern.

"We had notified Maricopa County earlier that this would be a very big concern if the chain of custody was lost by certified election officials the equipment would not be utilized again," Hobbs said. "There is no way to know if the equipment was tampered, with, no way that would make it unsafe for a future election."

Amended contract provides for new tabulators, central counters

"Under the amended contract with Dominion Voting Systems, the County will acquire 385 new precinct tabulators and nine new central counters, as well as the election management hardware required to run them. The new equipment increases the total cost of the contract from $6.1 million to $9.0 million," read a portion of the statement released by Maricopa County officials.

In the same statement, Maricopa County officials say the County will start a request for proposal process, as its contract with Dominion is set to expire on December 21, 2022.

Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates says having the election equipment will help move forward.

"We need to move forward here we need to have elections equipment we can utilize to run an elections in 2021 and into 2022," Gates said.

Gates says before the equipment is turned over the Senate would cover the costs.

"Before we turned over this elections equipment President Karen Fann said that if the taxpayers of Maricopa county incurred cost as a result of what's going on at the coliseum the Senate would cover those costs," said Gates.

The State Senate may have to pay for the machines, as they agreed in a deal with Maricopa County that they would cover costs and damages associated with the audit.

Supervisors Criticize State Senate leadership

In the statement released by Maricopa County on July 14, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers criticized the Arizona State Senate for wasting an "expensive investment that had served Maricopa County voters well in 2019 and 2020." 

"The taxpayer paid good money for them, but now this equipment will have to be decommissioned because the Senate didn’t take our warnings about chain-of-custody seriously," said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers, in the statement.

In a separate statement, Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo said the public has been "forced by Republican leadership to subsidize the Big Lie."

"Taxpayers are on the hook for 3 million dollars to replace voting machines because Karen Fann used government resources to give legitimacy to conspiracy theories and unfounded claims," read a portion of Gallardo's statement.

Arizona State Senate launched controversial audit

Rows of tables for the Maricopa County election audit

Maricopa County election audit

According to reports by the Associated Press, the Arizona State Senate used its subpoena power to take possession of all 2.1 million ballots in Maricopa County and the machines that counted them, along with computer hard drives full of data.

Related: Election conspiracies live on with audit by Arizona GOP

They have handed the materials over to Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based consultancy with no election experience run by a man who has shared unfounded conspiracy theories claiming the official 2020 presidential election results are illegitimate. 

When the Senate leader went looking for an elections firm to do the work, she did not put together a formal request for proposal, as is typical for government contracts. State Senate President Karen Fann said she and her staff reached out to several firms and got two bids back — the one from Clear Ballot Group for $450,000 and the other from a cybersecurity group called Intersec Worldwide. Fann said she preferred the Intersec proposal, but balked at an $8 million price tag.

In an interview, she said she could not recall who had referred her to Cyber Ninjas. "To be honest with you I can’t even tell you exactly what path led me there," Fann said.

Maricopa County has already conducted two audits, which found no problems with the count in the state’s most populous county.

Related: Experts or ‘grifters’? Little-known firm runs Arizona's controversial election audit

Audit beset by mistakes and concerns

The audit has been beset by amateur mistakes that critics view as evidence the auditors are not up to the task. Hand counters began the day using blue pens, which are banned in ballot counting rooms because they can be read by ballot machines. Election experts said hand counts are prone to errors and questioned a lack of transparent procedures for adjudicating voter intent when it’s not obvious.

For days leading up to the audit, a crew from a group of Phoenix television stations had unfettered access to the supposedly secure facility as auditors were setting up equipment and receiving ballots and counting machines.

The auditors have checked for bamboo fibers to test a theory that tens of thousands of fake ballots were shipped from Asia. Meanwhile, a onetime treasure hunter who claims to have invented a new method to automatically spot ballot fraud says his technology is being used in the review.

According to a note on the website of the Arizona Secretary of State's Office, Senate Liaison Ken Bennett confirmed on May 24 that copies of voting system data was set to a Montana Lab.

"He did not specify what security measures were in place, or what the lab in Montana will do with the data or how long it will be in possession of the copies," a portion of the note read.

Audit funding a source of controversy

The Senate agreed to pay Cyber Ninjas $150,000 in state money, but it is not clear how much more the audit will cost and who is paying for it. The pro-Trump One America News Network raised $150,000 in a single day in April.

Meanwhile, former CEO of Patrick Byrne also started a fundraising drive with a group that claimed it has raised $1.7 million, with a goal of $2.8 million. Neither will have to disclose donors or account for how the money is spent, and Cyber Ninjas Chief Executive officer Doug Logan has declined to detail financial information.

U.S. Reps want some answers about the audit

As the controversial audit continues, at least two Democratic lawmakers in Congress want some answers about the audit, with New York’s Carolyn Maloney and Maryland’s Jamie Raskin asking Logan for documents and communications about the audit.

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.

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