Senate Republicans sign lease to continue Arizona election audit

Republicans in the Arizona Senate have signed a lease to continue their slow-moving audit of the 2020 election results in Maricopa County through the end of June.

The state Senate and its contractors had rented the Veterans Memorial Coliseum through May 14, when they must vacate the old basketball arena because it is booked for high school graduations next week.

Republicans have hired Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based cybersecurity firm to oversee an unprecedented, partisan review of the 2020 election in Arizona’s largest county. They are conducting a hand recount of all 2.1 million ballots and looking into baseless conspiracy theories suggesting there were problems with the election, which have grown popular with supporters of former President Donald Trump.

Under the new lease signed May 12, the ballots, computers, tables and related equipment will be stored elsewhere at the state fairgrounds next week. The Senate will regain access to the coliseum on May 23 and have it through the end of June.

The effort has gone far slower than expected, and only a fraction of the ballots have been counted. The audit will stop Thursday evening, then packing will begin and continue into Friday, said Ken Bennett, a former Republican secretary of state who is serving as the Senate’s liaison to the auditors.

Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the state's top election official, has asked the Senate to detail its plans for keeping ballots secure while they are in storage.

Meanwhile, Senate President Karen Fann sent a letter Wednesday to Jack Sellers, chairman of the Republican-controlled Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, requesting that county officials publicly answer questions at the Senate on Tuesday, but she stopped short of her threat to issue subpoenas.

Fann repeated the Senate's demand for access to administrative passwords for vote-counting machines and internet routers. County officials say they have turned over all the passwords they have and have refused to give up the routers, saying it would compromise sensitive data, including classified law enforcement information held by the sheriff’s office.

Fann proposed allowing its contractor to view data from the routers at county facilities under supervision of the sheriff's office. "The Senate has no interest in viewing or taking possession of any information that is unrelated to the administration of the 2020 general election," she wrote.

The county says the passwords the Senate is seeking are maintained by Dominion Voting Systems Inc., which makes the vote-counting machines and leases them to the county. The company said in a statement Thursday that it cooperates with auditors certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, and did so for two prior audits of 2020 results in Maricopa County, but won't work with Cyber Ninjas.

"Releasing Dominion’s intellectual property to an unaccredited, biased, and plainly unreliable actor such as Cyber Ninjas would be reckless, causing irreparable damage to the commercial interests of the company and the election security interests of the country," Dominion's statement said. "No company should be compelled to participate in such an irresponsible act."

Fann's letter also questions the county's records that document the chain of custody of the ballots and accuses county officials of deleting data.

In a statement, Trump called it "a devastating letter" and said "the Fake News and Lamestream Media is doing everything they can not to cover this major story."

County spokesman Fields Moseley did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Board of Supervisors scheduled a private meeting Thursday afternoon to discuss the issue with lawyers.

"These allegations were brought by the inexperienced technology personnel with whom the Senate has contracted to review the election," said the board's meeting agenda. "These reckless allegations have and are causing confusion and agitation at the State Legislature."

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