PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona Democratic Party and the sole Democrat on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking to block the Arizona Senate’s ballot recount and audit of the county’s 2020 election.
The last-ditch lawsuit alleges Republican Senate President Karen Fann and another GOP senator promised a judge that they would protect the secrecy of the ballots and voter privacy before he ruled the Senate could access 2.1 million voted ballots and the tabulation machines used to count them. A court hearing is set for Friday morning.
But the lawsuit alleges that Fann and Sen. Warren Peterson’s assurances were “illusory” because they’ve outsourced the recount set to begin Friday to an “inexperienced third party with clear bias.”
The lawsuit, filed by the state party and county Supervisor Steve Gallardo, seeks a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction blocking the audit and recount. It says the audit’s lack of transparency and safeguards will cause “irreparable harm to the integrity of Arizona’s election systems” and the privacy and confidentiality that Arizona law promises voters who cast a ballot and entrust election officials with it.
“The sole reason for this lawsuit and injunctions is to protect the sanctity of the ballots and more importantly to preserve voters’ privacy from a sham audit that has been corrupted by agitators and conspiracy theorists,” Gallardo said in a Tweet.
Fann said in a brief comment that the ballots are protected by bonded and certified 24-hour security forces, kept in locked cages and a public live stream is on 24 hours a day.
Besides Fann and Peterson, the lawsuit names Ken Bennett, the former Arizona secretary of state who is acting as a liaison between the Senate and the contractors, and Cyber Ninjas. That’s the firm that is leading the audit and led by Doug Logan, a backer of unfounded theories that contend former President Donald Trump lost in Arizona and other battleground states because of election fraud.
The county handed over the ballots Thursday to Logan’s team at the state fairgrounds, which the Senate rented after the Republican-dominated board of supervisors refused to allow use of its facilities.
Weeks of counting by contractors hired by the Republican-controlled Senate at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum — previously home to the Phoenix Suns NBA basketball team — are set to start Friday. The contract between Cyber Ninjas and the GOP-led Senate says voters may be contacted.
The board members insist the election won by President Joe Biden was conducted fairly and counted accurately. Senate Democrats oppose the effort to recount the ballots of the long ago certified election and are not participating.
The operation will be live-streamed by the pro-Trump, right-wing television network OANN, which helped raise some of the money used to finance the audit and recount. It will also be streamed on the https://azaudit.org/ website.
The Senate is paying Cyber Ninjas $150,000, and an OANN host helped raise at least another $150,000 for the effort.
Bennett in a recent interview vowed to ensure that the audit is as fair as possible, despite concerns that Cyber Ninjas founder Doug Logan has embraced Trump and expressed doubt that Biden won.
“I don’t know if he’s specifically embraced ”Stop the Steal,” but yes there are people that are questioning his opinions and whether they are going to affect the audit,” Bennett said. “And I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that we audit the election and not the contractor’s opinions.”
Supporters of Trump have cast doubt on the Maricopa County election results since Biden’s narrow win in the state last year. But there has been no evidence of widespread fraud. Judges rejected several lawsuits alleging irregularities in the count.
Last month, the county released the results of two new audits of its equipment that showed no malicious software or incorrect counting equipment and that none of the computers or equipment were connected to the internet.
Election administration and security experts said in a letter to Fann early this month that they were “deeply disturbed” by the decision to hire Cyber Ninjas for the audit. The election was conducted securely, and the audit could undermine confidence in U.S. elections, they said.
Logan has said his personal views are irrelevant because he intends to conduct a transparent audit.
On Wednesday, Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs called the Republican effort a sham.
“Nobody should be taking this circus seriously,” Hobbs said. “That’s what it is. It’s a circus.”
Associated Press reporter Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix contributed to this report.