Arizona audit: Latest timing on the recount inside the coliseum

Staff Reports
The Republic

Here The Arizona Republic catches you up on the ongoing state Senate-ordered audit of Maricopa County's presidential and U.S. Senate race results in the November general election.

12 p.m.: Inside the Coliseum 

Florida-based technology firm Cyber Ninjas is overseeing a subcontractor conducting the hand recount and a ballot inspection process that may include inspecting ballots for watermarks or bamboo fibers, which election officials have dismissed as conspiracy theories. They also are looking for folds in the ballots and other aspects of gauging a ballot's authenticity, according to Ken Bennett, the Arizona Senate's audit liaison. 

Recount tables: Recount is done, other than braille ballots. 

Paper evaluation tables: About 42 tables operating Monday.

Number of observers: Eight volunteer observers on the coliseum floor.

The chatter

The Arizona Senate's contractors expect to be done reviewing braille ballots by Thursday, the last of the ballots to be hand recounted, as well as the inspection of ballots.

Randy Pullen, an audit spokesperson and former state GOP chair, shot down a rumor that some results would be released this week. Results from the Arizona election audit will come out in late July or early August, he said. 

It appears the results will at least include results from the hand recount and ballot inspection. It's unclear whether the results will include details from the voting machine inspection and any voter registration review.

Pullen said they plan to bring the county's 385 vote center tabulators out to the main audit floor to examine them this week. 

Journalists to watch

The Republic's Jen Fifield was at Veterans Memorial Coliseum from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. You can follow her updates on Twitter at @JenAFifield.

Kyung Lah with CNN will be there there from 2 to 7 p.m. You can follow her updates on Twitter at @KyungLahCNN.

Local journalists were initially denied specific access to report or record the recount. They were told they would have to sign up to work a shift as a volunteer observer. Local media outlets, including The Republic, retained an attorney and succeeded in gaining access. Journalists now cover shifts in a designated area of the coliseum as part of a press pool.  

4 key details being kept secret

The Republic has asked for or filed public record requests on these items. These are highlights, not a comprehensive list, of the unknowns we seek answers to for the public. 

  • Who is paying for this audit? The Arizona Senate put $150,000 toward the audit, although election experts told The Republic the cost would be far more. Private groups are collecting donations to pay for the audit, which means the public doesn't know who is fronting the money. 
  • How are the people recounting ballots recruited and screened? Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan said people recounting ballots were screened to ensure “there was nothing on their social media or other details that showed strong opinions one way or another.” But seeing former state Rep. Anthony Kern — a "Stop the Steal" backer — recounting ballots casts that in doubt. The Republic found that a few recruiters have far-right ties and are reaching out to traditionally conservative groups. Also, a nonprofit run by an ardent Trump supporter who also is raising money for the audit is helping to vet the counters.
  • What private contractors have access to ballots and voting machines? A complete list has not been publicly disclosed. Cyber Ninjas is overseeing the audit and Pennsylvania-based Wake Technology Services, Inc. was in charge of the hand recount. Wake TSI's contract ended May 14, the original completion date for the hand count, and the company did not to renew its contract, according to audit spokesperson Randy Pullen. Scottsdale-based technology company StratTech Solutions took over that role, he said. Virginia-based CyFIR is analyzing voting machines. Cyber Ninjas said in its original scope of work that the machine analysis would be done by Cyber Ninjas, CyFIR and “a number of additional analysts, the identities and qualifications of whom shall be made available to (the Senate) upon request.”
  • Who is verifying the voter information? Cyber Ninjas has refused to say who is involved in the review of voter information. Beyond recounting ballots, the audit planned to verify voter information and voting history, although Cyber Ninjas' CEO has refused to provide details on who would do this. Liz Harris, a Republican who has called the audit a fight between "good and evil," has been canvassing in search of widespread voter fraud in Arizona. Harris initially said her group of volunteers was helping with the audit, but she wouldn’t say on what part because of a nondisclosure agreement. She later said she doesn’t know what her involvement may be. State Senate President Karen Fann, in a May 7 response to the U.S. Department of Justice's concerns that this aspect of the audit could illegally intimidate voters, said plans to knock on voters' doors had been dropped for now. 

5 key details we know

Timeline: Catch up on the audit

Dec. 15: Arizona Senate Republicans send their first subpoenas to Maricopa County for all ballots cast in the November 2020 election, voting machines, voter rolls and more information for "forensic analysis." 

Dec. 18: The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors files suit to fight the subpoenas, saying it's too broad and would violate voters' privacy.

Jan. 12: Senate Republicans file new subpoenas to the county to replace the original ones, because a new Legislature had been sworn in and the county had argued that made the original subpoenas invalid. The new subpoenas asked for similar, if not the same, information.

Jan. 15 and Jan. 21: Maricopa County responds to the subpoenas, in part, by providing public voter information, election logs, detailed reporting of election results, and various other information to Senate Republicans. The county refuses to provide ballots, voting machines and private voter information.

Jan. 27: The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors votes to conduct an audit to try to put election integrity concerns to rest. "I really want to alleviate their concerns and their issues with whatever it is we are doing and convince them that this was in fact truly an honest election with good integrity," board Chairman Jack Sellers said.

Jan. 29: Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, says the county's audit doesn't go far enough and that the state Senate "has hired an independent, qualified, forensic auditing firm to analyze 2020 election results in Maricopa County." She refused to name the company and would later say she hadn't yet hired anyone.

Feb. 8: The possible arrest of Maricopa County Board of Supervisors over failing to fully respond to the subpoenas is averted when a lone Republican senator, Paul Boyer, votes against holding the board in contempt for not turning over ballots and other election materials the Senate seeks through subpoena. "My vote is about patience," Boyer says, hopeful the two sides can come to agreement. 

Feb. 17: The audit that Maricopa County commissioned in an effort to alleviate election concerns is underway with accredited auditors, which election experts say is critical. One of those experts, Ben Ptashnik, compared giving a random company access to the voting systems to "giving the keys to your house to someone who you don't know." 

Feb. 23: The county-commissioned audit shows its general election ballots were counted correctly. The county hired the independent auditors to verify that voting machines were not hacked, were not connected to the internet and counted votes properly during the 2020 general election.

Feb. 26: Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomason rules the state Senate's subpoenas for county election data and machines are valid. Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers responds by saying the county "will immediately start working to provide the Arizona Senate with the ballots and other materials."

March 31: Senate President Karen Fann announces that Senate Republicans have hired private firm Cyber Ninjas to lead the audit and hire subcontractors. The Republic finds that the CEO of the firm touted widespread election fraud on social media.

April 7: The Republic reports that election consultants around the country say the state Senate's audit lacks transparency, bipartisanship and that it's probably not doable in the proposed timeframe and for the $150,000 the Senate put aside to pay for it.

April 22: Arizona Democratic Party and Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo, the lone Democrat on the five-member board, file a lawsuit seeking to stop the audit because of security and other concerns. 

April 22 and 23Maricopa County delivers the ballots, voting machines, private voter information and other requested materials to Bennett, who Fann appointed as the state Senate's liaison, at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

April 23: Recount begins with one reporter in the coliseum who signed up to work a six-hour shift as a volunteer observer. The Republic's Jen Fifield questions Cyber Ninjas' CEO about blue pens she spots on the recount tables. Voting machines can read black and blue ink, which is why recounts should use red ink. After checking, Logan has blue pens removed and replaced with green pens before any real ballots are taken out of the boxes.

April 23: Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury, concerned by uncertainties about the audit procedures, orders the Arizona Senate to "pause" its recount if the state Democratic Party, which asked for the halt, posts a $1 million bond to cover any costs from the delay. The Democratic Party does not post the bond and the audit continues. 

April 27: Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Daniel Martin raises concerns about the rights of voters, but allows the audit to go forward.

April 27: Local media obtains limited access to coliseum during the recount. 

April 29: Private contractor for audit releases documents outlining the audit's policies and procedures as ordered by a judge. 

April 29: Crazy Times Carnival kicks off at the Arizona State Fairgrounds, which is also home to the coliseum where the recount is happening. 

April 30: Republic reporter Ryan Randazzo is removed from the coliseum and told his press privileges are revoked after posting a photo showing a former Republican legislator at a ballot-counting table. The photo shows a ballot, with no markings discernible, on a vertical stand in front of former state Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale. The Senate later reversed its revocation of Randazzo's access.

May 1: Bennett acknowledges the recount likely won't be completed by May 14 as he'd said it would just days earlier. There was "no deadline," he says.    

May 5: The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division asks questions of Arizona Senate about the audit’s security and potential for voter intimidation. Additionally, the state Democratic Party and other critics of the audit settle their lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court, with the auditors agreeing to ballot security measures and voter privacy protections, among other things.

May 6: Efforts to recruit people to recount ballots appears targeted in part at traditionally conservative groups — and some of the recruiters themselves have far-right political ties.

May 7: Arizona Senate President Karen Fann's response to the U.S. Department of Justice says state Senate is dropping, for now, a controversial plan to go door-to-door to ask local residents about their voting history as part of its audit.

May 7: Maricopa County officials speak out against the Arizona Senate's push to access county computer routers and administrative passwords to voting machines. Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone calls the demand for routers "mind-numbingly reckless and irresponsible," saying it could compromise law enforcement data. 

May 11: The Republic shares insights from election security and IT consultants, who explain what could be at risk if the county provides access to its computer routers as the election auditors seek.

May 12: The Arizona Senate extends its lease at the coliseum so the recount can continue through June 30, with a one-week pause for high school graduations previously scheduled at the Phoenix venue. 

May 12: Senate President Fann sends a letter to Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sellers that asks him and county officials to meet May 18 to answer questions about the county's failure to fully respond to the Senate's initial subpoenas and the county's election practices. The letter about "serious issues" says she wants to "constructively resolve these issues and questions without recourse to additional subpoenas or other compulsory process." On social media, the audit's Twitter account, accuses the county of deleting election databases and spoiling evidence.  

May 13: County Board Chairman Sellers responds to Fann with a call for her to retract the statement about the county deleting files spread by audit officials on social media. "That would be a crime — and it is not true," he said in a statement. "It is dangerous to spout accusations of this magnitude via a tweet."  Rather than agree to meet with Fann on Tuesday, Sellers says the county will hold a public meeting on Monday to lay out the facts. 

May 15: Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican elected in November, castigates former President Donald Trump for alleging, among other things, "The entire Database of Maricopa County in Arizona has been DELETED!" and calling it an "election crime." Richer responds on Twitter: "Wow. This is unhinged. I’m literally looking at our voter registration database on my other screen. Right now."  

May 18: County Board Chairman Sellers blasts state Senate President Fann for trying to legitimize "a grift disguised as an audit." As for the files Fann said were missing, the county says contractors likely failed to properly download or search the county's databases, which made it so database and directories appeared to be missing. "We wouldn’t be asked to do this on-the-job training if qualified auditors had been hired to do this work," Sellers says at the county meeting.

May 19: Senate President Fann and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Petersen meet with their contractors, who say they found the missing files. Ben Cotton, founder of CyFir, tells them: "I have been able to recover all of those deleted files and I have access to that data." He says the county didn't explain how the system was structured, making it hard to know what settings and configurations to use to make a copy of the county's databases, and to search the databases. A day earlier, the county had provided the auditors an explanation of their system in response to Fann's letter.

May 20: Arizona's top election official, Katie Hobbs, says she may not allow the county to reuse hundreds of vote-counting machines provided, after a subpoena, to Fann's contractors. Replacing the machines could cost millions.

May 22: An email obtained by The Republic shows a nonprofit started by former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne will handle background checks, non-disclosure agreements and volunteer agreements of audit workers. Byrne's non profit, Fund the Audit by The America Project, also is raising money to pay for the effort. The email also states that ballot counters were sought as volunteers instead of being paid, as was the case when the counting began.

May 24: Ballot counting and inspection resumes at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

May 25: Wake TSI, the Pennsylvania-based IT company that was in charge of running the hand recount, did not renew its contract that ended May 14, the original completion date for the hand count, according to Randy Pullen, an audit spokesperson and former state GOP chair. Scottsdale-based technology company StratTech Solutions took over May 24 running the hand count, using Wake's procedures, he said. 

May 26Audits like the one underway in Arizona are spreading to states like Georgia, Michigan and New Hampshire. Tammy Patrick, who previously oversaw post-election audits in Maricopa County, told the AP such examinations are critical, but must be done in a timely fashion by election experts, not ideologically interested novices.

June 1: Certified auditors contacted by The Republic, including accountants, internal auditors, and forensic auditors, say this is not an audit — or at least it doesn't appear to be following the generally accepted standards for one, from the outside. 

June 2: The audit effort is a boon to the Arizona Republican Party, which has raised far more money this year than it did at this point last year, The Republic's Ronald J. Hansen and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez report.

June 3: Maricopa County election data is in a "secure lab" in Montana, or maybe a log cabin in the woods? A contractor hired by the Arizona Senate is reviewing the election data from an undisclosed location in Montana, with no oversight from state or county officials.

June 5: Senate President Karen Fann has frequently described the audit as a simple exercise to improve elections, but a review of hundreds of pages of Fann's emails shows she also has sought to placate Trump supporters.