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Just before the Arizona Senate Republicans’ hand count of all Maricopa County ballots cast in the November presidential election begins, Democrats are suing to try to stop it.

The Arizona Democratic Party and Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo filed a lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court on Thursday saying that the audit is unlawful and asking a judge to stop it from proceeding.

The complaint alleges the Senate’s audit, which is set to begin Friday, is violating state election law in numerous ways, including by not setting up proper security to protect ballots, voting machines and voter information.

This is harmful, they write, because their private information “will be placed into the hands of unknown, untrained agents of the private auditors” without the safeguards outlined in state law.

“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 Thursday on Twitter. 

The lawsuit is the latest attempt to try to stop the Senate from conducting the audit after the Senate finally had taken control of the ballots and voting machines after a months-long fight with the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

On Thursday, the ballots were delivered to Phoenix Memorial Coliseum, where the audit will take place. The hand count is set to begin Friday, although numerous questions remain about the security of the ballots and the observers and media who will be allowed to watch.

The audit has been criticized from the start, and the concerns are growing as the audit approaches and it becomes more clear that the Senate has handed over decision-making powers to private contractors, and as the Senate has been unwilling to share information about who all is involved and who is funding the effort.

The Senate says it wants to conduct this audit even though numerous Maricopa County audits have shown that votes were counted accurately and voting machines were not tampered with. 

Republican Senators, including Senate President Karen Fann, say this audit is not an attempt to overturn the November election results, but to ensure that the state’s election system is working properly and see what changes should be made.

Fann did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

Lawsuit: Senate didn’t set up proper protections

The Senate gained access to the ballots and voting machines after the court ruled in February that the supervisors had to hand over the materials in response to subpoenas issued by the Senate.

But the judge did not outline how this should happen, and the Senate was left on its own to figure out the complex nature of election auditing, along with all of the intricate state laws that must be followed to ensure that the audit is fair and transparent.

The lawsuit says that the companies hired by the Senate to run the audit do not have proper procedures in place to:

  • Safeguard and keep track of the ballots and voting machines.
  • Ensure the ballots and machines aren’t altered or tampered with.
  • Ensure there is bipartisan oversight of the audit.

It also talks about the Senate’s lack of transparency in providing information about who is involved in the audit and policies for how it will be run.

It points out that the Senate has not been transparent about who is paying for the audit, but that outside groups such as One America News Network have announced that they were fundraising $150,000 for the effort.

That’s the same amount the Senate had agreed to pay Cyber Ninjas to conduct the audit, although election auditing consultants have told The Arizona Republic that it will cost much more.

The lawsuit discounts the experience and expertise of those conducting the audit, including Ken Bennett, a former Secretary of State who Fann appointed to serve as the Senate’s liaison to the contractors, and Cyber Ninjas, the firm placed in charge of running the audit.

The CEO of Cyber Ninjas appears to have promoted conspiracy theories about the election on social media and was involved with a previous effort to overturn election results in Michigan.

Arizona Democratic Party Chair Raquel Terán said the party filed the lawsuit to “protect Arizonans who made their voices heard in the 2020 election and defend our democratic institutions.”

“The lack of transparency around this ‘audit’ is astounding and we will not stand idly by as Senate President Fann opens up our secure election to unqualified and completely unhinged actors who believe the ‘big lie.’” she said. “This has gone far enough and we are hopeful that the courts will put an end to this embarrassing and dangerous circus.”

Senate minority leader weighs in

Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, said the chamber had abdicated its responsibility for the audit “and handed it to rogue groups that have no experience with Arizona elections.”

“When issued by the judge, the subpoena assumed that government officials would comply with all laws on privacy, confidentiality and integrity of ballots and equipment. None of this has happened,” Rios said.

Rios maintained the election was run with integrity and argued the audit is merely an effort to cast doubt on the results.

“It’s clear that this audit is no more than a temper tantrum from those still upset that they lost the election and it is deeply damaging to the integrity of our elections and our democracy,” she said.

Reach the reporter at jen.fifield@azcentral.com or at 602-444-8763. Follow her on Twitter @JenAFifield

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