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The Arizona Senate-ordered recount of Maricopa County election ballots was to begin Friday — nearly six months after voters elected Joe Biden as president — at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix.

The Senate contracted with Florida-based technology company Cyber Ninjas to conduct the audit with a team of paid counters and volunteer observers.

Journalists were denied specific access to report or record the process, although The Arizona Republic and other media outlets have retained an attorney to challenge that decision.

For now, The Republic’s Jen Fifield is inside the coliseum as one of the volunteer observers and pressing for the most basic tools a journalist needs: paper and pen. 

Fifield, who has been covering county elections for months, signed up to work a six-hour shift as a volunteer observer beginning at 8 Friday morning. While journalists typically observe without being part of the process, the alternative was no access.

The Republic will share updates from the coliseum and other news surrounding the audit, including a court hearing as Arizona Democrats seek to stop the process by raising concerns about ballot security and other issues.  

4:30 p.m.: Kern hired to recount ballots

Former state Rep. Anthony Kern was at the coliseum Friday, hired as one of the people recounting ballots. 

“Very exciting to be involved in Arizona’s massive and historic election audit which begins today. All of us should want fair and honest elections in our great State! The nation is watching Arizona!” he tweeted on Thursday.

Then-state lawmaker Kern, a Glendale Republican, and state Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, were near the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

The pair both signed a “joint resolution” with many Republican lawmakers at the state Capitol arguing that Congress should not accept Arizona’s electoral college votes and their trip to Washington, D.C. appeared to be an extension of that campaign.

Finchem and Kern both have said they were outside the Capitol when rioters disrupted the certification of the presidential election. And both have denied any wrongdoing.

3:45 p.m.: Trump weighs in on audit

Former President Donald Trump on Friday praised GOP senators in Arizona for their “tireless efforts” to recount millions of Maricopa County ballots, predicting the massive review would produce startling findings.

Despite prior audits — and a host of election lawsuits — failing to turn up evidence of Joe Biden “stealing” the presidency, Trump thanked the lawmakers for “the incredible job they are doing in exposing the large scale voter fraud” in the 2020 election.

He also seized the chance to again slam Gov. Doug Ducey for certifying Arizona’s election results and for being “shockingly of zero help to the State Senate” in its quest for a new audit.

Though Ducey had long defended Arizona’s election system as one that already makes it easy to vote and difficult to cheat, his failure to deliver Arizona’s 11 electoral votes to Trump last year spurred the implosion of the pair’s alliance.

“(Ducey) wants to ‘pretend’ the election was free and fair,” Trump said Friday. “What are he and the Maricopa County Commissioners trying to hide?”

— Maria Polletta 

3:30 p.m.: Training as the day wore on

The volunteer observers watching over the work of the paid counters reviewing the ballots aren’t supposed to talk to them.

But hours went by before an attorney informed us of this toward the end of our shift.

— Jen Fifield

3:20 p.m.: Bennett says he will suggest changes to recount process

Ken Bennett, the former state secretary of state serving as the Senate’s liaison for the audit, said he was concerned about a few processes he saw during today’s recount and would suggest changes.

The first was to ensure boxes of ballot are properly tracked once they left the secured area.

Another related to conversation at the counting tables. The paid counters were talking with one another as they reviewed each ballot on a projected screen and recorded how it was voted. The counters were sharing who they were marking for the votes, whether that was Donald Trump or Joe Biden.

Bennett said he wanted to check into that further, but counters were told to stop talking about the candidates.

— Jen Fifield

3:15 p.m. From blue to green pens

My shift as a volunteer observer ended at 2 p.m.

After I questioned the use of blue pens in a recount because ballots can read black and blue ink, they switched them out to green pens before any real ballots were taken out of the boxes.

— Jen Fifield

2:45 p.m. Disparate treatment of journalists

Arizona Capitol Times reporter Kyra Haas, like The Republic’s Jen Fifield, had signed up to be a volunteer observer because other media access was denied.

But Haas was barred entry to the coliseum when she reported for her shift Friday morning, despite going through the same process to sign up as Fifield.

Haas posted on Twitter that she showed the invite she’d been sent, but she was told her name wasn’t on the list of observers.

Ken Bennett, the Senate liaison for the audit, got Haas into the check-in area, but she was unable to clear the next hurdle: a demand for letters of recommendation.

“@BennettArizona let me in, but there was another hold up at the check in desk because I didn’t submit letters of reference. I was never asked to do so. They told me to go get letters and come back this afternoon. Then I was escorted out by security,” Haas tweeted.

It’s unclear why Fifield was never asked to submit letters of recommendation, while Haas was. Fifield said she checked in as an observer Friday with no mention of any such requirement.

2:15 p.m.: Pause in recount appears off

A pause on the Arizona Senate’s recount of Maricopa County’s general election ballots appears off.

A judge ordered the delay Friday morning amid mounting concerns about security and procedures for the unprecedented undertaking, but the order was conditioned on the Arizona Democratic Party posting a $1 million bond to cover any potential costs of the delay. The party had asked the court for the halt.

Roopali Desai, a lawyer for the party, said a few hours after the order that Democrats would not post the bond, noting that doing so would only pause the process until noon Monday.

The party will be back in court on Monday morning, however. Judge Christopher Coury asked for the Senate to provide more information on its policies and procedures for the recount.

— Andrew Oxford

Noon: Judge orders ‘pause’ to Senate audit of election

A judge ordered the Arizona Senate to “pause” its recount of Maricopa County’s general election ballots, effective at 5 p.m. Friday.

The county delivered all 2.1 million ballots to the Senate’s custody at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Thursday for the unprecedented recount, which was set to begin Friday morning.

But in a last-minute lawsuit, the Arizona Democratic Party and County Supervisor Steve Gallardo argued the process violates state election law in numerous ways. The lawsuit argues, for example, the Senate has not set up proper security to protect ballots, voting machines and voter information.

Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury said he wants to ensure the recount fully complies with Arizona law and asked for more information by Monday morning on the audit’s policies and procedures.

If Gallardo or the Democratic Party post a $1 million bond, the audit will be paused at 5 p.m., he said.

— Andrew Oxford

11:15 a.m.: Updates denied, notes approved

I’ve been banned from further updates. Ken Bennett, who is serving as a Senate liaison, told me that I am here as an observer only.

Though I can take notes, I cannot report further until my shift here is over.

I can’t tweet either. 

— Jen Fifield

10:35 a.m.: Use of blue ink questioned by reporter observing audit

I noticed the counters had blue pens on the counting tables. You’re supposed to only have red ink when you’re around ballots since ballots can read black and blue ink. Those blue pens the counters have could potentially be used to mark the ballots.

I pointed this out to Cyber Ninjas’ CEO Doug Logan, who is running the audit. He told me that his understanding was that blue ink was fine — that the ballots only read black ink. He then came back and said actually it seems I am correct. But he still seemed unsure. He said they would work on this.

— Jen Fifield

10:30 a.m.: Dems, supervisor to ask for halt to audit at 11 a.m. meeting

Attorneys for the Arizona Democratic Party and Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo will ask a judge to halt the Arizona Senate’s recount of general election ballots at an 11 a.m. hearing.

As the ballot recounting gets underway Friday and in a last-minute lawsuit filed Thursday, the supervisor and Democratic Party argued the process violates state election law in numerous ways. The lawsuit argues, for example, the Senate has not set up proper security to protect ballots, voting machines and voter information.

The case was assigned to Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury, who himself was recently in a controversial political spotlight. Democrats tried to unseat Coury last year after he threw an education funding ballot measure — Proposition 208 — off the ballot. His decision was later reversed by a unanimous Arizona Supreme Court decision.

— Andrew Oxford

10:10 a.m.: Scratch the training video

There are about 20 volunteer observers and 20 to 25 counting tables with three paid counters at each table in the coliseum.

I was not provided a training video. My training consisted of being advised what will be happening at the counting tables and that observers should watch that the counters record the votes accurately. 

An actual ballot will appear on a scanner in front of each of the three counters at a table and the counters will record the vote on a sheet of paper. 

Doug Logan, the CEO of Cyber Ninjas, said he couldn’t guarantee that the counters at each table were a mix of Republicans, Democrats or independents.

Logan said he told the team calling volunteer observers to call everyone “who didn’t agree with them.” By that, he said he meant those who didn’t agree that the audit should be done. 

—Jen Fifield

9 a.m. Training video expected 

I have been told we will watch a training video before starting.

I will be trying to update frequently. No photos or I would.

— Jen Fifield

8:45 a.m. Getting checked in

I am in the doors of the coliseum, but not through the checkpoint.

I will be checking my purse and belongings soon.

I will be able to take breaks and give updates.

— Jen Fifield

8:30 a.m. Traffic gets moving

There is a woman with a list and the line is moving. 

I got in, but several people are being turned away.

I found out what happened. The original signup sheet for volunteer observers was on Google. When Google shut their gmail down, they lost their entire list. Those people are being turned away.

For some reason, I was not, even though I used Google form.

— Jen Fifield

8 a.m. Still waiting

Audit is supposed to start right now, 8 a.m. No observers have been let in the gate yet.

Just turned off my car. I’ve been sitting here for 40 minutes.

— Jen Fifield

7:30 a.m. Line at coliseum

Off to an interesting start.

Got in line to go into coliseum and was told they aren’t letting people in yet because they don’t have the list of observers ready. The observers had been advised to arrive 30 minutes ahead of the 8 a.m. shift. 

Meanwhile, the line behind me is stretched out onto McDowell Road backing up traffic. 

— Jen Fifield

6:30 a.m. Changing rules

I’m not sure how this will go.

For one: The rules are changing rapidly. At first, I was told that I wouldn’t be able to record anything, but the observers would be able to take notes. Then, they said no note-taking allowed.

Think about trying to be somewhere for six hours, observe what is happening, and then write it down later. Human brains forget very quickly. Even trained ones (journalists).

— Jen Fifield

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