Arizona county to spend $3M on voting machines after audit

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FILE - In this May 6, 2021, file photo, Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. Arizonas largest county has approved nearly $3 million for new vote-counting machines to replace those given to legislative Republicans for a partisan review of the 2020 election. The GOP-controlled Maricopa County Board of Supervisors said Wednesday, July 14, 2021 that the machines were compromised because they were in the control of firms not accredited to handle election equipment. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool, File)

PHOENIX – Arizona's largest county approved nearly $3 million Wednesday for new vote-counting machines to replace those used in the 2020 election, which were given to legislative Republicans for a partisan review of the results.

The GOP-controlled Maricopa County Board of Supervisors said the machines were compromised because they were in the control of firms not accredited to handle election equipment. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, had said she would seek to decertify the machines if the county planned to use them again.

State Senate Republicans used their subpoena power to take control of Maricopa County's voting machines after former President Donald Trump claimed without evidence that the 2020 election was rigged against him in Arizona and other battleground states.

The Senate hired Cyber Ninjas, a small cybersecurity consulting firm led by a Trump supporter who has spread conspiracy theories backing Trump's false claims of fraud, to recount all 2.1 million ballots and forensically review voting machines, servers and other data. The firm had no prior experience in elections, and experts in election administration say it's not following reliable procedures.

The state Senate scheduled a hearing Thursday with Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan and others involved in the audit. Senate President Karen Fann said they won't release findings but will discuss “items they need more documentation on.” The auditors have complained that the county has not turned over administrative passwords to vote-counting machines or internet routers from the elections office.

County officials say they don't have administrative passwords and handing over routers would pose a security risk.

There is no constitutional mechanism for President Joe Biden's victory to be overturned, but Trump and many of his supporters hope the Arizona audit will support his fraud claims and lead to similar reviews elsewhere.

The county had leased vote-counting machines from Dominion Voting Systems Inc. through 2022. It agreed to pay $2.8 million for Dominion to supply new machines for the 2022 midterm elections and smaller local contests. That includes 385 precinct tabulators, which count ballots as they're turned in at polling places; nine central tabulators, which primarily count early ballots; two servers; and other workstations.

The county's has no choice but to buy new machines because its lease agreement requires it to return the machines in working order, said Steve Chucri, a Republican supervisor. It can't return decertified machines, he said.

County officials said they will still seek bids as planned for a new vote-counting contract after 2022.

Fann, the Senate president, signed a contract agreeing to cover any costs to the county from giving up the machines. County officials hinted at billing the Senate but did not explicitly address it.

“I think it is fundamentally unfair for the taxpayers of Maricopa County to be responsible for footing this bill,” said Bill Gates, a Republican supervisor.

In the partisan audit, the hand-count of ballots, which focused on tallying votes in the races for president and U.S. Senate, has wrapped up. Auditors this week plan to use machines to recount the number of ballots that were turned in. Senate President Karen Fann has said the Cyber Ninjas tally of votes did not match the county's official total, but she has not said how far apart they are.

Meanwhile, scrutiny of the audit is intensifying. The U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee sent a letter Wednesday to Logan, the Cyber Ninjas CEO, demanding materials including financial records and communications with Trump, several of his allies and prominent supporters of “stop the steal” conspiracy theories.

“The Committee is seeking to determine whether the privately funded audit conducted by your company in Arizona protects the right to vote or is instead an effort to promote baseless conspiracy theories, undermine confidence in America’s elections, and reverse the result of a free and fair election for partisan gain,” wrote Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney of New York, the committee chairwoman, and Jamie Raskin of Maryland, chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.


Associated Press writer Bob Christie contributed.