Maricopa County election audit could last weeks longer than expected, has 'no deadline'

Taylor Seely
Arizona Republic

PHOENIX – A recount ordered by the Arizona Senate of nearly 2.1 million Maricopa County general election ballots could stretch beyond May 14, its target date for conclusion.

Senate audit liaison and former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett said Saturday there was "no deadline" for the audit and the recount may need to pause May 14, when Veterans Memorial Coliseum is reserved to host several high schools' graduations. 

The audit, headquartered at the coliseum at the state fairgrounds, would resume about a week later, Bennett said, and the Senate talked with state fair officials and got permission to use the space "for as long as we need it" after the graduations.

Last week, Bennett said he was confident workers would wrap up by May 14, and there were plans to increase the number of ballot counters and shifts starting Monday.

Bennett offered no estimate on the number of ballots recounted as of Saturday.

Time-intensive process

Hand counters reviewed ballots at about 20 tables Saturday.

One of the tables of five people – one person placing each ballot on a turnstyle, three people counting and one person removing each ballot – counted about 50 ballots in 12 minutes.

The downtime before counting more ballots began was about 10-12 minutes. The next batch of about 50 ballots took about 16 minutes to get through.

It took about 40 minutes for that particular table to get through 100 ballots.

An election recount takes place at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix on May 1.

Bennett said staffing from temp agencies should be in place to up the number of counting tables to 46 on Monday, more than doubling the number of counters from 60 to 138 per shift. Instead of two shifts per day, counters would fill three shifts, Bennett said. 

Bennett declined to estimate how long it might take to complete the recount. "We have as much time as we need to do it right," he said.

Election audit: Experts call for federal monitors, citing violations of voting laws

The full audit includes a hand count of the presidential race and U.S. Senate race on nearly 2.1 million ballots, an analysis of voter information and an audit of the county’s voting technology.

The Arizona Democratic Party and County Supervisor Steve Gallardo filed a lawsuit to stop the recount pushed by Republican senators, saying it violated election laws and lacked protections to secure the ballots as well as voter privacy.

While the audit continues, a Superior Court judge ordered the private contractors overseeing the audit for the Senate to disclose its policies and procedures.

Two observers from the Arizona Secretary of State's Office were on the floor watching the process Saturday.

Unknown donors put money toward audit 

The Republican-controlled state Senate hired Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based technology company with no known experience in election audits, to oversee the county audit.

Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan, who has a history of posting unsubstantiated claims of election fraud online, initially said he expected the hand count to take 16 days and to provide a full report in 60 days.

Nonpartisan election auditing experts told The Arizona Republic the timeframe and price tag were unrealistic. 

Harri Hursti, a data security expert, hacker and the founding partner of Nordic Innovation Labs, said state election audits he was involved with in California and Ohio had narrower scopes, cost $2 million each and took about three months.

Regarding the Arizona Senate’s audit, Hursti said, “You can’t provide a quality, thorough study with those working hours and that cost.”

The Senate is paying Cyber Ninjas $150,000 in taxpayer money, although unknown donors also put money toward the audit.  

Logan said the audit would cost more than $150,000, but he has refused to answer how much more or who would fund it.  

private organization sprouted up seeking $2.8 million to pay for the process. FundTheAudit.com said it has raised $1 million but does not list the donors. 

Prominent supporters of former President Donald Trump also are fundraising for the audit. 

Christina Bobb, former Trump administration official and current broadcaster for the far-right One America News Network, and former Trump attorney Sidney Powell solicited donations from their followers.

Contributing: Jen Fifield, Andrew Oxford and Maria Polletta

Reach reporter Taylor Seely at tseely@arizonarepublic.com or 480-476-6116. Follow her on Twitter @taylorseely95 or Instagram @taylor.azc.