Friday, May 14, 2021

Fact Check

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PHOENIX (AP) — A contractor overseeing the Arizona Senate’s unprecedented recount of 2.1 million ballots from the November election complied Thursday with a court order and released its policies for ensuring voter privacy and ballot secrecy.

The release of three documents by Florida-based Cyber Ninjas came a day after a Maricopa County judge refused to allow the company or the Republican-led Senate to keep the material secret and ordered it made public. Judge Daniel Martin gave them a day to appeal, but they declined.

Cyber Ninjas said in a statement that its goal “is for the public to be able to read the documents themselves and see that the process and the procedures are sound.” The company, which fought the release in court, said it was releasing it as part of “ongoing efforts to be transparent” and urged media outlets to publish links to the documents so they can be easily accessed.

The three documents cover procedures for hand-recounting Maricopa County’s ballots, collecting and handling digital evidence, and securing the county ballots and tabulation machines at the state fairgrounds.

The Arizona Democratic Party previously sued to block the recount unless the policies for securing voter rights were released.

The Democrats argued the public had a right to know how the recount of ballots in the state’s most populous county was being conducted. Their lawyers argued that voter privacy would be irreparably harmed if the process proceeded, at least without knowing how the recount was being conducted.

The party’s lawyers were reviewing the documents and could not immediately comment on them.

The Arizona secretary of state’s office, which oversees state elections and has long sought more transparency in the Senate’s unusual post-election recount, also had attorneys reviewing the documents. A spokeswoman said the office would comment once they had completed that analysis.

The secretary of state oversees the states’ election rules, ballot handling and recount processes.

The secretary had also sought to send observers to the recount site, and the Senate reached a deal Thursday on those observers, said Murphy Hebert, spokeswoman for Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. The office sent an election equipment expert and two more elections experts were expected soon. They are from non-partisan voting rights organizations.

President Joe Biden narrowly won the state over Donald Trump. The audit of ballots months after Biden’s win was certified came as backers of Trump continue to insist without evidence that he lost Arizona and other battleground states because of election fraud.

The state Senate audit can’t overturn the results of the election, but Republicans who control the chamber say it is needed to restore voter confidence and help them craft changes to election laws.

Senate Democrats call the audit an effort to perpetuate what they call “The Big Lie” — Trump’s insistence that he actually won.

State law normally would not allow the recount, but the Senate won a court fight to access ballots and do its own review as part of its constitutional duty to write elections laws.

Separately Thursday, a group of voting rights groups asked the U.S. Department of Justice to send monitors to Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix to ensure ballots are secure and that Senate auditors don’t try to intimidate voters. The contract the Senate signed with Cyber Ninjas noted that voters may be contacted.

“We are very concerned that the auditors are engaged in ongoing and imminent violations of federal voting and election laws,” said the letter sent by the Brennan Center for Justice, the Leadership Conference and Protect Democracy. The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The hand-recount started last Friday, with Cyber Ninjas overseeing the process run by other contractors and former Republican Secretary of State Ken Bennett acting as the Senate’s liaison to the effort. Media was largely barred, but a pool arangement began early this week that allows journalists limited access.

The Senate and Cyber Ninjas had claimed the policies and procedures for recounting the presidential and U.S. Senate votes in Maricopa County were shielded under legislative immunity and that the documents were trade secrets, but the judge said that’s not the case.

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