Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs decried actions taken by the so-called election auditors in Maricopa County, Arizona, noting that their choice to store ballots in a trailer outside the Phoenix Memorial Coliseum could have damaged them.
The Republican-run Arizona State Senate ordered an audit of all 2.1 million ballots cast in the county for last year’s presidential election. Ostensibly done to validate the outcome, many are critical of the lawmakers choice of Cyber Ninjas, a company with zero experience in conducting election audits. The company’s owner is also an avowed supporter of former President Donald Trump, and has promoted QAnon conspiracy theories (as well as false election fraud rhetoric) in the recent past, suggesting that the audit itself is a ruse to perpetuate false notions about the outcome of the presidential race.
The audit was put on hold last week as several high schools in the area held graduation ceremonies at the coliseum. During that time, ballots were stored in a trailer outside the facility, a move that Hobbs, a Democrat, criticized.
“Where the ballots were being stored, it was not a facility that was suitable for storage, because everything was exposed to heat and also humidity because of the method of cooling in the building,” Hobbs said during an interview on Monday.
“Any time you’re doing any process like this, the idea of having to start and stop, that interruption, we were already concerned that there were a lot of procedures that were changing and errors that were happening, and I think this increases the chance for those errors,” she added.
Randy Pullen, the media liaison for the audit and a former chair of the Arizona Republican Party, defended the method for storing the ballots.
“The reason we had them in the trailers was because they had really good air conditioning in there. It’s water-cooled air conditioning, so that puts a little more humidity in the air than normal,” he said. “But it wasn’t a lot of humidity, we were checking it.”
Auditors have only completed checking around 500,000 ballots so far, less than a quarter of the total they have to go through. Pullen said he was “pretty confident” that the audit would finish up its work by the end of the month, when its lease at the coliseum comes to an end.
This is just the latest in a series of missteps that the audit in Maricopa County has taken.
The company running the audit has used ultraviolet lighting to look for supposed watermarks on ballots, which do not exist. They have also searched for traces of bamboo in the paper ballots, following up on a racist conspiracy theory that alleges that fraudulent ballots were imported from China. Auditors also used blue pens to mark ballots, a move that could render them unreadable if they’re put through voting machines in the future.
The security of the ballots has also been a matter of concern. Even inside the coliseum, ballots have not been locked away when not being examined. The lack of security was enough to prompt the U.S. Department of Justice to question the integrity of the process as well.
And last week, auditors alleged that files related to the election had been deleted by the county prior to being handed over to them. But county officials called those claims “false” and “defamatory,” noting that files were not deleted, but that auditors had looked in the wrong computer drive for them. Auditors later walked back their allegations, saying they had “recovered” the files.
“They don’t know what they’re doing,” Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chair Jack Sellers, a Republican, said. “And we wouldn’t be asked to do this on-the-job training if qualified auditors had been hired to do this work.”
The mishaps have prompted even some who wanted the audit to happen to have a change of heart. State Senator Paul Boyer, a Republican who originally voted for the audit to take place, said the entire ordeal has made him and his colleagues “look like idiots.”
“Looking back, I didn’t think it would be this ridiculous. It’s embarrassing to be a state senator at this point,” he added.
Despite the fact that no fraud has been discovered so far, and the accusations about files being deleted have been walked back after being shown to be false, Trump has continued to promote the audit on his website, calling it important, and suggesting that its eventual findings will confirm his lies that the election was stolen from him by President Joe Biden through election rigging.
Trump congratulated Republican lawmakers who authorized the troubled audit and praised the “auditors” for the “great job they are doing on the Forensic Audit of the 2020 Presidential Election Scam.” He also made the absurd claim that “early public reports are indicating a disaster, far greater than anyone had thought possible, for Arizona voters,” though he declined to say what he was referring to.