PHOENIX — Arizona Senate Republicans at the end of April began their 2020 election audit — recounting by hand 2.1 million Maricopa County ballots.
Seven months after the November election, the audit won't overturn the results of the presidential or U.S. Senate votes in Arizona. Those results have been certified under state law and supported by Maricopa County audits.
The Senate Republicans’ audit, led and funded by people who have promoted falsehoods that the election was stolen from Donald Trump, has become a rallying point nationwide as the “first domino” that could fall in a far-fetched scheme to return Trump to office.
Latest audit stories:
- Abnormal methods': U.S. attorney general says feds will review Arizona's partisan election audit
- New leader put in charge of Arizona Senate GOP's lagging ballot recount
- Company in charge of hand-counting Maricopa County's votes 'weren't needed any longer,' Senate President Fann says
- 9 questions about Arizona Republicans' ballot recount as weeklong shutdown ends Monday
- Maricopa County demands auditors preserve evidence for potential future litigation
- This is unhinged': Trump under fire from Republican election official as county challenges Arizona audit
- Republican Arizona election official calls claim of deleted election database an "insane lie"
When is the audit expected to be done?
There is no firm end date for the audit.
The initial audit schedule indicated the three pieces of the audit and a final report could be completed within six weeks.
Maricopa County completed its delivery of election equipment and 2.1 million ballots to Veterans Memorial Coliseum on April 22, almost three weeks ago.
The most labor-intensive piece of the audit, the hand recount of the ballots, started a day or two later. It was scheduled to last 20 days.
But the glacial pace of the recount suggests it could go into late July or August - a total of almost four months - unless the counting staff is beefed up.
Logan’s analysis of the county’s leased Dominion Voting Systems machines, as well as his audit report to Arizona Senate Republicans, could also go into the summer.
Who is involved in the audit?
Arizona Senate Republicans hired a Florida-based company called Cyber Ninjas to serve as lead auditor, overseeing a team of subcontractors.
The owner of Cyber Ninjas, Doug Logan, has promoted falsehoods that the Arizona election was stolen from Donald Trump.
Neither Logan nor his subcontractors have any experience with an election audit, not to mention an audit of the vote in the fourth-largest voting jurisdiction in the country.
Logan and Senate President Karen Fann signed a contract in late March that outlines the work to be done. Some of that work and the way in which is being done has changed, as Fann and the audit team have had to respond to court orders and inquiries from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Cyber Ninjas had asked a judge to keep its work methods a secret. The judge rejected that request.
The court also released a security plan that the audit team wanted to hide from the public. The plan revealed the audit team’s outside expert anticipated a military-style attack on the fairgrounds by “Antifa” or a militia group.
Who is paying for the audit?
The audit is unprecedented in many ways. One of the more significant norm-breaking features is how the audit is being paid for.
This review of the 2020 election in Maricopa County, authorized by the Republican-controlled state Senate, is being paid for almost entirely with “dark money” - donations from people or organizations that don’t have to be identified.
Here’s what we know about who's paying for what:
Tax dollars to Cyber Ninjas: The lead contractor, Florida-based Cyber Ninjas, is being paid $150,000 in tax money from the Senate budget, controlled by the Republican majority.
The Senate is also paying for the Veterans Memorial Coliseum rental. As a public body, the Senate got the base rate for the rental: the cost of keeping the lights on and cleaning the facility - about $1,000 a day, according to Senate audit liaison Ken Bennett.
The Senate is also paying for security, provided by paid on - or off-duty law enforcement and the volunteer Arizona Rangers.
The Rangers have reaped a financial bonanza, thanks to their presence at the audit site. To date, the Rangers' GoFundMe page has raised about $175,000.
The Senate contribution is dwarfed by two unprecedented funding sources that have no connection to the Legislature.
Both organizations are led by people who promote the falsehood that the election was stolen from Donald Trump:
Cable channel connected: Christina Bobb, a personality with the far right-wing One America News Network, is in Phoenix to broadcast reports on the audit, while she and two colleagues raise money for the audit.
Bobb tweeted in late April that her fund-raising organization had reached its first $150,000 goal to help pay for the audit. Now she's asking donors for another $150,000.
Trump megafan gives $1 million: The really big money is coming from former Overstock.com chief executive and Trump megafan Patrick Byrne.
Byrne's FundTheAudit.com, promoted by the Senate GOP's Twitter account, has a $2.8 million goal for the "Maricopa County audit." AS of mid-May, it pulled in almost $1.6 million, according to a counter on the site.
Byrne claimed in a post on the messaging site Telegram that a million dollars of that money was his.
Not required to disclose donors: The Internal Revenue Service doesn't require the organizations to reveal the names of any audit donors. Under the tax code they are 501(c) 4 non-profit organizations that "promote social welfare."
Arizona Senate Republicans are breaking new legal ground, attorneys say, by contracting for a legislative function that will be almost entirely paid for by undisclosed donors to a third party.
State statute does authorize the bipartisan Legislative Council to accept and spend public and private gifts in the Legislature's name. That vehicle apparently hasn't been used.
Keep track of the latest developments from the Maricopa County election audit on the 12 News YouTube channel: