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Arizona's top elections officer warns Maricopa County must stop using ballot counters examined by audit

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs' decision could force Senate and taxpayers to cover county's costs. Here's what we know.

PHOENIX — Arizona's top elections officer is urging Maricopa County to acquire new ballot-counting machines after handing them over for examination by the Senate Republicans' audit.

If the county does try to re-use the equipment in future elections, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs warned she will seek to decertify them. That would render the election equipment unusable, under state law.

"I have grave concerns regarding the security and integrity of these machines," Hobbs said in an email Monday to the five members of the Maricopa County Board, which oversees county elections.

"Election officials do not know what was done to the machines while under Cyber Ninjas' control."

Florida-based Cyber Ninjas and owner Doug Logan examined the ballot-counting machines and others as part of the Republican audit. 

Here's what we know:

Senate Could Face Financial Hit

The Republican-controlled state Senate and taxpayers could suffer a financial hit from Hobbs' decision. 

In a last-minute agreement before the county agreed to ship election materials subpoenaed by the Senate, Senate President Karen Fann signed a document indemnifying the county against any lawsuits or financial claims arising from the Senate's possession of the machines. The Senate would also have to cover the county's expenses if the machines were damaged.

The document provides specific protections from claims linked to Cyber Ninjas.

Maricopa County leased a suite of election equipment from Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems under a three-year, $6.1 million contract. 

Hobbs letter refers only to subpoenaed elections equipment, not the underlying elections system.

"Considering the potential impact of decommissioning the subpoenaed equipment, including on taxpayer dollars and county operations, my office did not reach this decision lightly," Hobbs wrote.

"I believe the County can agree that this is the only path forward to ensure  secure and accurate elections in Maricopa County in the future."

A Senate spokesman didn't respond to a question about whether the Senate had insurance to cover any costs related to the examination of the equipment.

RELATED: Suspicious package sent to Arizona Senate President Karen Fann under investigation

RELATED: 'Time to end this': Maricopa County's blistering letter urges Arizona Republicans to call off audit

Farming Out Equipment Not In Law

This entire audit by Senate Republicans is uncharted territory for Arizona.

An audit commissioned by a Senate president is a first. 

This is so unprecedented that there is nothing in state law or the Elections Procedures Manual that envisions the tabulation equipment leaving the custody of the county's Elections Department, according to Megan Gilbertson, spokeswoman for the Maricopa County elections department.

Hobbs contends that the break in the chain of custody -- when the county shipped its elections machines to the Senate's audit site at Veterans Memorial Coliseum -- raises serious concerns.

Chain of custody is a critical piece of elections procedure, ensuring there's no tampering with ballots or equipment. Custody of election materials is tracked very step of the way.

"The lack of physical security and transparency means we cannot be certain who accessed the voting equipment and what might have been done to them," Hobbs wrote.

"Our expert observers, as well as multiple news reports,have noted troubling security lapses."

Hobbs said she consulted with cybersecurity experts at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, as well as other elections experts. 

Still Haven't Checked Machines

The county Elections Department still hasn't checked the tabulating machines that Cyber Ninjas returned a few weeks ago. 

The four high-speed tabulators - known as "high pros" - are in the tabulating area of the county's elections headquarters, still in the packaging used by shippers, Gilbertson said.

"We are working with our attorneys on next steps, costs and what will be needed to ensure only certified equipment is used in Maricopa County," Gilbertson said. 

"We will not use any of the returned tabulation equipment unless the county, state and vendor are confident that there is no malicious hardware or software installed on the devices."

Machine Owner Agrees With Hobbs

Dominion Voting Systems has been closely monitoring the audit. 

A Dominion spokesperson agreed with Hobbs that the "secure chain of custody" had been broken. 

Dominion provided this statement to 12 News: 

"There are real concerns about what the unaccredited 'auditors' have done to Maricopa County's voting equipment, and whether the machines remain useable for future elections," the Dominion spokesperson said.

"Ultimately, this is a decision for the customer, Maricopa County, and the Arizona Secretary of State, in consultation with CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency)  and DHS. We will support them to determine what steps need to be taken to ensure the machines are secure based on federal and state regulations.

"What we do know, without a doubt, is that the secure chain of custody has been broken."

Ballot Recount Resumes Monday

Senate Republicans' hand recount of Maricopa County's 2020 election ballots - the most visible piece of Senate Republicans' audit - resumes Monday after a 10-day break. 

The 2.1 million ballots are being stored in semitrailers at a State Fairgrounds building until they can be trucked back to Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

The hand-count of presidential and Senate ballots is at least a month-and-a-half behind schedule. There's no firm end date for the audit.

Fann has said that the audit was needed to respond to the thousands of voters who have contacted Republican lawmakers with questions about the election. 

The Republicans' audit won't change the outcome of the vote in Maricopa County, a swing county that helped deliver the White House to Democrat Joe Biden. Biden was the first Democratic presidential nominee to win the county in 72 years.

The audit marks the first time one of Arizona's legislative chambers has undertaken its own review of election results. 

It grew out of Republican lawmakers' push to overturn the election results in the wake of President Donald Trump's defeat last November.

One lower court judge, Timothy Thomason,  affirmed the Senate's right to issue a subpoena for the county's election materials, from the millions of ballots to multi-million-dollar ballot-counting machines. He and another lower-court judge affirmed the Senate's right to conduct an audit.

Critics warn that partisan legislative audits could become a new parallel election, destabilizing democracy by producing results that conflict with the actual election.

 

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