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'Do it right or don't do it': Arizona's top elections officer warns of serious problems with ballot recount

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs' observers list 13 concerns, from slim details to Kern's presence. If left uncorrected, she could haul audit leaders back into court.

PHOENIX — In a sharply worded letter Tuesday to one of her predecessors as Arizona’s top elections officer, Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is warning Ken Bennett to bring the Republican election audit he’s overseeing into compliance with state laws and regulations.

“I’m not sure what compelled you to oversee this audit,” Hobbs writes. “But I’d like to assume you took this role with the best of intentions. It is those intentions I appeal to now: either do it right, or don’t do it at all.”

If Bennett doesn’t comply, Hobbs could take him back to court for breach of contract. Bennett is now Senate Republicans' liaison for the audit.

Under terms of a lawsuit settlement filed Tuesday, the defendants in the case - Bennett, Arizona Senate President Karen Fann and the lead auditor, Florida-based Cyber Ninjas - now have 48 hours to respond to the concerns in Hobbs’ letter.

The six-page letter highlights 13 concerns with the hand count of 2.1 million Maricopa County ballots now going on at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. 

The concerns were identified by the two observers Hobbs is allowed to send to the audit venue, under a judge’s order last week.

Among the concerns:

Questions about the count: ”Most concerning” is the absence of details regarding how “tens of thousands” of tally sheets from ballot counters will be added up. 

“When asked by my Office about the process that will be used to aggregate the tens of thousands of individual tally sheets that will be generated,” Hobbs writes, “we received no real explanation other than that an accounting firm will handle it later. This is not transparency.”

Lack of training: “The only evidence of training for audit counters is a sparse Powerpoint presentation that offers little guidance beyond the procedures documents.”

Former lawmaker’s presence: Former Republican State Rep. Anthony Kern has worked several shifts as a ballot counter. Bennett has defended Kern’s presence by saying he’s not counting ballots for the race that he lost, and he was vetted by the contractor running the ballot count. 

Hobbs' letter, however, notes that Kern is indeed on the ballot - as a presidential elector for Donald Trump, “the exact race for which he is counting.”

“While these facts would be disqualifying in any professional recount or audit,” Hobbs letter says, “unfortunately, there are additional reasons why Mr. Kern is not trustworthy to fulfill this role. He was a leader of the ‘Stop the Steal’ movement in Arizona and was actually present at the attempted insurrection in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6.”

The audit Twitter account issued this response to Hobbs' letter:

On Friday, Bennett rebuked Hobbs' criticism and defended the audit as a necessity to dispel misinformation, even though the election results were certified by leading Arizona Republicans and prior, independent, audits.

"I believe this audit is absolutely necessary to dispel the myths and fears of both sides, and replace them with reality and facts," he wrote in response to Hobbs. "Therefore, I intend to see that the audit is done right, until it’s all done."

Bennett rebuffed criticism of the audits procedures, saying in part:

"It is also my opinion that the auditor’s procedures are adequately addressing issues regarding aggregation, tally accuracy, chain of custody, and all other concerns."

RELATED: US Justice Department worried about Arizona recount

The U.S. Department of Justice also says it is concerned about ballot security and potential voter intimidation arising from the private recount.

The head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a letter to Fann that the Senate’s farming out of 2.1 million ballots to a contractor may run afoul of federal law requiring ballots to remain in the control of elections officials.

And the letter said the Senate's plans to directly contact voters may violate federal laws banning voter intimidation. 

Fann did not immediately comment. 

Cyber Ninjas, the lead auditor hired by Senate Republicans, has never done an election audit. 

In Arizona, election audits are done at the county level, so neither Hobbs or Bennett would have led audits as secretary of state.

Company owner Doug Logan has promoted falsehoods that tens of thousands of ballots in Arizona were stolen from Donald Trump.

There is no documented evidence of foul play in the Maricopa County vote.

The audit, ordered by Arizona Senate Republicans, grew out of Republican lawmakers' drive to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Arizona. 

The 2020 vote in Maricopa County - a swing county for the first time - helped deliver the White House to Democrat Joe Biden.

After more than two dozen Republican lawsuits failed, Senate Republicans successfully subpoenaed Maricopa County's ballots and ballot-counting machines for an outside audit. Senate leaders said they were responding to "thousands of questions" about the election from constituents.

The ballot hand count is one of the three pieces of the audit. The two others are a "forensic audit" of the ballot-counting machines and a canvass of voters in specific precincts. The audit is expected to be complete come time in the summer.

Read Ken Bennett's full response below:

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