Senate Election Audit May Not Include Promised Early Ballot Signature Verification

By Terri Jo Neff

Since shortly after Nov. 3, 2020, some of the most serious allegations about Maricopa County’s handling of the General Election has included not only fake ballots and switched voter counts, but also that some employees did not follow proper protocols when verifying voter signatures on the 1.9 million early ballot affidavits.

There was even testimony in at least one election challenge lawsuit about the amount of discretion employees of the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office had in deciding which of the early ballots to accept during the signature verification phase.

Since then, one selling point for the Senate’s current audit of Maricopa County’s election process has been the chance for a “full forensic audit” that would include comparing affidavit signatures to the voters’ registration files. AZ Free News has verified that the Senate subpoenas commanded county officials to turn over images of the early ballot envelopes.

“I can confirm that we complied and the Senate is in possession of those images,” said Megan Gilbertson, Communications Director for the Maricopa County Elections Department.

But questions are now being raised about whether Senate President Karen Fann included an audit of Maricopa County’s early ballot signature verification process in her deal with audit contractor Cyber Ninjas or its three subcontractors.

Last Thursday, the Senate’s audit liaison, Ken Bennett, said the plan is to audit at least “some” of the early ballot signatures. However, others close to the audit contend that looking at those signatures is beyond the scope of what the contractors have been asked to do.

Which raises the question of who has the 1.9 million envelope images which Maricopa County turned over in compliance with the subpoena. And who else has access to those images in light of signature confidentiality requirements in state law and the fact those signatures are quite valuable to identity thieves.

Even if Bennett ensures a sampling of signatures are audited, he will be under a time crunch, as an attorney for Cyber Ninjas told a judge last week that audit operations must be done at Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 14.

Another problem for Bennett and the auditors is figuring out a sufficient sample size to provide a reliable result. Previous testimony about the signature verification process noted that it is important to look at ballot envelopes received by the recorder’s office on various days and to have envelopes which were verified by a variety of employees.

Bennett is currently in a self-imposed media blackout with local journalists, although he did find time Monday to record an interview for the Arizona Republican Party.

A lawsuit filed last week by the Arizona Democratic Party and Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo (in his personal capacity as a registered voter) will go before Judge Daniel Martin of the Maricopa County Superior Court on Tuesday. The lawsuit seeks to stop the audit until the Senate promises its contractors will comply with state law and the Arizona Elections Procedures Manual.

Meanwhile, a petition for special action filed with the Arizona Supreme Court by Fann and the other defendants is a second track for their attempts to have the Dems’ legal challenge dismissed.