On Wednesday, Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes sidelined Governor Katie Hobbs from the headlines with the release of investigative documents related to the 2020 election – a process started by former Attorney General Mark Brnovich.
Mayes unveiled three sets of documents: the March 8, 2022 Previously Unreleased Interim Findings Summary, the April 1, 2022 Draft of Interim Report with edits and suggestions made by AAGO agents, and the September 19, 2022 Previously Unreleased Investigative Summary. The Washington Post claimed the exclusive story just after 11am EST.
In a statement that accompanied the release of the documents, Attorney General Mayes said, “The results of this exhaustive and extensive investigation show what we have suspect for over two years – the 2020 election in Arizona was conducted fairly and accurately by elections officials. The ten thousand plus hours spent diligently investigating every conspiracy theory under the sun distracted this office from its core mission of protecting the people of Arizona from real crime and fraud.”
When asked by AZ Free News about the information revealed by his successor, Brnovich provided the following response: “I am proud of the work our office did with the election integrity unit that was created by the Arizona Legislature. While subjected to severe criticism from all sides of the political spectrum during the course of our investigations, we did our due diligence to run all complaints to ground. Where we were able to debunk rumors and conspiracies, we did so. Nevertheless, we also identified areas we believe the legislature and county officials should address to ensure confidence in future elections.”
The document dump from Mayes could close the book on a long chapter in Arizona political history – though questions and varying perspectives remain from thousands of citizens about the state of elections in the Grand Canyon State. The saga began with the Arizona Senate’s audit of the 2020 Maricopa County General Election, which lasted several months. On September 24, 2021, Attorney General Brnovich acknowledged that he was in receipt of the Arizona Senate’s draft report regarding the 2020 Election Audit in Maricopa County, stating, “I will take all necessary actions that are supported by the evidence and where I have legal authority.”
From the end of the November 2020 General Election to the transmission of the draft report to the Attorney General’s Office and through the end of his term in office – Brnovich could not please most Republicans or Democrats on the inflamed issue of election integrity – despite his 2021 victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark case Brnovich v. DNC. Former President Donald Trump took repeated aims at Brnovich in attempts to find issues, fraud, or wrongdoing with the 2020 General Election in Maricopa County. Even with immense pressure from countless concerned citizens, elected officials, and candidates for office, though, Brnovich did not take any legal action in response to the Cyber Ninja’s findings contained in the audit report.
Brnovich did, however, deliver an interim report to former-Senate President Karen Fann on April 6, 2022, focusing on what his “office can presently share and the current status” of the
review. In the letter to President Fann, Attorney General Brnovich wrote that the office had “reached the conclusion that the 2020 election in Maricopa County revealed serious vulnerabilities that must be addressed.” Those issues (or vulnerabilities) included “document preservation and production,” “early voting signature verification,” “early ballot drop boxes,” and the “use of private grant monies.”
The interim report also contained several recommendations for the state legislature and an accounting of previous or ongoing actions from Brnovich’s team to “defend election integrity” in Arizona.
The investigation into the Senate’s audit findings was separate from the higher-than-usual number of investigations that the Attorney General’s Election Integrity Unit (EIU) undertook into the 2020 election cycle. According to a document on “prosecutions related to voting or elections since 2010,” approximately half of the listed cases appear to be from 2020.
The Attorney General’s Office, under Brnovich’s direction, had already started to publish findings of its investigation in the months leading up to the transfer of power to Mayes. On August 1, 2022, Brnovich sent another letter to President Fann, alerting legislators that his office had “concluded our criminal investigation related to deceased voter allegations,” finding that “only one of the 282 individuals on the list was deceased at the time of the (2020) election.”
Legislative Democrats took the disclosure of investigative documents to counter their Republican colleagues’ attempts to enhance election integrity protections for future elections. The Arizona Senate Democrats Caucus tweeted, “Maybe we should stop hearing all those #BIGLIE bills in the #AZSenateElections committee now?”
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.
Newly re-elected State Senator Ken Bennett criticized Maricopa County’s handling of this election as one full of missteps and gaffes. In a Thursday interview with “The Conservative Circus,” Bennett called Maricopa County’s handling of this election “disheartening.”
Bennett promised to introduce legislation that would ensure elections could be more “transparent, trackable, and publicly verified.” This election marks Bennett’s return to the state legislature, having served for nearly a decade from 1999 to 2007.
“Especially with the focus and scrutiny that’s been on our entire state and on Maricopa County for the last two years, this was the election that we had to begin reinstalling confidence that we know what we’re doing in elections,” said Bennett.
According to Bennett’s platform, the newly re-elected state senator promises to see through legislation requiring counties to publish their list of registered voters by name, address, and precinct before each election, followed by a list of who voted in the election by name, address, and precinct, as well as ballot images and cast vote records.
Bennett’s insight comes from his time as the secretary of state. He oversaw 12 statewide elections, and one recount. In 2010, one of the ballot propositions led by 126 votes and triggered a full statewide recount of two million ballots. Only 12 votes changed. He said that elections should have that level of accuracy.
Bennett further stated that the Election Day fiasco wasn’t caused by the tabulation machines as initially thought — it was the printers. Bennett said that this was good news, since that means the tabulation machines require precision.
“They rejected the ballots because the darkness of the ink printed on there wasn’t even enough,” explained Bennett.
The secretary of state’s office wasn’t to blame, according to Bennett, although he noted that there could be better preventative measures put in place to ensure Tuesday’s issue doesn’t reoccur.
The secretary of state’s office included two main responsibilities, one of which includes ensuring a month before the election that county machines are spot-checked for accuracy. Based on the Election Day fiasco, Bennett suggested that the on-demand printers receive more scrutiny during the spot-checking process.
Bennett served as the liaison to the State Senate’s controversial Cyber Ninjas-led audit of the 2020 election. His time in the role was fraught with issues that would prompt him to step down and later continue to haunt the Cyber Ninjas.
During this election, Time sought out Bennett and a fellow former secretary of state, Democrat Richard Mahoney, to obtain their perspective on Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs’ oversight of her race. Both Bennett and Mahoney suggested that Hobbs recuse herself.
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and Recorder accused Attorney General Mark Brnovich of executing a dishonest investigation into the 2020 election. In a public letter, the election officials claimed that Brnovich’s interim report on the 2020 election released last month was nothing but misinformation intended to “score cheap political points.” Brnovich is a candidate in the upcoming U.S. Senate race.
“Rather than being truthful about what your office has learned about the election, you have omitted pertinent information, misrepresented facts, and cited distorted data to seed doubt about the conduct of elections in Maricopa County,” read the letter.
The election officials then refuted claims made by Brnovich: that up to 200,000 ballots lacked proper chain of custody, that Maricopa County didn’t cooperate fully with Brnovich’s investigation, that the county relied on artificial intelligence to execute signature verification, and that the number of rejected ballots were too low. They also challenged Brnovich on his decision to publish an unprecedented interim report, characterizing it as improper commentary on an ongoing investigation.
On Wednesday morning, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors held a press conference during their special and formal meeting. Chairman Bill Gates said that Brnovich’s interim report was backing fraud and necessitated a response from the board.
“We’re all Republicans who actually have the statutory responsibility to run these elections, and we’re saying these allegations are false, that there’s no systemic fraud,” said Gates. “Our democracy is on the line here.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer reiterated one of the promises made in their letter: that the county would submit public records requests of all of the public records requests sent to the attorney general’s office for the last two years.
Richer explained that the goal of the massive undertaking was to see how many of those requests Brnovich’s office fulfilled. He accused Brnovich of living in a glass house.
Brnovich called the county’s response “disappointing.” He accused Maricopa County officials of casting stones instead of working alongside his office to resolve election integrity concerns.
“The reality is we issued an interim report that identified several issues that need to be addressed,” said Brnovich.
Brnovich held that up to 200,000 ballots lacked proper chain of custody. Brnovich also challenged the supervisors’ office to offer a clear, consistent answer on signature verification processes, pointing out the range of times they estimated it took to verify a signature.
Richer called Brnovich’s statement “nonsense.” He said that Brnovich wasn’t being impartial about the 2020 election, referencing the attorney general’s interview with right-wing talk show host Steve Bannon.
The results of the Arizona Senate’s audit of Maricopa County’s 2020 election results are expected to be released next Friday at 1 pm, according to State Senate Attorney Kory Langhofer. Audit results will include a hand count total of the ballots, a machine count total of ballots to compare the auditing company’s totals against the state’s, and complete analysis of mail-in ballot signatures.
State senators will be the first to lay their eyes on the audit findings prior to a public presentation. The auditing company, Cyber Ninjas, will privately present their findings to Senate President Karen Fann (R-Prescott) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Peterson (R-Gilbert). Once the other senators have reviewed the report, the judiciary committee will convene formally in a meeting open to the public to discuss the report.
As of press time, neither Fann or the Arizona Republican Party have issued an official statement about this new date for the audit results.
Langhofer revealed the new release date during a hearing on Thursday before Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Kemp. The hearing was part of an ongoing lawsuit against the Senate, American Oversight v. Fann, et al., to obtain all communications and documents from Cyber Ninjas. Kemp also ordered Cyber Ninjas and the Senate to produce these records in another lawsuit, Phoenix Newspapers, Inc., v. Arizona State Senate.
Kemp originally ordered Cyber Ninjas to produce the requested records by August 31. However, Kemp granted them more time to turn over the thousands of records following their request.
Cyber Ninjas has faced several delays throughout this audit, which began in April. Most recently, progress halted after their entire team was reportedly infected by COVID-19. The company has also been waiting for Maricopa County election officials to comply with outstanding subpoenas for routers and passwords connected to the voting machines. If the county doesn’t comply by September 27, the state will withhold around $700 million in funding obtained from sales tax revenue.
Those missing items will not be part of this latest report.
Maricopa County argued that they didn’t have to comply with the Senate’s request because the legislative session ended in July. Attorney General Mark Brnovich disagreed. He determined that if the county didn’t comply by the deadline, they would lose out on their millions.
With just one week left before their deadline, the county’s board of supervisors decided to convene to discuss whether they will comply with the Senate’s subpoena. The meeting will take place on Friday.