Early Ballot ID Requirement Passes Senate Elections Committee

Early Ballot ID Requirement Passes Senate Elections Committee

By Corinne Murdock |

On Monday, the Senate Elections Committee passed a bill requiring voter ID for those turning in early ballots on Election Day. The committee passed the bill, SB1135, along partisan lines: 5-3.

SB1135 also requires early ballots not delivered or mailed to the county recorder or other elections officers to be exchanged by the voter for a regular ballot at a polling place or voting center by 7 pm on Election Day. Electors who exchange their early ballot for a regular ballot must spoil their early ballot and receive a regular ballot from an election official.

An earlier version of the bill would’ve required automatic removal of voters from the Active Early Voter List (AEVL) if they bring their early ballot to a polling place to vote in person. However the bill sponsor, State Sen. John Kavanagh (R-LD03), removed this provision out of the bill via an adopted amendment.

State Sen. Juan Mendez (D-LD08) insisted that the requirement to spoil early ballots would disenfranchise voters, raising the hypothetical of a voter who forgets their ID and may not get to vote because of it. Kavanagh countered that those voters needed to prove that the early ballot legally belongs to them.

“How do I know you’re you if you don’t have ID? How do I know you didn’t find it on the street or you stole it from a friend’s house?” asked Kavanagh.

Mendez responded that signature verification would prevent that method of voter fraud. Kavanagh disagreed, arguing that signature verification is unreliable. Kavanagh said that signatures can be copied from government websites.

Kavanagh further argued that spoiling early ballots brought in on Election Day would reduce the current issue of weeks-long counting delays, since those ballots would be exchanged for regular ones tabulated on site. 

“Don’t have it go into a box and then two to three days later we still don’t know who won,” said Kavanagh.

Kavanagh noted that this spoliation process could be avoided with the passage of another bill, SB1105, which allows voters who bring early ballots in on Election Day to have their vote tabulated immediately if they bring valid ID. The committee approved that bill as well.

State Sen. Priya Sundareshan (D-LD18) argued that the bill makes voting more difficult and time-consuming. Kavanagh disputed the idea that early ballots are meant to be dropped off in person, saying that the current flexibility in law causes confusion and disorganization. 

Jen Marson with the Arizona Association of Counties (AACo) warned that SB1105’s language might undermine its intended purpose. Kavanagh promised to meet with the Association.

Among those who issued public comments on the bill was Ricardo Serna, a self-identified independent voter and poll worker. Serna claimed that the bill would disenfranchise college students because they simply didn’t have the time to cast their ballot as intended. Kavanagh said he didn’t believe that was true.

“I don’t know why you would limit choices for something so important as our elections,” said Serna.

Though Serna described himself as an “independent voter” and poll worker, he’s the president of Maricopa County Young Democrats. Serna was also the district field director for Progressive Turnout Project.

Majority Leader Sonny Borelli (R-LD30) pointed out that the state’s college campuses have early voting sites. Serna said that wasn’t enough.

The committee’s three Democrats were in opposition to the bill, claiming that it wasn’t inclusive enough and prioritized efficiency over accessibility. Sundareshan argued that early mail-in voting was essential to be inclusive of minority voters and other, unspecified groups. 

“We need to be providing more options to vote, more accessibility at the ballot,” said Sundareshan.

State Sen. Anna Hernandez (D-LD24) concurred, saying that voting needed to be easier for historically underserved groups. Mendez opined that the bill created more barriers and confusion for election officials.

State Sen. Ken Bennett (R-LD01) expressed concern that Kavanagh’s bill would potentially contend with other bills, such as SB1105. Bennett voted to pass the bill but indicated that he wouldn’t support it on the floor if it ultimately conflicted with legislative language with other bills. Bennett urged Kavanagh to work with other legislators issuing similar legislation to ensure its viability. 

“We have to keep voters’ ability to vote first,” said Bennett. “But I think we can have accuracy and speed up the process at the same time.” 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Former Secretary of State: Maricopa’s Elections Full of Missteps, Gaffes

Former Secretary of State: Maricopa’s Elections Full of Missteps, Gaffes

By Corinne Murdock |

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.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Bennett To Remain With Senate’s Election Audit After Announcing Plan To Step Down

Bennett To Remain With Senate’s Election Audit After Announcing Plan To Step Down

By Terri Jo Neff |

Twelve hours after announcing his plans to step down as the liaison for the Arizona Senate’s audit, Ken Bennett says he is back in the good graces of the audit team and will be provided full access so he can assist in review of any reports to the Senate.

Bennett told KFYI’s James T. Harris on Wednesday morning he had become “liaison in name only” and may not even be involved in the preparation of the final audit report into how Maricopa County handled the 2020 General Election because he was locked out of the audit premises by other team members at the directive of Senate President Karen Fann.

But by Wednesday evening, Bennett told colleagues that Fann had agreed to meet several demands to keep Bennett actively involved through the end of the audit. Details of the agreement are to be announced Thursday.

Bennett, a former Arizona Secretary of State, was chosen by Fann to act on her behalf with Cyber Ninjas, the company she contracted to conduct the audit. There have also been several subcontractors.

However, last week Fann became upset that Bennett released some unconfirmed audit data to an election expert, from whom it was released to the media. In addition to the lockout, Fann issued a statement Tuesday scolding Bennett for his actions even though he had publicly apologized several times.

Fann also noted in her statement that Bennett would continue his involvement in the audit which is now in the analysis phase leading up to preparation of final reports. Audit observers say those reports need to have Bennett’s blessing in order for the public to accept any of Cyber Ninjas’ findings.

Bennett, however, told Harris his continued involvement, particularly with any reports, was would not be feasible if he continued to be frozen out of the audit process.  “I cannot put a rubber stamp on a product that I am being locked out of its development,” he said.

Fann and Bennett were reportedly finalizing the terms and conditions of Bennett’s continued participation with the audit on Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan announced Wednesday that more than $5.7 million was donated toward the cost of the audit. The funds came from five groups, including one co-founded by OANN reporter Christina Bobb and another connected to Sidney Powell, who served earlier this year as one of former President Donald Trump’s attorneys.

According to Logan, $3.25 million was received from Florida-based The America Project. There was also nearly $977,000 from America’s Future, a non-profit organization chaired by Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, (USA Ret.), along with $605,000 from Bobb’s Voices and Votes.

Another $550,000 was received from Defending The Republic, whose board of directors include Powell, Flynn, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, and others who support claims that former President Donald Trump actually won the 2020 election. And $280,000 is reported as coming from the combined Legal Defense Funds for the American Republic and the Election Integrity Funds for the American Republic.

Logan’s company was contracted earlier this year by Fann contracted for a total payment of $150,000. The contract did not preclude Cyber Ninjas or any of the subcontractors from seeking or accepting private funding toward the true cost of the audit, which has involved more than 1,500 workers and volunteers

Senate President Reaffirms That Election Audit Is About Ensuring Integrity Of Future Elections

Senate President Reaffirms That Election Audit Is About Ensuring Integrity Of Future Elections

By Terri Jo Neff |

After months of being spoken for by attorneys or just typing brief comments on Twitter, the two state senators at the heart of the legislative audit into Maricopa County’s 2020 General Election were finally front and center Tuesday during a livestreamed status meeting.

Senate President Karen Fann had hoped various Maricopa County officials would attend the meeting in order to address several questions put forth earlier this month by Fann on behalf of the audit team. But county officials announced they would not accept Fann’s invitation to meet in person and instead answered some of the questions via a letter on Monday.

In an effort to not let the scheduled meeting time go to waste, Fann and Sen. Warren Petersen of the Senate Judiciary Committee were joined by three top audit officials to hear how audit activities are going and what concerns have been identified so far. But first, Fann provided an opening statement downplaying talk of rampant fraud with Maricopa County’s election.

After months of being spoken for by attorneys or just typing brief comments on Twitter, the two state senators at the heart of the legislative audit into Maricopa County’s 2020 General Election were finally front and center Tuesday during a livestreamed status meeting.

“I have said from the get-go I’m relatively sure we’re not going to find anything of any magnitude that would imply that any intentional wrongdoing was going [on]; I believe that we were going to find what we’ve known all along in some of the things is that we could probably do a little better job with chain of custody and all the things we’ve talked about,” said Fann.

In January, Fann co-signed a legislative subpoena with Petersen which demanded the county turn over its voting systems, elections records, and nearly 2.1 million ballots cast in last fall’s election. She said again Tuesday the purpose of the audit “has nothing to do with overturning the election or decertifying electors or anything else.”

Instead, she said, lawmakers must ensure Arizona’s elections are done “properly, accurately, safely, with full election integrity.”

Conversation between officials with the Senate and Maricopa County about the 2020 General Election began shortly after polls closed on Nov. 3. There was an initial subpoena issued in December which was replaced with one in January.

Once the second subpoena was issued, “it has nothing but delays, delays, delays,” Fann recounted during the meeting, noting Maricopa County’s decision to sue the Senate in an effort to quash the subpoena.

County officials lost that challenge in February and eventually delivered 385 tabulator machines, several other voting equipment, and 1,681 boxes of ballots on 46 pallets to Veterans Memorial Coliseum last month. Missing from the county’s delivery are two items which Doug Logan, the CEO of audit contractor Cyber Ninjas said are necessary to complete the audit.

The first is the administrative access code or password to the Dominion Voting Systems ballot tabulator machines. In Monday’s letter, Board Chair Jack Sellers informed Fann that county officials do not have the access code. “We do not have it; we have no legal right to acquire it; and so, we cannot give it to you,” the letter states.

The second missing item is the election department’s computer routers which would show the department’s internet activity before and during the election. Earlier this month, Sellers announced neither the routers nor virtual images of the routers would be released, citing concerns by Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone that allowing outsiders access to the routers could put law enforcement officials at risk.

Among other questions raised by Fann in her letter to Maricopa County included concern that ballots were not in sealed bags nor in boxes secured with tamper-resistant tape when turned over to the audit team. Another concern was that a review of computer data files appeared to show one elections database had been deleted and another was missing.

Logan told Fann on Tuesday that upon further review there was no problem with how the ballots were packaged by the county. And CyFIR CEO Ben Cotton said during the meeting he has located the files that were previously the subject of concern.

The audit team’s hand count of the 2.1 million ballots is scheduled to resume May 24 at the Coliseum. Fann has not been shy about floating the idea of issuing new subpoenas in an effort to ensure auditors have all information needed to conduct a full review of how Maricopa County conducted the election.

Senate Election Audit May Not Include Promised Early Ballot Signature Verification

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.