Judge has doubts on voter privacy in Arizona recount

·5 min read

PHOENIX — A judge hearing a challenge to voter privacy policies during the Republican-controlled Arizona Senate's recount of 2.1 million 2020 election ballots in the county that includes metro Phoenix said Tuesday he is not convinced voter secrecy is being upheld.

The comment from Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Daniel Martin came at the end of a lengthy hearing where he also declined to extend a previous judge's order that auditors hired by the Senate comply with state voter privacy laws -- at least until he hears more at a hearing on Wednesday.

“I will share with you all, I am not yet persuaded that there has been a showing that the rights of the voters in Maricopa County are being projected,” Martin said. “And I think we will touch on this tomorrow when we address the policies and procedures and whether or not they can be withheld from public view.”

The Arizona Democratic Party and the lone Democrat on the GOP-controlled Maricopa County Board of Supervisors sued the state Senate and the contractor overseeing the election audit, Cyber Ninjas, Thursday. They want the recount of the 2020 presidential election won by President Joe Biden halted unless they were given guarantees that voter privacy and ballot secrecy would be ensured.

A judge who has since stepped aside from the contentious case on Friday ordered the recount halted if Democrats posted a $1 million bond, which the party declined to do. He also ordered the Senate and private election auditors to follow state law on voter and ballot secrecy and for Cyber Ninjas to produce its recount policies and procedures in court.

Cyber Ninjas is a Florida firm with no election experience run by Doug Logan, who has shared unfounded conspiracy theories claiming the official 2020 presidential election results are illegitimate. His attorney is seeking to have its policies and procedures for conducting the recount and protecting voter privacy kept secret, arguing that they are trade secrets and that the Senate is immune to legal actions as a separate branch of government.

Martin plans to take testimony on its request to keep the material secret at a hearing Wednesday. He also said he plans to consider whether to again order the recount halted or renew the previous judge's orders on ballot secrecy rules.

Meanwhile, the recount is continuing at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the state fairgrounds. Dozens of workers on Friday began a hand count of all the Maricopa County ballots, with little transparency and the press barred from the site, unless they signed up as official observers and agreed to sit for six-hour shifts.

Roopali Desai, the Democrats' attorney, told Martin that the audit has been beset by issues from the start and the refusal to release information on who is doing the counting and how ballot secrecy is being protected is troubling.

“They say they have an earnest desire to comply with the law. Well, what steps are they taking to make sure their desire is a reality?” Desai told the judge. “They say there are many procedures in place to protect the integrity of ballots and the machines. Where are those procedures? Why have the people of Maricopa County not seen them?”

Republican Senate President Karen Fann's attorney, Kory Langhofer, said the auditors will absolutely follow the law, but he noted that the previous judge's order lacked clarity and that many laws do not apply to an audit that is not an official recount that can change the election outcome.

He also said the ballots are anonymous and no voter could be identified.

“Which voter is having their right to vote thrown away?” Langhofer said. “Joe Biden is going to be the president at the end of this audit. Mark Kelly is going to be a senator at the end of this audit. This isn't changing the effect of anyone's vote.”

The Senate audit can’t overturn the results of the election, but Republicans who control the state Senate say it is needed to restore voter confidence and help them craft changes to state election laws. Senate Democrats call the audit an effort to perpetuate “The Big Lie,” which is what they call former President Donald Trump’s insistence that he only lost the election because of election fraud.

The Republican-dominated Maricopa County Board of Supervisors stands by the election results, which showed Biden won the county by just over 45,100 votes and Trump lost the state by nearly 10,500 votes.

The commissioners conducted numerous pre- and post-election reviews to check the accuracy of voting machines, including a hand count of a representative sample of ballots. They later hired two auditing firms that reported no malicious software or incorrect counting equipment and concluded that none of the computers or equipment were connected to the internet.

Fann, the Senate president, blamed the media for the need for increased security at the venue after a television reporter entered the facility and walked right up to the ballots without being challenged. She also said in an interview Tuesday on KTAR radio that the media is getting regular briefings and is allowed some access.

That's not accurate. Former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who is serving as the Senate's liaison to the private auditors and charged with talking to the media, has not allowed media in to observe the process and has not briefed the media since the day before the recount began on Friday.

Bennett has scheduled a briefing for Tuesday evening.

Bob Christie, The Associated Press