The politicized “audit” of Maricopa County, Arizona’s 2020 election results has come under fire from an unexpected source: Ken Bennett, Arizona’s former Republican secretary of state and, now, the Republican-controlled Senate’s lead liaison to the audit.
Along with Senate President Karen Fann (R) and Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan, Bennett has been the public face of the audit since it began months ago.
But now, he’s been banned from the venue of yet another count of Maricopa County’s ballots, the consequence of sharing some data with an outside group that has attempted to verify the audit’s performance.
In an interview Monday, Bennett had a few things he needed to get off of his chest.
“The reason I am that close to stepping down as liaison is that I cannot be a part of a process that I am kept out of critical aspects along the way that make the audit legitimate, and have integrity, when we produce the final report,” Bennett told talk radio host James T. Harris.
“Unfortunately there have been too many of those situations, and the tip of the iceberg kind of came out last Friday, when I was denied access to the audit itself.”
Bennett’s status with the audit is unclear. He told TPM in an email, “I am still the Senate Liaison and am working with President Fann on how or if I can move forward with the audit. Until she and I reach a resolution, I won’t have further comments.”
And Fann told The Arizona Republic, which first reported on the dust-up, that Bennett will “continue to be a part of the senate audit throughout its completion of the final report.” In the meantime, it seems Randy Pullen, another Senate representative for the audit and the former chair of the state’s Republican Party, has effectively taken Bennett’s place.
The audit has entered a sort of purgatory: It has completed what was supposed to be its only hand recount of 2020 votes, but it is now pursuing yet another count of the physical ballots themselves, rather than the votes recorded on them. Bennett told Harris that this seemed to indicate the initial audit count of Maricopa County’s 2020 results showed a different number of ballots than what the county had recorded.
Bennett was also critical of the lack of independence of this second recount. While it is in theory independent from the first count by Cyber Ninjas, he said it could come under pressure to match its numbers to that initial count.
The Republic reported that Cyber Ninjas’ attorney, Bryan Blehm, is providing access to ballots to this new recount’s workers, but that Pullen claimed Blehm is now working directly for the Senate, rather than for Cyber Ninjas.
“I even asked Mr. Pullen, what are the procedures for us to do this third count so that we can make sure that we’re independent from the second — and he refused to tell me,” Bennett told Harris. “And I just was shocked. I became very concerned that there would be this forced balancing going on.”
That’s not all: Bennett also shared longstanding concerns he said he’s had with the audit’s procedures, which outside experts have slammed as fundamentally flawed.
One criticism of Bennett’s concerned ballot duplicates, which are used so that votes can be counted even when original ballots are damaged, such as with coffee stains.
“I asked the auditors, ‘When we’re done with the duplicates, please give me a comprehensive reconciliation of, were we able to identify one of these for every one of those?’” Bennett recalled. “And that has not been forthcoming now for two months.”
He also said that after observing initial flaws in the aggregated tallies of ballots, auditors told audit staffers not to speak with him about the process.
“There were serious issues in the aggregation spreadsheet, when the tally sheets would be carried over to the end of the room and entered into the spreadsheet. And for the first several weeks of the audit, huge issues with that,” Bennett said.
After some changes were made to the process, he continued, audit staffers sought to reassure him. “I was told by several people in the aggregation that ‘We’re making real progress, Secretary Bennett, and we’re going to have a product that we can be proud of when we’re done.’ And I said, ‘When we get to the point where you can show me, I want to look into that spreadsheet and make sure that we can show the public that every one of these tally sheets is correctly reflected somewhere else, where it’s going to be added up and come up with our totals.’”
“A week or two later, I’m told that those folks were told by the auditors, ‘Don’t share anything with Secretary Bennett.'”
The criticisms from Bennett come as the audit faces ever increasing political pressure to deliver fodder for Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. State Senate Republicans on Monday issued yet another subpoena to Maricopa County supervisors.
During a lengthy speech Saturday in Phoenix that focused on the last election, Trump cited misinformation from the auditors and said of Democrats, “there is no way they win elections without cheating.”
In a recent interview with the far-right broadcaster Josh Bernstein — who among other things has called for the execution of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and for then-President Donald Trump to “almost become a dictator for patriotism” — State Sen. Wendy Rogers (R) said she’d seen enough to support decertifying the Biden electors that Arizona sent to the Electoral College more than six months ago.
“To decertify, all you have to do is have reasonable doubt in what you submitted,” Rogers said, adding: “We have to then have doubt in terms of the accuracy of what we turned in, and we do! I mean, everybody agrees, we have doubt in what we turned in.”
This post has been updated.