The price of the sketchy, already-expensive Arizona audit may have gotten even higher.
According to a letter Thursday from Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, Maricopa County — the target of a 2020 recount ordered by the state’s GOP Senate — may need to replace the election equipment it turned over to the auditors under a legislative subpoena.
Hobbs’ letter came on the heels of an Arizona Republic report Wednesday that laid out the many questions surrounding how the auditors had been handling the voting machines. The auditors had not complied with their own plans for live-streaming their handling of the equipment, according to the newspaper, nor would they clarify who had had access to the machines or where the equipment was being stored.
Hobbs said that, in keeping with guidance from the federal government’s cybersecurity arm, the equipment should not be reused, given the chain-of-custody issues.
“[M]y Office consulted with election technology and security experts, including at the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, regarding the appropriate next steps, and each unanimously advised that once election officials lose custody and control over voting systems and components, those devices should not be reused in future elections,” she said.
Hobbs had gotten the advice from an analyst from the agency and then via a recommendation from the agency’s Election Security Initiative, a Hobbs spokesperson told TPM. Hobbs’ office initially reached out to the agency on May 7. They explained “the circumstances of the audit,” and in particular, that “the county election officials’ custody and control over the equipment had been lost to third-party contractors of the Senate,” the Hobbs spokesperson told TPM.
In her letter to the county, Hobbs said her office was “urging” the county not to use any of the equipment it turned over to the audit. She also threatened to decommission the equipment herself, through a process outlined in state law, if the county did choose to redeploy the equipment.
In a statement to TPM, a CISA spokesperson said “CISA regularly provides security best practices to critical infrastructure partners.”
“If it is determined that the chain of custody of critical systems have been compromised, the safest practice is to decommission and replace those systems,” the spokesperson added. “Election officials are best positioned to make that determination for their systems.
Hobbs’ assertion is the latest example of how the controversial “audit” has devolved into an all out debacle. Several of its conspiracy theory-shaped procedures have been critiqued by election experts, including in a scathing op-ed this week from a national expert who observed the recount on Hobbs’ behalf. Not only did the firm tapped by Republican lawmakers to lead the audit lack experience in the election space, its CEO promoted sensational claims about mass fraud in the 2020 election.
The audit’s costs have ballooned since the initial projections, and it is now being bankrolled by 2020 election truthers whose financial contributions the auditors have yet to disclose. The auditors also dramatically underestimated the amount of time the hand recount of Maricopa’s 2.1 million ballots would take, and its activity ceased for the week because the arena the Senate had rented for the audit had several high school graduations on its calendar.
Hobbs’ letter indicated that some but not all of the election equipment the Senate had subpoenaed for a supposed forensic audit had been returned back to the county.
The Maricopa Elections Department has vowed to not “use any of the returned tabulation equipment unless the county, state and vendor are confident that there is no malicious hardware or software installed on the devices.”
“The voters of Maricopa County can rest assured that we will not use any equipment — ever — that could pose a risk to free and fair elections,” the department said in a statement.
A spokesman for the Maricopa Board of Supervisors — which is currently led by a Republican who has been highly critical of the audit — told TPM that the county’s lawyers were still reviewing Hobbs’ letter and that they will advise the board on the next steps.
Replacing the equipment could cost as much as $6 million, according to the Arizona Republic.
Senate President Karen Fann, who spearheaded the audit, did not respond to TPM’s inquiry about Hobbs’ letter. But Fann signed an agreement that the Senate would cover costs for the county to replace or recertify equipment that was “damaged, altered, or otherwise compromised” while in the “Senate‘s custody and control.” Even just the recertification process could cost tens of thousands of dollars, according to the Arizona Republic.
Despite the various fiascos plaguing the audit, Trump supporters are now trying to replicate it on other states.
Read Hobbs’ letter below:
Matt Shuham contributed reporting.
Update: This story has been updated with more information from Hobbs’ office.