Sketchy AZ Audit Of 2020 Votes Set To Be Interrupted By… High School Graduations

PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 01: Contractors working for Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate, examine and recount ballots from the 2020 general election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 1, 2021 in Phoeni... PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 01: Contractors working for Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate, examine and recount ballots from the 2020 general election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 1, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Maricopa County ballot recount comes after two election audits found no evidence of widespread fraud. (Photo by Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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May 10, 2021 12:00 p.m.

Arizona Senate Republicans’ conspiracy-theory-infused “audit” of 2020’s election results in Maricopa County will soon be interrupted by the sounds of Arizona teenagers celebrating the end of their high school years. 

That’s right: Having counted just a fraction of Maricopa County’s 2.1 million ballots, audit leaders at the end of the week will have to pack up and clear the floor of Phoenix’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum to make space for… graduations. Several days of them.

Audit leaders haven’t been totally clear about what happens after that: Their lease on the Coliseum — which they obtained after Maricopa County made clear that they wouldn’t allow the audit to take place at a county facility — runs through Friday. 

And Ken Bennett, the Senate’s liaison for the audit, has said that the auditors plan to move the ballots somewhere in the Coliseum during the graduations. 

“We have to be away for a few days,” Bennett said a week ago. “We can come back right after that for as long as we need.”

But it’s not clear whether the Coliseum is on board with that plan. 

“An extension is not feasible due to Phoenix Union High School graduations,” Jen Yee, assistant executive director of the Arizona Exposition and State Fair, told the Arizona Republic last week. (Neither Yee nor Bennett returned TPM’s requests for comment Monday morning.) 

Progress on recounting the 2020 ballots has been glacial: When the Arizona Republic published Yee’s comment, on May 5, Bennett estimated that audit workers had counted about 200,000 ballots. They’d added 10,000 more to that count by the following day. By Saturday, May 8, Bennett said the audit had counted 250,000 ballots total. 

The audit team has long hyped efforts to speed up the count, but so far that work hasn’t borne much fruit. And from the start, elections experts noted that the schedule for completing the massive hand recount was basically impossible

“They must be being selective,” Bennett told Phoenix’s 12 News on Saturday, referring to the subcontractor tasked with hiring temporary employees to count ballots, “because it’s not growing as fast as I think they or we would like.”

If the audit does need to move locations mid-count, it should have the funds to do so: Prominent pro-Trump conspiracy theorists including Lin Wood and Patrick Byne have been advertising fundraisers for the audit to their hundreds of thousands of social media followers — though the ultimate destination of the money they raise isn’t public. 

The audit has trimmed its expectations somewhat, claiming on Friday that it had determined weeks ago that it would “indefinitely defer” plans to knock on certain voters’ doors and ask them if they’d really voted in the 2020 elections. That announcement came a few days after the Justice Department wrote a letter expressing concerns about those plans.

But there remain some serious tensions over other audit plans, as reported by 12 News: In an email Friday, an attorney for Arizona Senate Republicans threatened to subpoena the testimony of Maricopa County’s director of elections and its board of supervisors unless they handed over network routers and certain passwords. The county refused, saying that its routers aren’t just used for election-related activities, and that providing them — or digital copies of them — could put other data at risk. 

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone, who was not included on the threatened subpoena list, put it more bluntly: Senate Republicans’ demands, he said Friday, “jeopardize the entire mission of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.” 

“The current course is mind-numbingly reckless and irresponsible,” Penzone added.

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