Maricopa officials blast election review’s ‘spread of disinformation’

(Video by Simon Williams/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Maricopa County supervisors told a congressional committee Thursday that the state Senate’s review of the county’s 2020 election results amounted to a “staggering refusal to follow the will of the voters.”

The remarks came during a House Oversight and Reform Committee that asked whether the Arizona election probe and copycats springing up in other states are a threat to American democracy. The four-hour hearing was sometimes tedious, sometimes fiery, but it did not appear to change any minds.

Democrats on the committee called the six-month, multimillion-dollar Cyber Ninjas’ “audit” of the election little more than an attempt to erode confidence in the electoral process by raising multiple conspiratorial questions. And Republicans insisted that more questions need to be asked.

“We have identified there are some things we can do better in our elections in Arizona,” said Ken Bennett, the former Arizona secretary of state who was the Senate’s liaison to Cyber Ninjas. “I hope the Legislature and the governor will follow through and … introduce bills to tighten things up.”

Bennett said people on both sides of the issue should “understand that there’s nothing wrong with auditing elections.”

Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Bill Gates said “election integrity has become a never-ending series of questions, designed to cast doubt, not restore trust” in the electoral process. (Photo by Diannie Chavez/Cronkite News)

But critics, like Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Phoenix, said it was “pretty clear their goal was not to conduct an honest audit.” They said the Senate’s goal was merely to call the results of the election into question and keep alive former President Donald Trump’s “big lie” that fraud cost him the election in Maricopa County.

“The 2020 election … was the best election we’ve ever run in Maricopa County,” said Bill Gates, vice chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. Gates, a Republican, called criticism of the election results a “staggering refusal to follow the will of the voters.”

He said that in addition to the routine checks, the county supervisors authorized two audits that found no hacking or manipulation with the voting machines used in the election.

“It should have ended there,” Gates said.

But the Republican-controlled state Senate would not let it end there. It approved $150,000 in state funds for a “forensic audit” of the results – but only in Maricopa County and only of the presidential and U.S. Senate races, which were won by Democrats.

The Senate contracted with the Florida-based Cyber Ninjas, which started its review in April and was initially expected to have a report by May. But the work ended up taking months and costing millions, which the company raised from private, pro-Trump sources.

Critics at the hearing repeated charges that Cyber Ninjas had no experience with elections, that CEO Doug Logan was a known proponent of Trump conspiracies, that there was no transparency to the process and that the audit was funded by groups looking for a partisan outcome.

Logan declined an invitation to appear at Thursday’s hearing, which was brought up by many critics on the committee.

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, took the lead for Republicans on the committee and, like many, defended the Cyber Ninjas audit. (Photo by Diannie Chavez/Cronkite News)

While the Cyber Ninjas report raised a number of questions, its only definitive finding was to confirm that President Joe Biden and Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly did get more votes in Maricopa County than their competitors, as election officials reported last fall when they certified the results.

In fact, Cyber Ninjas said its hand recount of 2.1 million ballots showed that Biden got 99 more votes than originally thought and Trump got 261 fewer, widening Biden’s victory by an additional 360 votes.

But even that did not end the debate for Rep. Andy Biggs. R-Gilbert.

“I was asked, ‘Who won in Arizona?’ I don’t know,” said Biggs, who took the lead questioning witnesses for Republicans on the committee.

Biggs said there are still “a lot of issues with this election that took place.” And he blasted Democratic criticism of the GOP-led efforts, charging the Democrats asked the same questions after Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss to Trump.

“You cannot argue the question regarding election integrity from the right is an attack on our democracy,” Biggs said.

But David Becker, executive director and founder of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, told the committee that efforts like Cyber Ninjas’ are part of a “massive conspiracy” to sow doubt about the election. Like others at the hearing, Becker insisted that the 2020 presidential election was the “most secure, verified election in American history.”

That was echoed by Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers, who said election officials “executed a secure, accurate and efficient election” in the county.

Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers waits for the start of the hearing on the county’s elections, which he said were “fair, free and accurate.” (Photo by Diannie Chavez/Cronkite News)

State Senate leaders have insisted that it was never their goal to overturn the results of the election, but Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., found that hard to believe.

“Rather than accept his loss, Donald Trump tried everything he could to overturn the will of American voters,” said Maloney, the committee chairwoman. “Unless Trump and his admirers are willing to admit truth and respect the will of the American voters, our democracy is at serious risk.”

Bennett disagreed, saying “auditing elections isn’t a threat.”

“Every citizen deserves to know they are treated equally under the law. Every lawful vote must be counted accurately,” said Bennett, who added that election audits should be welcomed, not feared.

Sellers, a Republican, said he is not afraid of audits, but wonders what good they can do in the current political climate.

He and Gates both told stories of receiving death threats, having their families harassed and getting police protection at the height of demonstrations over the election, stories have been reported by other county and state officials, both Republican and Democratic.

“I was naive in thinking that I could just sit down with our state Senate leadership and explain the answers to their questions and accusations, and we could put this uncertainty behind us,” Sellers said. “But it’s become clear that there are those who don’t care what the facts are.”

News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Diannie Chavez is a visual journalist completing her bachelor’s degree in journalism. Chavez, who interned at Phoenix Magazine, is a visual reporter for the D.C. News Bureau.

Simon Williams si-mon wil-lee-ams (he/him)
News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Simon Williams expects to graduate in May 2022 with a degree in sports journalism and a minor in religious studies. Williams, who has experience in play-by-play broadcasting, live event production, digital media and strategic communications, is working in the D.C. Bureau.