Richer defends Maricopa County audit amid GOP lawmakers’ criticism

By: - February 10, 2021 3:48 pm

Image by Nick Youngson | Alpha Stock Images/CC BY-SA 3.0

Maricopa County’s top elections official pushed back against criticism from fellow Republicans in the Arizona Senate who claim the county’s audit of its ballot tabulation machines, as well as the companies that are conducting them, are insufficient.

Stephen Richer, who was elected Maricopa County recorder in November after defeating incumbent Democrat Adrian Fontes, defended the two companies that the county has hired to audit its machines as supremely qualified. 

And he defended the audits themselves as rigorous.

“Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard a number of mischaracterizations of the audit. I’m writing today to hopefully provide some clarity,” Richer said in a press statement on Wednesday.

Maricopa County hired SLI Compliance and Pro V&V to conduct two audits — one that was completed last week and another being conducted this week — of its ballot tabulation machines. The audits were ordered by the county’s Board of Supervisors in response to widespread concerns over false election fraud allegations promoted by President Donald Trump and prominent Arizona Republicans. Many of those debunked conspiracy theories involve Dominion Voting Systems, which provides Maricopa County’s ballot-counting machines.

The Arizona Senate wants to conduct its own audit and is locked in a legal battle with the county over two subpoenas seeking the tabulation machines, 2.1 million ballots and other equipment and data from the 2020 general election. Senate President Karen Fann and Sen. Warren Petersen, who chairs the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, have repeatedly cast aspersions on both the companies that Maricopa County hired and the extent of the audits they’re conducting.

Among the issues Fann, Petersen and others have raised regarding the county’s audit is that the companies aren’t certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to conduct forensic audits of the election machines.

Though the EAC doesn’t issue certifications for forensic auditors, it does certify companies to test, certify and examine the ballot tabulation machines used across the United States. And Richer noted that only two companies currently have that certification from the commission: SLI Compliance and Pro V&V.

Richer described the companies as “certified experts in tabulation equipment” and noted that they’re certified by both the EAC and the National Institute for Standards and Technology, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Because the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has designated tabulation equipment as “critical election infrastructure,” Richer said, companies with that certification are held to high standards.

“These standards are so rigorous, that there are currently only two companies in the country that have met the criteria — the two conducting our audit,” he said.

Richer said it’s false that either company employs former Dominion staffers. He said both companies have confirmed they don’t hire people who have worked for any manufacturer of tabulation equipment — Dominion is one of three companies that provides most tabulation machines in the U.S. — which is prohibited by the EAC.

And Richer rejected claims that the county is conducting only a “cursory review” of the machines. Petersen, for example, said on Monday during a vote on whether to hold the county in contempt for refusing to comply with the subpoenas, that the audits “are a joke.” 

“They’re not going to find anything,” he said. “They’re not meant to find fraud.”

Richer said the audits will ensure that the machines and the software they use are exactly the same as they were at the time of their original federal certification. That includes ensuring there’s no access for hackers, that the machines weren’t connected to the internet and were closed to outside servers and that they didn’t send or receive information during the election. The audit also will examine whether manipulation of the vote was possible.

“These tests address the most prevalent concern that I’ve heard from voters over the past four weeks, and also the concern voiced to me by members of the Arizona Senate — that the tabulation hardware and software used in Maricopa County is unreliable,” Richer said.

Petersen, who jointly issued the subpoenas with Fann, said he still considers the county’s audits to be insufficient.

“I respect his confidence in what is being done. We won’t be satisfied until we have a forensic audit that is independent” of what the county is doing, Petersen told the Arizona Mirror.

But it’s unclear exactly what Petersen and Fann want out of an audit that the county’s auditors won’t do. Neither responded to questions from the Mirror about what more they’d like to see out of an audit.

It’s also unclear who will conduct the Senate’s audits if the county’s lawsuit attempting to quash the subpoenas fails. In addition to questions about the qualifications of the county’s auditors, Fann and other GOP senators have said the companies already certified Maricopa County’s machines, and that they therefore shouldn’t be hired to essentially re-check their work. Richer countered that the audits will determine whether the machines have been manipulated in any way since they initially received certification.

Petersen said there are many firms that are qualified to conduct a forensic audit of the machines, and Fann has previously said she’s considering several firms, though neither identified any of the potential auditors.

The one firm Fann has been confirmed as considering is Allied Security Operations Group. The Dallas-area company and some of its members have provided testimony for Trump’s campaign at legislative hearings and litigation in several states, and have been repeatedly shown to have provided false information and to have made serious allegations of fraud without any evidence or apparent factual basis.

Fann picks Trump-allied firm with history of false election statements to audit Maricopa election

Fann has defended ASOG’s credentials, but said she is now leaning against hiring the company due to negative press attention.

Fann and Petersen have also taken issue with the fact that the county’s auditors won’t examine any of the actual ballots cast in the 2020 general election. The county has refused to do so, citing state laws that strictly limit ballots can be recounted — as the Senate wants its auditor to do — and have refused to provide the ballots to the Senate, saying state law prohibits it and that they won’t do so absent a court order.

“A forensic audit is not just about verifying the machines,” Fann told the Mirror.

A hand-count of nearly 9,200 ballots from 2% of all polling places in Maricopa County showed a perfect match with the counts from the tabulation machines, and a logic-and-accuracy test performed on the machines after the election showed no problems, either. 

An audit of about 1,600 Maricopa County ballots conducted as part of a lawsuit brought by Arizona GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward showed that a bipartisan group of adjudicators erroneously switched the votes on a small number of ballots that the machines couldn’t read. The Arizona Supreme Court concluded that, if all adjudicated ballots were examined, Trump would have gained as many as 153 votes based on that error rate. 

Biden defeated Trump in Arizona by 10,457 votes.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”