Hobbs: Maricopa County can’t use voting machines given to Senate auditors

By: - May 20, 2021 2:40 pm
election audit

The Senate audit began April 23, 2021, in Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. Screenshot via AzAudit.org

Maricopa County should no longer use hundreds of voting machines because Senate President Karen Fann turned them over to an unaccredited company as part of her election audit, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs told the county.

In a letter to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors on Thursday, Hobbs said she consulted with election technology and security experts, including at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and they concluded that the county shouldn’t use any machines that it lost custody of. Instead, it should decommission and replace the machines.

If the county decides to use the machines in future elections anyway, Hobbs said she will consider decertifying them.

“The lack of physical security and transparency means we cannot be certain who accessed the voting equipment and what might have been done to them,” Hobbs wrote. 

The letter only applies to the equipment that Maricopa County delivered to Fann’s audit team at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in late April. According to Megan Gilbertson, a spokesman for the county elections department, that constitutes 385 of about 550 precinct-based tabulation machines, as well as all nine of the county’s central county tabulators, along with other equipment such as computer servers.

Hobbs wrote that state and federal guidelines establish strict chain-of-custody and other security standards to prevent tampering with voting machines, which the federal government considers “critical infrastructure.” However, once the county provided those machines to the audit team as required by subpoenas issued by Fann and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Petersen, it’s unclear what, if any, procedures were used to guarantee the security of the machines or document the chain-of-custody, she said.

Cyber Ninjas, the Florida cybersecurity company that is leading Fann’s audit team, did not allow observers from the Secretary of State’s Office to stay with the equipment, Hobbs wrote, and a livestream of the audit did not include the area where the machines were stored and inspected. Hobbs said her observers saw “troubling security lapses.”

Though the county could subject the machines to a forensic examination to ensure that they haven’t been compromised, Hobbs said that might not reveal all potential problems.

“Unfortunately, after a loss of physical custody and control, no comprehensive methods exist to fully rehabilitate the compromised equipment or provide adequate assurance that they remain safe to use,” she wrote. “[G]iven the circumstances and ongoing concerns regarding the handling and security of the equipment, I believe the County can agree that this is the only path forward to ensure secure and accurate elections in Maricopa County in the future.”

Maricopa County refused to allow Cyber Ninjas and other contractors to conduct the audit in county facilities, and instead delivered the machines to Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where the audit is taking place.

Gilbertson said the county won’t use any of the equipment that was provided to Fann’s audit team unless the county, the state and the vendor who provided them, Dominion Voting Systems, are confident that no malicious software or hardware was installed. The county’s elections department has a backup plan that includes new tabulation equipment for elections this year, which it first used for municipal elections in March. 

“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,” Gilbertson said in an emailed statement.

The county’s legal counsel will advise the Board of Supervisors before it takes any action regarding Hobbs’s letter, county spokesman Fields Moseley said.

It’s unclear how much it might cost to replace the machines. Maricopa County signed a $6.1 million contract with Dominion Voting Systems in 2019, though that contract is for three years and includes machines that weren’t turned over to Cyber Ninjas. 

Fortunately for the county, it likely won’t be on the hook for the cost of leasing new machines. Under an agreement that Fann signed in April, the Senate indemnified the county against “against any and all expenses it incurs as a result of the Subpoenaed Materials being damaged, altered, or otherwise compromised” while under the control of the Senate or its contractors, “including without limitation expenses associated with procuring new equipment, certifying any such new equipment for use for elections in Arizona, and re-certifying its current equipment re-certified for use for elections in Arizona.”

Fann was not immediately available for comment.

Maricopa isn’t the only county that will have to replace machines after turning them over to a company that’s part of Fann’s audit team.

Fulton County, Pennsylvania, allowed Wake Technology Services Inc. — which is one of the subcontractors working with Cyber Ninjas in Maricopa County — to conduct an audit of its tabulation machines after the November election. Dominion, which is also Fulton County’s vendor, concluded that the county violated its licensing agreement with the company by giving an unaccredited and non-certified company access to the machines without any authorization from Dominion. 

As a result, Dominion required the county to sign a $25,000 contract to lease new machines for municipal elections earlier this week. The county had already paid Dominion $41,000 to lease machines in 2021.

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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.”