Arizona Democrats won concessions Wednesday in settling their challenge to Republicans’ unprecedented audit of 2.1 million ballots cast in the 2020 election, but they failed to block the review as they’d originally sought.
The state’s Democratic Party had sued the Republican party, including Florida-based cybersecurity company Cyber Ninjas, the company hired to conduct an audit of ballots in Maricopa, the state’s most populous county. The audit grew out of efforts of the Arizona GOP lawmakers to toss out Joe Biden’s victory in the state last year and is being led by those who believe, baselessly, that the Arizona vote was stolen from Trump.
The agreement orders Cyber Ninjas, which is run by a supporter of former President Donald Trump, and Arizona Senate Republicans to allow independent elections experts to observe the process, take aggressive measures to secure personal voter information, turn over details of audit policies and procedures and make those documents public. If there is a breach of the agreement, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, can take the company and the Senate GOP to court for breach of contract.
The agreement also does not require either side to admit fault.
“From the beginning of this sham audit, the Arizona Democratic Party demanded transparency and adequate security to preserve the sanctity of the vote, and protect voters’ private information,” said Raquel Terán, chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, in a statement. “When this sham started, Arizonans had zero assurances that the Senate GOP and the Cyber Ninjas would follow the law, give reporters and elections experts access to observe, or make procedures available to the public, as is standard in any legitimate audit. Our lawsuit changed that.”
She added, “Now, as the Arizona Democratic Party has forced the Senate and the Cyber Ninjas to be more transparent, reporters and elections experts are seeing firsthand that this ‘audit’ is nothing more than an effort to satisfy fringe conspiracy theorists.”
The state of Arizona and Maricopa County have already conducted numerous accuracy tests and hired two independent outside companies to conduct a forensic review of the results of the election, all of which confirmed that the county system performed properly.
Republican lawmakers have said that an audit of ballots in Maricopa County would help them write new election laws and restore trust in the state’s democratic process, even though all official reviews concluded that the 2020 election was secure and its results accurate. After Trump lost the state by around 10,000 votes last year, the same lawmakers spent months questioning the results.
Senate Republicans and Cyber Ninjas have fought in state court over the past few weeks to conceal details of the audit, arguing that they are protected by legislative immunity and trade secrets. Democrats sued last month to block the audit, alleging the that the auditors were not protecting voter data and ballots.
The court declined to end the audit, which began late last month but has ordered the release of more information.
In a letter released Wednesday, Hobbs, the secretary of state, excoriated Republican Ken Bennett, a former secretary of state who is advising the GOP on the audit, and warned him to bring the review in compliance with state laws and regulations.
“I’m not sure what compelled you to oversee this audit,” said Hobbs, a Democrat. “But I’d like to assume you took this role with the best of intentions. It is those intentions I appeal to now: either do it right, or don’t do it at all.”
Dartunorro Clark is a political reporter for NBC News.