Arizona attorney general questions Maricopa County election process
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Outgoing Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich is demanding answers from Maricopa County about what he said appear to be violations of state election law.
In a letter Saturday, his office says it has received "hundreds of complaints'' about how the county administered the General Election.
"These complaints go beyond pure speculation, but include first-hand witness accounts that raise concerns regarding Maricopa's lawful compliance with Arizona election law,'' wrote Jennifer Wright. She heads the agency's Elections Integrity Unit.
"Furthermore, statements made by both Chairman (Bill) Gates and Recorder (Stephen) Richer, along with information Maricopa County released through official modes of communication appear to confirm potential statutory violations of Title 16,'' she said, referring to the state Elections Code.
Wright also hinted that the investigation could hold up finalizing the election returns.
"These issues relate to Maricopa County's ability to lawfully certify election results,'' she said. So she wants answers to her questions on or before Nov. 28, the date the county is scheduled to submit its official canvass of the votes to the Secretary of State's Office.
The letter comes as Republican gubernatorial hopeful Kari Lake, whose results already show she lost to Democrat Katie Hobbs, continued to insist that GOP voters were disenfranchised and that the election results cannot be certified. Lake also said she is consulting with lawyers about her options.
At the same time, the race for attorney general remains far too close to call, with Democrat Kris Mayes leading Republican Abe Hamadeh on Sunday by 850 votes out of more than 2.5 million ballots already counted. There were fewer than 3,400 votes yet to be tallied, all of them from Maricopa County.
But Wright gave no indication that anything her office ultimately finds or any conclusions reached will alter the outcome of the races.
Fields Moseley, spokesman for the supervisors, said there will be no response until the board gets to review the request. There was no immediate response from the press aide for Richer.
Most of the issues Wright wants addressed relate to Election Day problems at 60 of the county's voting centers.
That use of voting centers means any resident can go to any location. That also means that individual ballots, tailored to each voter, have to be printed on site.
Only thing is, printers at more than 60 of the vote centers were turning out some ballots that the on-site tabulators could not read.
That problem was discovered within an hour of the 6 a.m. opening. But it took until the afternoon to discover that the issue was related to the fuser on the the printers, which heats up to bond toner to the paper, not being set high enough, a problem that did not exist at early voting centers.
The result was people being told they had two options: Go to another voting location or put the ballot into "Door 3'' of the tabulator to be taken to the central elections office and counted at the end of the day.
That, in turn, caused long lines as people insisted on making multiple attempts to get the tabulator to read their ballots. Many also obeyed an advisory from Kelli Ward, who chairs the Arizona Republican Party, not to put their ballots into Door 3.
Wright, in her letter, said both options created problems.
She said that Gates told people who already had checked in at a polling location using the e-Pollbook but were having trouble casting their ballots that they could "check out'' and then cast a ballot at another voting location. Wright said sworn complaints submitted to her agency showed that was not happening.
"Not only have poll workers reported that they were no trained and/or not provided with information on how to execute 'check out' procedures, but many voters have reported the second voting location required the voter to cast a provisional ballot as the e-Pollbooks maintained the voters had cast a ballot in the original voting location,'' she said. And Wright pointed out that Arizona law specifically prohibits those provisional ballots from being counted if the record shows multiple sign-ins.
That raises the question of how many of those ballots were not counted. Wright wants a detailed report of all voters who were affected.
The issues with Door 3 are different. She said there is evidence that the county did not follow legal guidelines in separating, counting, tallying and transporting those ballots.
"In fact, Maricopa County has admitted that, in some voting locations, Door 3 non-tabulated ballots were commingled with tabulated ballots at the voting location,'' she said. "Further, we have received a sworn complaint from an election observer indicating that more than 1,700 Door 3 non-tabulated ballots from one voting location were placed in black duffle bags that were intended to be used for tabulated ballots.''
County officials acknowledged the problem at a press briefing. But they said the issue was resolved by backing out all votes already tabulated at that vote center and then recounting all ballots, ensuring all were counted, regardless of whether they were fed through the tabulator or put in Door 3.
But Wright wants details, including how many ballots were commingled, how many were put in the black duffle bags, how and when the county became aware of the problems and how they ultimately were resolved.
The New York Times said Saturday it had looked into complaints by some Lake supporters they had Election Day problems at Phoenix area polling sites. But the newspaper reported that most actually had been able to cast their ballots.
Brnovich still has not issued a final report in an ongoing inquiry of how the county handled the 2020 election.
In an interim report earlier this year, Brnovich said he found some instances of people violating laws which generally preclude someone from handling another person's early ballot. There are exceptions for family members, those in the same household and caregivers.
Several have been prosecuted and convicted.
He also had recommendations for changes to state laws and election procedures.
But the attorney general said he found no evidence the election results were rigged or that Donald Trump won the popular vote.
And in August, Brnovich debunked claims by the "audit'' performed by Cyber Ninjas, the firm hired Senate President Karen Fann to investigate the 2020 election.
"Our agents investigated all individuals that Cyber Ninjas reported as dead,'' he said. "Many were very surprised to learn they were allegedly deceased.''
Those findings came right before the GOP primary where Brnovich was running for U.S. Senate. He came in third. The race was won by Blake Masters who later went on to lose to incumbent Democrat Mark Kelly.
And right before this year's General Election, Brnovich called claims by Republicans that the 2020 election had been stolen "horse****,'' telling 60 Minutes he had been "trying to scrape if off my shoes for the last year.''
Joe Biden won the state's 11 electors by a margin of 10,457 votes.
Brnovich also called Lake's denial of the results of that election a "giant grift.''
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