By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Gov. Doug Ducey said he's confident in the results of the 2020 election yet wants to see the results of a Republican-backed audit and hand count of 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County.
"I've defended our election integrity,'' the governor said at a Monday press conference. "I'm not going to change my position at all.''
Ducey said Arizona has had a series of reforms and improvements in the past three decades.
"In many ways I think Arizona is a model state,'' he said. "We have a compendium of best practices in our state.''
Despite that, the governor said it was within the power of the Senate, as a separate branch of government, to decide whether yet another audit is needed. But he brushed aside a question of whether that feeds into the conspiracy theories that somehow the results of the election -- the one he declared as accurate -- were wrong and that people cheated.
"To give an accurate answer, I'd have to see the results of what the Senate is well within its legal rights to do,'' he said.
All this comes as Democrats say the sole reason for the audit is to come up with an excuse to make it more difficult to vote.
"Right now Arizona is leading the country in voter suppression bills from Republican legislators,'' said Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale. "It is no coincidence this is happening after they lost an election.''
All five Maricopa County supervisors have said a new audit is unnecessary. But only Democrat Steve Gallardo showed up for the Monday press conference -- and dealt with hecklers who isisted there was massive fraud and that Donald Trump actually beat Joe Biden in Arizona.
"You lost the election,'' he said. "Deal with it.''
The move to audit the ballots comes despite a legally required hand count of a random sample which turned up no errors.
The counting equipment was tested both before and after the election. And the Maricopa supervisors, four of whom are Republicans, even hired outside auditors in a bid to prove that there was no tampering with the machinery.
That still left GOP senators dissatisfied and resulted in them going to court and winning the legal right to access the equipment and the ballots. Yet on Monday, Senate President Karen Fann said she is still working to get this process started more than four months after the election was completed.
"We hope we have some thing to get out to you very soon,'' she told Capitol Media Services.
Some of what needs to be worked out is the mechanics of having people go through 2.1 million ballots and marked down, one by one, how someone voted.
Fann said she hoped to have bipartisan teams reviewing each batch to provide a level of accountability. So far, though, Democrats see the entire effort as purely political show and won't participate.
"It's too bad the Democratic Party doesn't believe in getting answers for our constituents,'' she said."I think that's our job.''
The Democrats, for their part, say the only reason people have questions is that Republicans, led by Trump, have made repeated and unsubstantiated claims of fraud. And they see no reason to participate.
But it isn't just the Democrats who question the whole premise behind the audit.
Helen Purcell, a former Maricopa County recorder, and a Republican, said she was approached by an attorney representing GOP senators asking if she would be willing to oversee the process. She refused, calling it "not a necessary process'' and saying she trusts the results of the two independent audits already conducted by the county.
Fann said that for the time being the plan is to limit the hand count solely to the presidential race, the one that Biden outpolled Trump in Maricopa County by more than 45,000 votes. That provided a crucial edge to let Biden win Arizona's 11 electoral votes by 10,457.
The Senate president denied that all this does is feed into the claims, all so far with no basis, that Trump really won here.
"We start with the presidential primarily because that was the closest one in terms of numbers,'' Fann said.
So what's the plan to do the task?
"All this will be made clear as soon as we finish the contract details,'' Fann said, referring to the agreement the senate is making with a yet-to-be-identified outside firm. And she promised the contract would be public.