Arizona Senate liaison to ballot audit raises transparency concerns

Ken Bennett, the former Arizona GOP secretary of state serving as the Arizona Senate Republicans’ liaison to an ongoing audit of ballots, raised concerns about the audit contractors’ lack of transparency in two radio interviews on Monday.

Bennett has been one of the public faces of the Arizona Senate GOP’s audit of Maricopa County’s election since it began in April, but he suggested on Monday that he might quit. Bennett’s comments came after he said he was blocked from entering the audit on Friday. 

“I cannot be a part of a process that I am kept out of critical aspects along the way that make the audit legitimate and have integrity when we produce the final report,” Bennett told conservative talk show host James Harris. “And unfortunately, there have been too many of those situations. And the tip of the iceberg kind of came out last Friday when I was denied access to the audit.”

Bennett said he was barred from entering the audit on Friday after he shared information about an ongoing third count of the total number of ballots cast in Maricopa County with an outside group of consultants. 

In an interview later Monday with KTAR, Bennett said that he’s still part of the audit, but cannot vouch for any final report if there is not enough transparency.

“I can only be a part of moving forward and vouching for the final product if there’s transparency in seeing the procedures and the things that are going to be used to build that final product,” Bennett said. “Do I have confidence that we can get a final product that’s good? Yes.”

Election 2020 Arizona Audit
Former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett talks about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican-led Arizona Senate during a news conference on Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix. Ross D. Franklin / AP

The controversial process began back in April after contractors hired by the Republican-led state Senate took control of Maricopa County’s 2.1 million ballots. The Senate hired several firms to conduct the audit. It is being led by Cyber Ninjas, whose founder has promoted election conspiracy theories. The process has been heavily criticized by election experts, election officials and Republican leaders in Maricopa County

President Biden won Arizona by 10,457 votes in November and the audit’s results will not overturn his victory.

In both interviews Monday, Bennett said he has had transparency issues with the auditors over the reconciliation of duplicate ballots and over whether the third count of ballots is truly independent. The Arizona Senate ordered a third count of the total ballots cast because the audit came up with a different number than Maricopa County reported. Bennett said he told Randy Pullen, another Senate liaison for the audit, that the third count had to remain independent from Cyber Ninjas. 

“We’ve got to make sure that we have procedures and protections in place so that we do it correctly and that we don’t in any way create an incentive to force balance this count to either of the first two counts or share the information with the second count, the (Cyber) Ninjas’ count, so that they force balance back to our number,” Bennett said during his interview with KTAR. 

In his earlier interview with Harris, Bennett said that he asked for a “comprehensive reconciliation” on whether workers could identify a matching ballot for each one that was duplicated, but has not received an update. He also said that after some initial issues with spreadsheet data, Bennett asked workers about an updated process and was told that workers “were told by the auditors, ‘don’t share anything with Secretary Bennett.'”

Representatives for the audit have not responded to a request for comment. Arizona Senate President Karen Fann told CBS News in a statement that “Ken is a valuable asset to the Senate audit and will continue to be so.”

Fann said the “physical work is expected to finish up in the next few days and the auditors will take all the data back to their labs for analysis.” After a draft report is ready for review, Fann, Bennett, Senator Petersen and the state Senate’s legal team plan to review the report with the auditors. 

“The auditors were hired to do a job,” Fann said. “We should not be looking over their shoulder, telling them how to do their job or asking for premature information. When the audit is complete then they will need to provide us with all their proof and documentation of their results.”

Bennett told KTAR that he expects a final report to be sent to the Arizona Senate some time in August. Fann also issued a new subpoena on Monday to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and ordered the board to appear before the Senate next week. 

On Saturday, former President Donald Trump praised the audit during a speech in Arizona. Many of Mr. Trump’s supporters have said the process could be a first step in uncovering fraud, but Fann and Bennett have repeatedly said the audit is not about overturning the results of the 2020 election. 

“Election integrity is not about whether or not Donald Trump won an election,” Bennett told KTAR. “Election integrity is about, did we get the election right? And that’s what I’m focused on. And it’s not for Donald Trump and it’s not for the Senate, it’s for the people of Arizona.”