- Associated Press - Monday, March 22, 2021

PHOENIX (AP) - Democrats on Monday lashed out at Republicans who control the Arizona Senate for their plan to do a complete hand recount of 2.1 million ballots in the state’s most populous county, calling the effort a “charade” to keep backers of former President Donald Trump fired up and undermine the integrity of the state’s elections.

But GOP Gov. Doug Ducey declined to criticize the effort by a “co-equal” branch of government or a series of election bills Democrats call voter suppression efforts, which the governor termed “reforms.”

“I’ve said that nothing in public life or private life is perfect,” Ducey said. “That’s what we call reform, that’s what we call continuous improvement. I know there’s some ideas in the Legislature, and while I don’t comment on legislation while its moving, I’m interested.”

Sen. Rebecca Rios, the leader of minority Democrats in the Senate, said Senate President Karen Fann’s plan to recount ballots in Maricopa County’s November election to mollify Trump backers was “a charade.”

“This audit is not about increasing voter trust. Americans’ right to vote is sacred and how elections are run is paramount to the trust in our Democracy,” Rios said. “This entire charade is only keeping the flame of fraud lit and we’ve seen how gaslighting voters into thinking their election was stolen has to end.”

And Steve Gallardo, the sole Democrat on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, was even more blunt, accusing Fann and Senate Republicans of pushing unfounded conspiracy theories that Trump actually won in Arizona and damaging the integrity of the state’s elections.

“They continue to put out false statements, unfounded truths, they continue to push unfounded conspiracy theories to do one thing, and that is to try to control the elections in 2022 and 2024,” Gallardo said. “This isn’t about finding the truth or trying to verify electoral votes. This is about undermining our elections, undermining the will of the voters.”

Fann had been pushing for a “full forensic audit” of Maricopa County’s election result and won a court order on Feb. 26 granting the Senate access to the county’s ballots and tabulation machines. But she had never acknowledged until last week that she wanted a full recount, something state law doesn’t allow except in narrow circumstances.

She is now looking at ways to conduct the hand-count, possibly including volunteers. Democrats say they will not participate and called the idea of using partisan volunteers a way to further perpetuate the unfounded narrative that the election was stolen by President Joe Biden.

“They shouldn’t be doing this at all, they should drop this,” Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada said. “This is an unnecessary and an irresponsible soapbox that they’re getting on.”

A hand-count would be an enormous task. The legally-required hand-count of a sample of 8,000 Maricopa County ballots after the November election took bipartisan teams a day and a half.

The county Board of Supervisors had argued the ballots were secret and the machines need to remain secure and fought a subpoena issued by Senate Republicans.

Since winning that court fight, Fann has been trying to locate an auditing firm that can do the deep dive she wants. Some Trump backers allege there was fraud in the election in Arizona and other battleground states that led to his defeat. Fann said she wants to answer their questions one way or the other.

The five-member county Board of Supervisors has pointed to repeated checks that showed the election was free, fair and properly conducted. They included pre- and post-election tests of counting equipment and software and a hand count of a ballot sample that showed the machine count was accurate.

Last month, they released the results of two new audits of their equipment done to appease the Senate. They showed no malicious software or incorrect counting equipment and that none of the computers or equipment were connected to the internet.

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