Arizona’s Top Elections Official Tells Maricopa County to Get New Election Machines

Machines being audited may have been compromised, Arizona's secretary of state alleges
May 21, 2021 Updated: June 9, 2021

Arizona’s secretary of state has warned the state’s largest county not to try to use election machines that are being audited or she would decertify the equipment.

“I have grave concerns regarding the security and integrity of these machines, given that the chain of custody, a critical security tenet, has been compromised and election officials do not know what was done to the machines while under Cyber Ninjas’ control,” Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, wrote in a May 20 letter to Maricopa County officials.

Auditors hired by the Arizona Senate, including Cyber Ninjas, have been reviewing more than 2 million ballots cast and 385 tabulators used in the 2020 election, along with other materials.

Auditors have said they’re following strict forensics protocols.

“We don’t turn on a system if it’s delivered to us in a powered-off state. We remove the hard drives, we perform forensics imaging with write blocks to prevent any changes to those hard drives, and we produce a bit for bit forensics copy of that particular drive,” Ben Cotton, founder of CyFIR, the company leading the technology component of the audit, told Arizona senators in a May 18 meeting.

Ken Bennett, the former Republican Arizona secretary of state who is serving as the liaison for the state Senate for the audit, added that immediately upon receiving the machines on April 21, the equipment and ballots were placed into locked cages and have been under armed guard the entire time.

“We have not had any breaches of the cages where the ballots or the machines have been kept,” he said.

But Hobbs alleged that it’s unclear what security procedures, if any, were put into place to secure the machines.

“Indeed, our expert observers, as well as multiple news reports, have noted troubling security lapses. And Cyber Ninjas has failed to provide full transparency into what they did with the equipment,” she wrote to Maricopa County officials.

“The lack of physical security and transparency means we cannot be certain who accessed the voting equipment and what might have been done to them.”

A county judge in April declined to grant an Arizona Democratic Party request to block the audit. The request, backed by Hobbs, was made because Democrats alleged there were security issues with the audit. But the judge said Democrats didn’t provide “substantive evidence” backing up their claims.

In the May 20 letter, Hobbs said there are no comprehensive methods to fully rehabilitate compromised equipment, meaning the county “should acquire new machines to ensure secure and accurate elections” moving forward.

If the county chooses to re-deploy the subpoenaed equipment for use in future elections, Hobbs’s office may consider moving to decertify it.

Epoch Times Photo
Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Ariz., on May 6, 2021. (Matt York/AP Photo/Pool)

Before the audit began, Arizona Republican Senate President Karen Fann signed a document that provided indemnification to Maricopa County against third-party claims of any damages occurring to materials the county gave over to auditors.

Representatives for the audit team and the Arizona Senate Republicans didn’t respond to The Epoch Times’ requests for comment.

The county is reviewing Hobbs’s letter, a county spokesperson told The Epoch Times via email.

“That letter is being reviewed by our attorneys and they will advise Board members before they take next steps.”

A spokesperson for the Elections Department told news outlets before the letter arrived that subpoenaing tabulation equipment was “an unprecedented action in Arizona.”

“State statutes and the Elections Procedures Manual never contemplated the tabulation equipment leaving the custody of the Elections Department. While the central count tabulators and other equipment were returned, the Senate still has 385 precinct-based tabulators that were subject to the subpoena,” the spokesperson said in the statement.

“We are working with our attorneys on next steps, costs and what will be needed to ensure only certified equipment is used in Maricopa County. We will not use any of the returned tabulation equipment unless the county, state and vendor are confident that there is no malicious hardware or software installed on the devices.

“The voters of Maricopa County can rest assured that we will not use any equipment—ever—that could pose a risk to free and fair elections.  The Elections Department has implemented back up plans that included using new tabulation equipment for elections in 2021, which was first used for the March Jurisdictional Election.”

Maricopa County’s Board of Supervisors in June 2019 approved a three-year contract to lease election equipment from Dominion Voting Systems through July 2022. The contract was worth $6.1 million.

According to Hobbs, her concerns don’t involve the Dominion voting system, which remains certified for use in Arizona, nor any election equipment that wasn’t turned over to auditors.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.