Arizona AG takes initial steps for investigation following release of election audit report

Stacey Barchenger
Arizona Republic

Attorney General Mark Brnovich has taken initial steps in an investigation of the 2020 presidential election in Arizona, directing Maricopa County to hold onto records and asking the Senate to share evidence gathered by its contractors.

Letters from Brnovich's office to the Senate and county were released publicly Tuesday. Just days earlier the state's top law enforcement officer promised to investigate questions raised by private contractors hired to review the election that gave Arizona to Joe Biden and helped him win the White House.

None of the contractors, nor multiple prior election reviews, has concluded that Donald Trump won, as Trump has claimed without evidence for 11 months.

But according to a statement from Brnovich, "the Arizona Senate’s report that was released on Friday raises some serious questions regarding the 2020 election. Arizonans can be assured our office will conduct a thorough review of the information we receive.”

Brnovich, a Republican running for U.S. Senate hoping to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly next year, did not say specifically what those questions were, nor provide details about the direction of his office's investigation. Brnovich's office includes an election integrity unit that will handle the investigation. The unit can pursue criminal charges or civil cases related to election law, but will not comment on its work until it is complete, according to a spokesperson.

A Monday letter from Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Wright to the Maricopa County recorder and board of supervisors directs those offices to preserve items related to the 2020 general election, as well as last year's primary elections. Arizonans can vote in two primaries in presidential election years: One for presidential candidates in March, and one for other state and local elections in August.

That request appears to go beyond the scope of the Senate's audit, which focused on the November general election.

A list of specific items the county must keep includes building access records, surveillance images and video of county buildings, ballots and ballot envelopes, voter registration forms, internet usage files, digital records and election equipment itself, among other things.

Wright also sent a letter to Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, asking Fann to turn over additional information supporting the auditors' reports.

The letter asks for unredacted reports and the ability to interview the contractors. It explicitly asks for evidence that supports claims made by two contractors, Shiva Ayyadurai, who examined ballot signatures, and Ben Cotton, who examined cybersecurity issues.

A spokesperson for Fann, who referred the audit reports to Brnovich's office, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

County officials, meanwhile, announced they would provide their own report in coming weeks that would respond to the claims made by auditors. 

“The opinions that came out of Friday’s hearing were conjecture without proof and were twisted to fit the narrative that something went wrong," Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers said in a statement. "The fact is, the elections department ran accurate, secure and transparent elections in 2020.”

Reach reporter Stacey Barchenger at stacey.barchenger@gannett.com or 480-416-5669. Follow her on Twitter.

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