Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita talks about Maricopa County election audit plans

Posted at 5:03 AM, Mar 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-08 22:49:03-05

Earlier this week, ABC15 was first to report the Arizona Senate had no plan in place to secure the more than 2.1 million Maricopa County ballots some legislators demanded after the 2020 election.

In December, some GOP senators issued subpoenas to the county, commanding they turn over ballots and election equipment to allow the Senate to perform what some call a "forensic audit."

“The county has been dragging their feet for months," said Republican State Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors refused to hand over ballots after receiving two rounds of subpoenas from lawmakers, arguing the ask was unlawful, citing state statute that requires a court order to turn over election materials.

Last week, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomason ruled the Senate's subpoenas were lawful and enforceable, forcing the county to prepare to deliver ballots to Senators as requested.

This court ruling, however, came after Maricopa County hired and published results from audits conducted by two independent, third-party firms that showed no irregularities, errors, or evidence of vote-switching after testing machines used in the last general election.

Still, some GOP lawmakers have stood by claims that the election was conducted improperly.

Ugenti-Rita publicly acknowledged President Joe Biden's win shortly after election day, despite opposing rhetoric among her colleagues. Some GOP senators and still argue Donald Trump was the true winner of Arizona's vote.

Still, Ugenti-Rita supports the state legislature taking the reins on what would now be a third post-election audit.

"I totally think it’s appropriate and fitting, especially in light of the public having so much distrust," said Ugenti-Rita. "Whether it’s warranted or not, at the end of the day they are concerned, and we have an obligation to address it seriously.”

Ugenti-Rita predicts a forensic audit could take anywhere from three to four weeks for a firm to complete and expects to wait another two weeks to receive final results, if the process moves forward as discussed.

However, an email sent by attorney Kory Langhofer to attorneys representing Maricopa County this week shows the Senate is now asking Maricopa County to delay the delivery of any ballots to the Senate.

"...the Senate’s preference is to maintain the materials in the County’s facility until the Senate has made suitable arrangements for storing the materials elsewhere, or to work out an agreement to review the materials inside the county’s facility," wrote Langhofer. "We are hoping that the Senate will have firmed up its plans in the next few days."

“I don’t see anything to suggest that these ballots will be compromised in any way and I have full confidence in our team that they’ll be secure," said Ugenti-Rita, after ABC15 asked her whether voters can have faith in the Senate's handling of ballots. "We just got the court ruling that granted our subpoenas and so we moved very swiftly."

Ugenti-Rita also says the Senate has yet to hire a firm to perform the audit on the Senate's behalf.

In January, Senate President Fann and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Petersen released a statement saying the Senate President had chosen a firm then. In February, ABC15 confirmed Fann reviewed resumes from Col. Phil Waldron and others who represented Allied Security Operations Group. Waldron openly testified on behalf of the Trump campaign in Phoenix just weeks after the election and published a debunked audit report in Atrim County, Michigan.

"Would you feel comfortable with someone like Col. Phil Waldron being a part of this audit?" asked ABC15 reporter Nicole Valdes.

“I think you are kind of jumping the gun," responded Ugenti-Rita. "I think they’re still going through the audition process, so to speak, interviewing everyone making sure that they have again the capacity, the capability, the expertise to do this kind of audit.”

Still, despite little specifics on who will perform the audit, when, and how it'll happen, Ugenti-Rita supports the Senate's effort to move forward.

“I think there’s nothing wrong in wanting to reaffirm that the election was run well and appropriately," she added. "In my opinion, that’s good governance.”