The former Arizona secretary of state says he has been “locked out” of the audit.
The face of the Arizona Senate’s “audit” of Maricopa County’s 2020 election results is stepping down, saying he’s been shut out of the process and that he won’t put a rubber stamp on a report whose underlying data he hasn’t seen.
Ken Bennett, who Arizona’s Republican Senate president picked as the legislature’s “liaison” to the privately-contracted audit, was barred from the audit site a few days ago after sharing some preliminary data with an outside group that’s tried to confirm the audit’s legitimacy.
“I cannot put a rubber stamp on a product that I am being locked out of its development,” Bennett told talk radio host James Harris Wednesday morning. Bennett said he’d be open to staying in the position, but things would have to change: “I’ve got to have access to the source data, and everything that will be the building blocks to that final report. I can’t just come in at the last minute and be asked to endorse something that I can’t be a part of really building the way it needs to be built.”
As Arizona’s former secretary of state, Bennett was the only prominent official in the audit with elections experience. The audit is being run by a contractor with no prior experience in the field, Cyber Ninjas, whose CEO has appeared in a conspiracy theory film about the last election and spouted wild theories on Twitter prior to being hired for the job.NewslettersGet TPM in your inbox, twice weekly.SUBSCRIBE
In an interview with Harris on Monday, Bennett raised concerns about a secondary recount of the ballots in the auditors’ possession, saying he wasn’t certain there were procedures in place to ensure independence from the first Cyber Ninjas recount. “I became very concerned that there would be this forced balancing going on,” Bennett said.
He also said that he hadn’t been shown confirmation that the audit had counted duplicate ballots correctly (election workers make duplicate ballots when the originals are damaged or illegible, such as from coffee stains). He also that audit workers told him they’d been instructed not to speak to him after he observed flaws in the tallying process.
In that Monday interview, Bennett said he was close to stepping down as the Senate’s liaison to the audit, citing his being barred from the audit venue as the tip of the iceberg. “I cannot be a part of a process that I am kept out of critical aspects along the way that make the audit legitimate,” Bennett said.
The interview provided a window into the behind-the-scenes turmoil that’s rocked the audit in recent weeks. Kelli Ward, the state party chair who pressured Maricopa County officials to stop counting ballots shortly after Election Day, sought unsuccessfully to steady the ship.
Senate President Karen Fann, who authorized the audit, told TPM in an email Monday that the ballots had been counted and that they would be returned to Maricopa County tomorrow.
“At this point, we do not need a senate liaison on site since all data gathered will now be taken to the auditors labs for analysis,” Fann wrote in an email.
She insisted that Bennett would be “part of this process” and have access to the “core audit data.”
“After the auditors have submitted their draft report, Ken will be part of this process as the authorized Senate liaison,” Fann said. “Ken and the entire Senate team will have full access to all the core audit data to verify their findings. The Senate contract with the auditor explicitly says all data and findings gathered from the entire audit is the property of the Arizona Senate.”
In a similar letter Tuesday, the Senate President said “Ken Bennett will be involved and a vital part of the draft and final reports to ensure their accuracy with his knowledge and contributions throughout the audit process.”
But Bennett said Wednesday morning that he was “surprised” by Fann’s letter.
“I do remain locked out of the audit, and as such, it’s impossible for me to really function as the liaison,” he said, adding: “Right now, I am the liaison in name only. I don’t know if that makes me a LINO, or what, but being locked out at this critical point, as her letter said, when the draft report will be worked on over the next few days and weeks, makes it impossible for me to be a true liaison for the Senate.”
“I’m afraid that what it will end up looking like is that after somebody drafts a draft report, that I’ll get a few hours or a day or something to review it before it is released to the world as the final report,” Bennett said.
Harris pressed for details: Was he stepping down as the Senate’s liaison?
“I am going to step down today,” Bennett responded, adding that he’d be releasing a statement later today.
“I cannot be locked out of a process that is at its most critical phase as far as producing the final report that’s going to the public,” he said later. “This is the audit of the people of Arizona, not the Senate’s audit, it’s the audit that belongs to the people of Arizona, and if I’m going to put my credibility on the line that it’s something that they can trust and believe in, I can’t be locked out at the last moment.”
Asked if the public would be able to trust the report, Bennett said “that depends” and said the final product could be thousands of pages long.
“We will be left to decide whether the report speaks for itself as to those issues you noted of integrity and transparency,” he said.