Aug 26, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Arizona AG threatens Maricopa County funds over election audit

An observer watches as contractors working for Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate, examine and recount ballots from the 2020 general election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum

An observer watches a contractor for Cyber Ninjas recount Arizona ballots from the 2020 general election. Photo: Courtney Pedroza/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich is threatening to withhold millions in state funds from Maricopa County if it doesn't comply with the state Senate's partisan audit of the 2020 election, according to a new report sent to the County Board of Supervisors reviewed by Axios.

Why it matters: Nine months after Election Day, this represents an escalation of a fight by Donald Trump-aligned Republicans — in this case, backed by state laws involving taxpayer funds and the power of the Attorney General's office — to continue baselessly questioning the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

Between the lines: Brnovich is running for Sen. Mark Kelly's (D-Ariz.) seat next year. Keeping the audit alive could curry favor among some Republican voters ahead of a crowded primary.

  • "Election integrity and upholding the rule of law has been a priority for Attorney General Brnovich since he was elected in 2015," spokesperson Katie Conner told Axios.

Details: According to the letter, Brnovich is giving the county 30 days to turn over the latest subpoenaed information — including routers, which were requested by Republican state senators.

  • If the county "fails to resolve the violation within 30 days, the [Attorney General Office], in accordance with state law, will notify the Arizona Treasurer to withhold state revenue from Maricopa County until MCBOS complies," according to a press release.
  • The ability to withhold funds when a city or county is in violation of state law comes from an Arizona law passed in 2016. Up until now, there have been only two other violations of state law found. Both times, the municipalities ultimately complied so funding was not withheld.

Background: Maricopa County has fought baseless attempts to investigate the 2020 election in the state. There's no evidence of mass voter fraud in the state or anywhere else.

  • Board members already have been forced by courts to comply with earlier subpoenas for ballots and voting machines.
  • In May, the Republican-majority Board of Supervisors sent a letter calling out the auditors' lack of knowledge about elections, refusing to provide access to routers citing security concerns and urging for the audit to be called off. They wrote it had "become a spectacle that is harming all of us. Our state has become a laughingstock."
  • But the Arizona Senate's Republican President Karen Fan denied the request to end the audit. The Florida-based Cyber Ninjas, whose chief has supported baseless voter fraud claims, is conducting the recount. The audit was recently delayed again because of three auditors contracting COVID-19.
  • U.S. House Democrats have accused Cyber Ninjas of obstructing a congressional committee investigation.
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