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Arizona’s Maricopa County will replace voting equipment, fearful that GOP-backed election review has compromised security

Contractors examine and recount ballots from the 2020 election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix last month.
Contractors examine and recount ballots from the 2020 election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix last month. (Courtney Pedroza/For The Washington Post)
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Arizona’s Maricopa County announced Monday that it will replace voting equipment that was turned over to a private contractor for a Republican-commissioned review of the 2020 presidential election, concerned that the process compromised the security of the machines.

Officials from Maricopa, the state’s largest county and home to Phoenix, provided no estimates of the costs involved but have previously said that the machines cost millions to acquire.

“The voters of Maricopa County can rest assured, the County will never use equipment that could pose a risk to free and fair elections,” the county said in a statement. “As a result, the County will not use the subpoenaed equipment in any future elections.”

The announcement probably reflects an added cost to taxpayers for a controversial review that has been embraced by supporters of former president Donald Trump, who has falsely claimed that the 2020 election was rigged in Arizona and other battlegrounds that he lost.

More than six months after the 2020 presidential election, Arizona Senate Republicans are leading an audit of the 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County. (Video: Erin Patrick O'Connor/The Washington Post)

The review was ordered by the Republican-led state Senate, which seized voting equipment, including nine tabulating machines used at a central counting facility and 385 precinct-based tabulators, as well as nearly 2.1 million ballots from Maricopa County, with a legislative subpoena in late April. The review is being led by a Florida company called Cyber Ninjas, whose chief executive has echoed Trump’s false claims. Audit organizers have said that they have completed a hand recount but that they will not release results from their review until August.

Spokesmen for the audit and for Senate President Karen Fann (R), who ordered the review, did not immediately respond to requests for comment about Maricopa’s announcement.

The process being used to recount ballots and examine voting machines — conducted on the floor of a former basketball arena in Phoenix and live-streamed exclusively using cameras operated by the pro-Trump One America News — has been widely panned by election experts as sloppy, insecure and opaque.

Among the most vocal critics has been the Republican-led leadership of Maricopa County. In May, all seven of the county’s elected officials — including five Republicans — joined in a scathing letter to the state Senate denouncing the audit as a sham.

“Our state has become a laughingstock,” they wrote. “Worse, this ‘audit’ is encouraging our citizens to distrust elections, which weakens our democratic republic.”

Noting the tactics used by organizers of the review, such as hunting for bamboo in ballot paper, they added, “Your ‘audit,’ which you once said was intended to increase voters’ confidence in our electoral process, has devolved into a circus.”

The move to ditch all of the county’s voting machines came in response to a letter from the state’s chief elections officer, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D), who last month said she might decertify the machines if they were not decommissioned because of fears that their security had been compromised as they were handled by private actors.

“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,” wrote Hobbs, who is running for governor.

In a letter to Hobbs sent Monday, a county attorney wrote that the county board “shares your concerns” and had agreed to no longer use its voting equipment.

The county did not indicate whether it will ask the Senate to pay to replace the machines. When the state Senate took possession of the county’s voting equipment, Fann signed an agreement to pay any costs the county incurred “as a result of damage and/or alternation of the Subpoenaed Materials by the Senate or its agents.”

Biden was the first Democrat to win Arizona in nearly 25 years, snagging the state’s 11 electoral college votes largely on the strength of his victory in growing and diversifying Maricopa County.

Allegations of fraud or irregularities in Arizona’s vote were rejected last year by state and federal judges. Maricopa’s results were confirmed through a number of reviews, including a hand recount of a sample of ballots conducted jointly by both political parties, as well as a forensic audit conducted by federally accredited labs that was ordered by the county and concluded in February.