The Republican president of the Arizona Senate said Tuesday that an audit of the 2020 vote in Maricopa County being conducted by private contractors will go forward, despite furious pushback from local GOP officials, who this week called the process a “sham” that is harming democracy.

At a meeting to discuss the recount of nearly 2.1 million ballots, Senate President Karen Fann said the process is necessary to answer constituent questions and bemoaned the county’s unwillingness to work with the contractors hired by the state Senate.

“Let’s get this thing done and get our questions answered and get it out to the public and let everybody know that our next election will be 100 percent safe and secure,” Fann said.

The audit is being led by a Florida company called Cyber Ninjas, whose chief executive has previously promoted claims that the election was fraudulent. The process has been widely criticized as haphazard and insecure by election experts.

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. (Erin Patrick O'Connor/The Washington Post)

On Monday, the county’s GOP-majority board of supervisors jointly called for the audit to be closed, saying it was promoting false theories about the election and defaming local officials who ran the November election.

“Our state has become a laughingstock,” the county officials wrote in their letter. “Worse, this ‘audit’ is encouraging our citizens to distrust elections, which weakens our democratic republic.”

Fann had asked the county to send representatives to the meeting Tuesday to answer questions about what she termed “serious issues” with the vote that had been raised by Cyber Ninjas, but Maricopa County officials refused to participate.

Fann repeated Tuesday her assertion that the goal of the audit is not to re-litigate President Biden’s victory in Arizona, but instead to look for ways to improve the state’s elections in the future.

“That is our sole purpose,” she said Tuesday.

But that argument has been undercut by former president Donald Trump, who has issued numerous statements arguing that the Arizona audit is the first step to proving that the election was “stolen” and called for similar audits elsewhere.

Republicans in Arizona have been deeply split over the recount. Gov. Doug Ducey (R), who certified Biden’s victory last year, has said he believes the state’s elections are a model for the nation. State and federal judges have previously rejected allegations of fraud in November, and two past audits, as well as a partial hand recount, have reconfirmed the results in Maricopa County, where Biden won by more than two points.

But the state GOP, as well as state legislators and members of Congress, have backed some of Trump’s claims, and Fann agreed to spend $150,000 in taxpayer money to fund the new recount. It is also being funded by private donations being raised nationally from Trump supporters.

The recount began in late April, after the Senate used a legislative subpoena to seize voting machines and ballots from Maricopa and move them to the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix.

Audit officials have said they have so far counted about 500,000 ballots — about a fourth of the total — but paused this week because local high schools had booked the coliseum for graduation ceremonies.

The process is expected to restart next week, and Cyber Ninjas chief executive Doug Logan told Fann on Tuesday that he now estimates they will complete the count by the end of June.

Election observers have said the recount process is inconsistent and lacks security measures, noting that ballots and computers had been left unattended and that the contractors have used shifting methods to handle ballots. The audit has been widely pilloried for using tactics such as UV lights to examine the paper on which the ballots were printed.

With county officials absent from Tuesday’s meeting, Fann and Sen. Warren Petersen, the chairman of the state Senate’s Judiciary Committee, used the time to question audit officials, including Logan and former secretary of state Ken Bennett, who is acting as the Senate’s liaison to the process.

The audit officials told the senators that they had resolved a major concern that had been seized upon by Trump — a claim that county officials had deleted files from a server before turning it over to the Senate for review.

On Tuesday, Ben Cotton, founder of CyFir, the company hired to examine the voting software, said that in fact he had “recovered” files that they had been seeking.

County officials had been especially angered by the accusation, which initially came in a tweet from the audit’s official account accusing them of engaging in “spoliation of evidence” — potentially a criminal act.

Their distress grew when Trump issued a statement last week alleging that “entire Database of Maricopa County as been DELETED!” and adding: “This is illegal.”

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican, had called Trump’s accusation “unhinged” and “false.”

Throughout Tuesday’s meeting, Maricopa County’s official Twitter account responded to Fann’s claims with sharp rejoinders.

After Cotton said that he had now located the files the county had been accused of deleting, the account posted: “Just want to underscore that AZ Senate’s @ArizonaAudit account accused Maricopa County of deleting files- which would be a crime- then a day after our technical letter explained they were just looking in the wrong place- all of a sudden ‘auditors’ have recovered the files.”