04:24 GMT17 May 2021
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    The Arizona ballot audit saga took a new twist on Sunday, when Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury recused himself from a legal challenge brought by the state's Democratic Party to the GOP's recounting initiative less than 24 hours before a scheduled hearing on Monday.

    In a court file obtained by 12 News, Judge Christopher Coury, overseeing the Dems' legal challenge said that a lawyer for the firm representing the Senate GOP's lead auditor had worked at his office "as an extern within the last five years". Citing the judicial code of conduct Coury withdrew. A new judge will be assigned to the case.

    The name of the lawyer in question is Viskovic. He is a junior associate at Kolodin Law Group PLLC, which is representing cybersecurity firm Cyber Ninjas in court, according to The Epoch Times. Cyber Ninjas has been hired by the state Senate along with three other firms to recount 2.1 million ballots, look for IT breaches, and test voting equipment provided by Maricopa County. The audit initiative also includes follow-up interviews with voters. The report on the auditors' findings is expected to be released in about two months.

    The Arizona GOP is seeking to find out whether Joe Biden won the county fair and square in November 2020. In any event, the audit won't change the certified election results.

    ​Democrats Trying to Disrupt the Audit

    After the ballots and election equipment were delivered to Phoenix and the Arizona GOP announced that the live-streamed recount of ballots would kick off on 23 April, the Democratic Party intervened by filing a lawsuit with the Maricopa County Superior Court. The Dems claimed the planned audit violates "various statutory and Election Procedures Manual provisions" and urged the court to ban the Senate initiative.

    ​Having studied the documents, the Maricopa County Superior Court on 23 February ruled that the Arizona Senate audit should be paused until Monday 12 p.m. (ET) if the plaintiffs provide a $1 million bond to cover any costs incurred by the lead auditor, Florida-based Cyber Ninjas, as a result of the delay. The Democratic Party declined to provide the bond, arguing that they did not trust the auditor would "honestly account for any financial losses", according to 12 News. As a result, the pause was revoked.

    ​However, the judge made it clear that he wanted to hear more about the concerns outlined by the Dems in the lawsuit on Monday and required lawyers for the Senate GOP and Cyber Ninjas, the lead auditor, to demonstrate that they were abiding by Arizona election laws and respective audit rules. The Senate GOP lawyers insist that the regulations cited in the Dems' lawsuit do not apply to the Senate audit as they do not address such matters as "the Legislature" or a "post-election audit". Now that Coury has recused himself it is unclear when the hearing will proceed.

    Audit & Security

    While the state's GOP and Dems crossed swords over the 2020 election results' audit, the security of ballots, equipment, and those involved in the endeavour is raising questions.

    Last Friday, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat who has repeatedly criticised the GOP's audit initiative, asked Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, to investigate reports that the Senate failed to secure the equipment and ballots. Thus, on 23 April, Morgan Loew, an investigative reporter at CBS5, 3TV tweeted: "Yesterday, we found a side door propped open at the AZ Coliseum, entered the facility and made our way to the Maricopa County ballots".

    ​"Local reporting yesterday made it clear that [Arizona Republican Senator] Karen Fann and her Cyber Ninjas have not implemented sufficient security to protect the integrity of election equipment and ballots", Hobbs stated on Twitter.

    Responding to Hobbs' request, Brnovich noted that her reference to reports "does not meet the standard of a credible allegation - it is speculation insufficient to support the request for an official investigation".

    Previously, Senate President Karen Fann asked Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone to provide six deputies for around-the-clock security at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum where the ballots and voting equipment are being stored. The sheriff, however, rejected the request, saying that "any security needs on state property must be supplied...(by) the state", according to 12 News.

    ​As the state's Maricopa County Forensic Audit is getting national attention, former President Donald Trump asked Arizona Governor Doug Ducey to provide security for those involved in the initiative.

    "Gov. Ducey will be held fully responsible for the safety of those involved. State police or National Guard must be immediately sent out for protection. The Democrats do not want to have this information revealed, and they will do anything to stop it. Gov. Ducey must finally act!", Trump wrote in a statement on 24 April.

    Related:

    'Federal Gov't Won't Act, But Arizona Will': Gov. Ducey Deploys National Guard to Southern Border
    Controversy Over US 2020 Vote Persists: Arizona Dems Trying to Upend GOP's Audit of Maricopa Ballots
    Trump Hails ‘Forensic Audit’ of Arizona Vote as Harbinger of Doom for Dems
    Tags:
    audit, election irregularities, Joe Biden, Donald Trump, US Election 2020, Maricopa County, Arizona, US
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