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The debate over Arizona's 2020 general election, in which Joe Biden's victory helped send him to the White House, has continued nearly nonstop for more than year.
Protests and lawsuits were immediate. The state Senate-ordered review of Maricopa County's election took longer to get going. And to wrap up.
The review began April 23 after months of legal wrangling to obtain the county's ballots, voting machines and other election materials.
Reports delivered Sept. 24 confirmed Biden’s win in the county, but raised questions about ballots and voters.
And Republicans in the Arizona Legislature say they will continue to advocate for election-related changes when they convene again in 2022.
Here's a look back on how we got here.
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2020: A contentious election
Nov. 3: Election night tallies show Joe Biden defeating then-President Donald Trump in Arizona, although the race remains tight with many votes left to count. Trump says he plans to go to the U.S. Supreme Court to prevent states from counting outstanding ballots late into the night, which he calls a “fraud.” However, in Arizona, Trump says there are many votes left to count and that he shouldn't be discounted yet.
Nov. 4: Protests and election lawsuits begin. Some 100 people rally at the state Capitol. Republican State Rep. Kelly Townsend urges them to sign affidavits about their voting experience and to contact Arizona GOP Chair Kelli Ward. An election lawsuit related to the use of Sharpies is filed, despite election officials across Arizona saying the use of the felt-tip pen to fill out ballots is not a problem. The case is dropped three days later.
Toward evening, more people gather outside the Maricopa County election center as workers continue to count votes.
Republican Clint Hickman, chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, and Supervisor Steve Gallardo, the board's only Democrat, issue a bipartisan request for patience, saying an accurate vote count takes time. "It's possible the results you see now may change after all the votes are counted. This is evidence of democracy, not fraud."
Nov. 5: Infowars host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones rallies people outside the county elections center in Phoenix. “The world is watching the example of Arizona, the president is watching the example, you’re not gonna let ‘em steal this," Jones tells the crowd.
Nov. 7: Arizona continues counting ballots, but Biden is projected to win Pennsylvania, which pushes him across the 270 electoral college threshold. Meanwhile, a pressure campaign on Maricopa County leaders by the state GOP chair begins. Text messages and voicemails reveal multipronged attempts by Ward to halt Trump’s impending loss in Arizona.
Nov. 13: Maricopa County completes its final count, showing Biden beat Trump. Hours later, Ward texts Hickman: “POTUS will probably be calling you.” Hickman later tells The Arizona Republic that the call didn't come until New Year's Eve, and he let the White House switchboard go to voicemail.
Nov. 22: State leaders face pressure, too. Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani call Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers. The pair expresses concerns about widespread election fraud and suggests Bowers can help, saying Arizona law allows the state Legislature — rather than voters — to choose its electors.
Bowers, when telling Arizona Republic reporters about the phone call months later, says he expressed skepticism and sought evidence. “You are giving me nothing but conjecture and asking me to break my oath and commit to doing something I cannot do because I swore I wouldn't. I will follow the Constitution,” he tells Trump and Giuliani.
Nov. 30: Giuliani and others gather in a downtown Phoenix hotel presenting election fraud theories. The goal seems to be to persuade Arizona legislators to intercede with the state's election results. At the Capitol, state officials officially certify the results showing Trump lost. Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican who campaigned with Trump, expresses confidence in the process. "We do elections well here in Arizona," he says.
Dec. 1: Giuliani and other Trump allies, such as Jenna Ellis and retired Army Col. Phil Waldron, meet with Republican lawmakers, including Bowers and Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, in a state Senate meeting room. Ellis claims lawmakers can replace the state's 11 presidential electors, whose votes are supposed to go to Biden, with electors for Trump.
Bowers leaves the meeting underwhelmed by the fraud claims and unwilling to seek to replace electors. “We were being asked to do something huge, and we thought we were going to get the evidence at the meeting,” he later tells The Republic.
Dec. 4: Bowers and Fann issue a joint statement calling for an independent audit of Maricopa County’s Dominion Voting Systems software and voting machines. Bowers is looking to work cooperatively with the county and with accredited experts.
One America News personality Christina Bobb emails Fann on behalf of Giuliani offering what they viewed as pertinent information and a promise of continued contact. “Good morning, Ma’am,” Bobb writes. “Mayor Giuliani asked me to send you these declarations. He will follow up with you as well.”
Dec. 8: Bowers, Fann, Hickman and attorneys and staffers for all sides meet via Zoom to cooperatively discuss issues such as how ballots are counted, the status of election-related lawsuits and how an accredited firm could review Dominion Voting Systems software and voting machines.
Dec. 9: Bowers and Fann acknowledge to each other that members of the GOP caucuses want public hearings. Bowers would later relay to The Republic that he is concerned about adding to "the circus," but Fann says they need to do something. Bowers agrees to a joint House-Senate committee hearing on one condition: No subpoenas would demand the county produce information. He wants to work cooperatively with county officials rather than to create a legal battle.
Meanwhile, thinking the last of at least eight unsuccessful election lawsuits is over, the Board of Supervisors brings in two officials from Pro V&V, an Alabama company accredited by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, to examine the Dominion machines. While they are in the air, Hickman learns that Ward, the state GOP chair, will appeal her case. The pair fly out of Phoenix the next day as the county, during litigation, doesn't want anyone to touch the machines, which could be considered evidence.
Dec. 10: Fann and state Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, a longtime friend of Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, an outspoken Trump ally, meet with county representatives without Bowers and the House. The senators tell county staff they intend to hold an election-related hearing without the House and raise the issue of subpoenas. Ahead of the hearing, Fann tells Bowers her caucus is moving ahead on its own. “OK. Good luck,” he recalls telling her. Bowers tells The Republic that Fann's decision is one of the "nagging mysteries," saying he has no idea why she shifted away from a cooperative, joint audit.
Dec. 14: County officials spend the day answering questions at the Senate hearing. At the end, Farnsworth announces he will issue subpoenas.
Dec. 15: Arizona Senate Republican leaders send subpoenas to Maricopa County for all ballots cast in the November election, voting machines, voter rolls and more information for "forensic analysis." One of the demands is for "ranked-choice voting," which is not something Arizona uses. This suggests that Farnsworth did not write the subpoenas.
Dec. 17: Bowers texts Hickman to express his disappointment with the Senate's approach. The county supervisor responds: "Thank you for sticking with us. It’s called rational leadership in irrational times and I am positive history will be kind to us.”
Dec. 18: The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors files suit to fight the subpoenas, saying they are too broad and would violate voters' privacy.
Dec. 24: Giuliani calls County Supervisor Jack Sellers. “I’m hoping we could have a chance to have a conversation,” a transcription of Giuliani’s message to Sellers says. “I’d like to see if there’s a way that we can resolve this so that it comes out well for everyone. We’re all Republicans, I think we have the same goal. … Let’s see if we can get this done outside of the court, gosh.” Sellers does not return the call.
2021: The ballot recount and more
Jan. 6: Biggs calls Bowers and asks if he would support decertifying Arizona's electors. Bowers says he would not. Later that day, Biggs stands on the floor of the House of Representatives and urges his colleagues to set aside electors from Arizona, Georgia and other states. Before the House votes to reject Biggs’ arguments, hundreds of Trump supporters break into the U.S. Capitol, sparking a deadly riot.
Jan. 12: With the start of new legislative terms, Fann and state Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, who replaced the retired Farnsworth as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, reissue a subpoena to the county for its ballots and election equipment.
Feb. 5: Fann communicates with Doug Logan, who owns a small cybersecurity firm in Florida called Cyber Ninjas. This early communication would become publicly known months later in response to a public records request. Logan, at this point, already was working with Trump allies to uncover election fraud.
Feb. 8: The Arizona Senate votes on whether to hold the Board of Supervisors in contempt for not fully responding to the subpoenas. Such a vote could lead to the arrest of the county's elected supervisors. Amid tensions leading up to the vote, Hickman tells the Senate chief of staff of protests at his home — one that drew 90 angry people and evoked fears of the riot at the U.S. Capitol.
That morning, state Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, and Supervisors Bill Gates and Sellers gather in Fann’s office. Gates lays out his case: The supervisors were in court over the subpoenas, seeking direction from a judge. By the county’s reading of the law, the ballots and machines had to remain locked up for a certain period after the election. Either way, he says, the county needed clarity from the court, and a judge would decide soon.
“We’re in court to get direction," Gates remembers saying. "You don’t need to do this. Why would you?” Fann says no one will get jailed and that it is a procedural move to compel information. She takes the contempt charge to a vote on the Senate floor. Boyer is the lone Republican to vote against it, leading to its defeat.
“My no vote today will give the board time to resolve itself on how to legally proceed with providing these public records for independent sunshine and scrutiny, while also providing 100% protection for the private nature of an individual’s vote," Boyer says.
Feb. 23: Auditors hired by the county found no malicious hardware on voting machines, the machines were not connected to the internet, and the machines were programmed to tabulate ballots accurately.
Feb. 26: Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomason rules the legislative subpoenas are valid. County officials say they will work to provide the materials.
Feb. 27: Fann sends a text message to Waldron, the retired Army colonel and Trump ally who cast himself as an election-security expert, to inquire about Logan, the Cyber Ninjas CEO. Fann says she felt "more comfortable" after Waldron vouched for Logan.
March 10: Hundreds of people flock to Queen Creek, southeast of Phoenix, for an event promoted by the Arizona Republican Party: "The Mike Lindell Election Integrity, Faith and Freedom” event, which was sponsored by We the People Alliance AZ. “Arizona is going to pave the way,” Lindell, the CEO of My Pillow and an ardent Trump supporter, says to cheers. “We are chosen for such a time as this by God.”
March 31: Fann announces Cyber Ninjas will lead the Senate's audit. The firm has no election auditing experience, but Logan has touted widespread election fraud claims on social media. Election experts say the $150,000 price tag is too low and raises concerns about partisanship, the time frame and the lack of transparency.
April 22: The Arizona Democratic Party and county Supervisor Gallardo sue to stop the audit because of security and other concerns. The lawsuit is filed the same day the county begins delivering the ballots, voting machines and other requested materials to Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, which is leased for the hand recount.
April 23: Journalists initially are denied entry to observe the audit unless they sign up as a volunteer observer. The recount begins with one reporter in the coliseum who signed up to work a six-hour shift as a volunteer observer. The Republic's Jen Fifield questions Cyber Ninjas' CEO about blue pens she spots on the recount tables. Voting machines can read black and blue ink, which is why recounts should use an alternative color. After checking, Logan has blue pens removed and replaced with green pens before any real ballots are taken out of the boxes.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury, concerned by uncertainties about the audit procedures, orders the Arizona Senate to "pause" its recount if the state Democratic Party, which asked for the halt, posts a $1 million bond to cover any costs from the delay. The Democratic Party does not post the bond, and the audit continues.
April 27: Local journalists obtain limited access to the coliseum during the recount.
April 28: A judge requires Cyber Ninjas to provide the audit procedures it fought to keep secret.
April 30: Republic reporter Ryan Randazzo is removed from the coliseum and told his press privileges are revoked after posting a photo showing a former Republican legislator at a ballot-counting table. The photo shows a ballot, with no markings discernible, on a vertical stand in front of former state Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale. The Senate later reverses its revocation of Randazzo's access.
May 5: The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division sends a letter questioning the Arizona Senate about the audit’s security and potential for voter intimidation.
May 6: The Republic reports that efforts to recruit people to recount ballots appear targeted in part at traditionally conservative groups — and some of the recruiters have far-right political ties.
May 7: Fann drops a controversial plan to go door to door to ask local residents about their voting history as part of its audit. The decision to halt the canvassing portion of the audit is in response to the DOJ's inquiry.
May 7: Maricopa County officials refuse to provide access to its computer routers. Sheriff Paul Penzone calls the demand "mind-numbingly reckless and irresponsible," saying it could compromise law enforcement data.
May 12: Fann asks county officials to meet to answer questions, saying she wants to "constructively resolve these issues and questions without recourse to additional subpoenas or other compulsory process." The audit's Twitter account strikes a different tone, accusing the county of deleting election databases and spoliation of evidence.
May 14: The original deadline to complete the hand recount comes and goes. The Senate has extended its coliseum lease through June 30.
May 15: Trump alleges, among other things, "The entire Database of Maricopa County in Arizona has been DELETED!" and calls it an "election crime." Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican elected in November, responds on Twitter: "Wow. This is unhinged. I’m literally looking at our voter registration database on my other screen. Right now."
May 17: Sellers blasts Fann for trying to legitimize "a grift disguised as an audit." As for the files Fann said were missing, the county says contractors likely failed to properly download or search the county's databases, which made it so database and directories appeared to be missing. "We wouldn’t be asked to do this on-the-job training if qualified auditors had been hired to do this work," Sellers says. The Senate's contractors would later tell Fann that they found the files in question.
May 20: Arizona's top election official, Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, says she may not allow the county to reuse hundreds of vote-counting machines provided, after a subpoena, to Fann's contractors. Replacing the machines could cost millions.
May 22: An email obtained by The Republic shows a nonprofit started by former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne will handle background checks, nondisclosure agreements and volunteer agreements of audit workers. Byrne's nonprofit also is raising money for the audit. Byrne wrote "The Deep Rig," a book turned movie claiming election fraud.
May 24: Scottsdale-based technology company StratTech Solutions takes over running the hand count when Pennsylvania-based Wake TSI doesn't renew its contract past May 14.
June 2: The audit is a boon to the Arizona Republican Party, which has raised far more money this year than it did at this point last year, The Republic reports. Leaders in other states are paying attention. Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a Republican, visits the coliseum with colleagues and says he wants an Arizona-style audit in his state. Others from states such as Alaska, Wisconsin and Georgia follow.
June 3: Maricopa County election data is in a "secure lab" in Montana, or maybe a log cabin in the woods. The Republic reports that a contractor hired by the Arizona Senate is reviewing the election data from an undisclosed location in Montana, with no oversight from state or county officials.
June 26: The CEO of the company leading the audit appears in a new movie called "The Deep Rig" that asserts the election was stolen from Trump. "If we don’t fix our election integrity now, we may no longer have a democracy," Logan says in the film that premiered in Phoenix. The film is based on a book by Byrne and features former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
June 28: Maricopa County will not reuse voting machines that were in the custody of the Senate's contractors. The county Board of Supervisors sends a letter to the Arizona secretary of state that the board shares her concerns about whether the hundreds of vote-counting machines that they had to give the Senate's contractors are safe to use, in part considering the contractors are not certified to handle election equipment in the U.S.
June 30: The Republic files a special action in Maricopa County Superior Court seeking financial records and communications about the audit from the Senate and lead contractor Cyber Ninjas.
July 1: The county's ballots and voting machines are moved out of the coliseum as the Senate's lease ends and into a swamp-cooled building at the state fairgrounds.
July 8: Fann says the Senate will conduct its own recount of the total number of county ballots cast in the general election. The Senate purchased two paper-counting machines to serve as a check on the work done by its contractor and county elections officials. But the attorney hired by the Cyber Ninjas to help run its audit is now helping the Senate with its check, raising questions about its independence.
July 14: County supervisors vote to spend $2.8 million to buy new voting equipment to replace the machines that were in custody of the Senate's contractors during the review.
July 15: Logan meets with Fann and Petersen in a public hearing to share some of his findings and what he needs to complete the review, including the county's routers.
July 23: A thunderstorm leads to a leaky roof at the state fairgrounds building where the review continues. Workers quickly move ballot boxes away from the leaks and cover boxes with tarps. "No ballots are at risk," an audit spokesperson says.
July 23: Ken Bennett, whom state Senate leaders put in charge as their liaison to the election review, is banned from the building where the work is happening and weighs stepping down. The decision to block Bennett came after learning he secretly shared initial results from a new ballot count with an outside group, according to Randy Pullen, another Senate spokesperson and former chairman of the state GOP. Bennett eventually regains access and continues in his role.
July 26: GOP Senate leaders file another subpoena for the county's routers and other election items. They also issue a subpoena to Dominion Voting Systems for user names, passwords, tokens and pins to its machines.
July 29: Workers at the state fairgrounds load nearly 2.1 million ballots onto trucks and return them to the county, ending the more than three-month process of reviewing ballots and other election equipment. And Cyber Ninjas releases long-sought details on who funded the audit, which was far pricier than the $150,000 that the state Senate agreed to pay. A handful of nonprofits whose leaders pushed the election fraud narrative have poured more than $5.6 million into the audit so far. Among the leaders are Byrne, Flynn, former Trump attorney Sidney Powell and far-right One America News Network correspondent Christina Bobb.
Aug. 2: County supervisors and Dominion Voting Systems refuse to produce election materials in response to the Senate's new subpoenas. "The board has real work to do and little time to entertain this adventure in never-never land," Sellers says.
Aug. 5: Fann and other Republicans in her caucus are fighting to keep secret the records of the audit despite a judge's order that they "immediately" hand over all communications related to the effort.
Aug. 18: County supervisors lodge a notice of claim with the Arizona Senate for more than $2.8 million it spent replacing vote-counting machines that were potentially compromised as a result of the election review.
Aug. 23: The Cyber Ninjas' draft report is expected this day, but instead, Fann announces Logan and several members of his team are sick with COVID-19.
Aug. 26: Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich says the county could lose millions in state-shared funding if it doesn't turn over routers the state Senate subpoenaed.
Aug. 30: Fann had put canvassing on hold as part of the audit, but a local group continues its efforts to go door to door to learn more about voters. Chandler real estate agent Liz Harris has led a canvassing effort known as the “Voter Integrity Project” since December, mobilizing thousands of volunteers, The Republic reports.
Aug. 31: The Arizona Senate releases texts and emails that offer glimpses into the audit but withholds thousands of other documents. Two judges had ordered the Senate to turn over the records. The documents show Cleta Mitchell, a prominent Republican attorney who advised Trump as he tried to overturn the 2020 election, helped set up an escrow account to funnel money to companies working on the audit. The documents also show the state Senate hired Shiva Ayyadurai, a conspiracy theorist and anti-vaccine activist, to review voter signatures on the county's mail-in ballot envelopes.
Sept. 3: The Republic reports Arizona taxpayers have footed nearly $425,000 for the costs of the audit Senate Republicans are conducting, with thousands of dollars more in bills yet to come. The largest expense is for $223,000 in legal fees paid through July, followed by $68,100 for security costs at the state fairgrounds in May, state records show.
Sept. 15: Fann directs the CEO of Cyber Ninjas to turn over all communications related to the election audit after the Arizona Supreme Court upheld a lower court's order for the Senate to make the Cyber Ninjas' documents public as part of a public-record lawsuit. The Republic and a left-leaning watchdog group called American Oversight both sued the Senate when Fann and the other members did not grant requests for emails, texts and other communications concerning the audit.
Sept. 16: Fann says the Arizona Senate will receive the audit report at 1 p.m. Sept. 24.
Sept. 17: County supervisors and state Senate leaders strike a settlement related to reviewing the county's routers as part of the election review. The county raised security concerns about giving the Senate's contractors access to the routers. Under the deal, the contractors will not have access to the routers, but the county will hire former U.S. Rep. John Shadegg to answer the Senate's questions about the routers. The county also agrees to no longer seek Senate repayment for potentially compromised voting machines.
Sept. 22: County Supervisor Steve Chucri announces he will resign after recordings surface of him talking about the 2020 election and his county colleagues. In the leaked recordings, Chucri bashed other supervisors for their lack of support for the Senate's audit and indicated he thought there were fraudulent votes cast in the election. Chucri, in announcing his resignation, said the comments were made at a "very turbulent time" and that "the election was not stolen. (Joe) Biden won."
Sept. 23: An early version of the Cyber Ninjas' report obtained by The Republic shows that the hand recount confirmed what was announced in November: Biden won. The draft reports reviewed by The Republic minimize the ballot counts and instead focus on issues that raise questions about the election process and voter integrity. Meanwhile, American Oversight asks a judge to find the Arizona Senate in contempt of a court order for not turning over Cyber Ninjas' emails and other records from the election audit.
Sept. 24: Results of the election review are presented to the Arizona Senate Republicans who ordered it. Election conspiracists loyal to Trump had believed a thorough review would show county elections officials didn't get it right, but Fann dashes their hopes. She confirms in her opening remarks the hand recount of ballots shows Biden won the election in Maricopa County, cementing his win in Arizona. “That is a true statement," Fann says as a packed audience in the Senate gallery listens quietly.
She adds, though, that she believes there were "broken statutes" and flawed election procedures — issues she will turn over to the state attorney general to investigate. In a letter to Brnovich, Fann says the Senate is already working on legislation to ensure Arizona has “an unimpeachable election process.”
Sept. 26: Election experts say the Arizona Senate had a chance to do something extraordinary when it set out to audit the county's election results but instead hired partisan contractors who didn't have knowledge of elections and used questionable methods. The results, they say, did nothing to strengthen elections. The Senate's election review only sows doubts — just as it was designed to do, they say.
Sept. 28: Arizona Attorney General Brnovich, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate, takes initial steps to investigate the 2020 presidential election, directing the county to hold onto records and asking the Senate to share evidence gathered by its contractors.
Meanwhile, the results of the election review don't stop misinformation. A far-right news outlet, Gateway Pundit, publishes a doctored version of the Cyber Ninjas' draft report saying Maricopa County's election should be decertified. Logan, who led the ballot review, told The Republic he never recommended decertifying the county's election.
Nov. 1: Fann announces she will retire from the Legislature when her current term ends in January 2023.
Nov. 15: Three nationally recognized election experts issue a report saying Cyber Ninjas' hand count cannot be validated or replicated. Their report comes after reviewing tallies on every vote counted by the Cyber Ninjas. The Senate on Nov. 1 released nearly 80,000 images of tally sheets related to the hand count. "We have tried dozens of ways to include and exclude various boxes and batches to arrive at those precise figures and have been unable to replicate their announced results," The Audit Guys write. Logan calls the claims "outlandish," false and libelous. Logan does not respond to questions about the report or identify anything in it that he considered untrue.
Nov. 23: Boyer, who cast the deciding vote against holding the Board of Supervisors in contempt for not responding fully to the Senate subpoenas, says he will leave the Legislature when his term expires in January 2023. The Glendale Republican describes a "toxic" atmosphere at the Capitol and says he's lost the enthusiasm to seek a third Senate term amid what was likely to be a bruising primary challenge.
Dec. 22: Public-records lawsuits filed by the nonprofit organization American Oversight and another filed by The Arizona Republic continue to be heard in Arizona courts. Every ruling in the cases has ordered Cyber Ninjas to turn over records with a nexus to the audit, but the firm thus far has failed to do so.
Cyber Ninjas, in addition to arguing unsuccessfully that audit-related documents are not public records, contends it can't afford the cost of producing records, nor the cost of preparing a detailed log of redacted items. The Republic's attorney, David Bodney, sent a letter to Cyber Ninjas' law firm warning that The Republic likely will seek legal fees not only from Cyber Ninjas but from their lawyers as well because they continue to withhold the records.
"Cyber Ninjas’ flouting of the Arizona Public Records Law has been enabled through its assertion of meritless legal positions, its disobedience of court orders, its repetition of rejected legal theories, and its interpretation of those orders in a manner that twists them beyond recognition," Bodney wrote.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona election audit: A timeline of how we got here