Following a six-month investigation of the Maricopa County Forensic Audit of the 2020 election, Attorney General Mark Brnovich released his Interim Report on Wednesday, validating widely held concerns of errors, oversight, and election fraud. Substantiating those fighting for election integrity, the AG confirmed, “We have reached the conclusion that the 2020 election in Maricopa County revealed serious vulnerabilities that must be addressed and raises questions about the 2020 election in Arizona.” 

In a 12-page letter to the Honorable Karen Fann, Brnovich communicated concerns over the “potential vulnerabilities” in the state’s election systems, including those highlighted in the audit. Though limited in what he can presently disclose, Brnovich affirmed that the AG’s General Election Integrity Unit (EIU) has uncovered instances of election fraud in its ongoing examination and shared the current status of their review. 

Arizona State Senate President Karen Fann responds to AG’s Interim Report

Reporting that Maricopa County’s early ballot signature verification system is “insufficient to guard against abuse,” the EUI declared system-wide issues connected to early ballot handling and verification. Likewise, the review found that in “multiple instances,” the county failed to follow essential procedures when transporting early ballots from drop locations to the election headquarters. Significantly, the AG estimated that “between 100,000 and 200,000 ballots were transported without a proper chain of custody.” The report adds:

“Because most voters in Arizona now choose to vote by early ballot, it is imperative that the processes for handling and verification of early ballots be strengthened before the 2022 elections per our recommendations below.” 

The report is broken down into seven sections, discussing document production issues the EIU has confronted in Maricopa County as well as spotlighting election integrity concerns and recommendations surrounding early ballot signature verification, ballot drop boxes, use of private grant monies by election officials, election document preservation and transparency, and its ongoing actions to defend election integrity in active litigation. Brnovich provides a summary conclusion at the end of each section, with several highlighted below.

Document Preservation and Production Issues

The Interim Report notes that the AG’s office has been sending repeated requests for information from Maricopa County, adding that the investigation is still developing. They point out that civil and criminal investigations of this magnitude and complexity take months, if not years, to complete. Nonetheless, to address the incredible “deficiencies and delays in the manner in which Maricopa County has chosen to cooperate with EIU,” the report suggests changing the laws to require the immediate production of information when requested by the AG. The AG’s office is currently limited to submitting public records requests for information.

Early Voting Signature Verification

The AG’s office reached three primary conclusions on the critical issue of early voting signature verification. First, they state the obvious, declaring Arizona’s early ballot signature verification system “may be insufficient to guard against abuse.” To rectify this, they recommend the law be amended to provide more security for early ballots, including a requirement for some additional form of government identification.

Second, the Interim Report states the “verification standard set forth in statute is insufficient to control the discretion of local officials and must be addressed by legislation.” Given how important this check is, they explain that the requirement to compare signatures should be expanded and clarified to explain what specific steps election officials must take, including the minimum amount of time spent reviewing each signature.

Third, the office points out that since signature verification is “the most important current check on early ballots,” there must be opportunities for election observers from all parties to meaningfully observe the signature verification process in real-time and raise objections if needed.

Early Ballot Drop Boxes

Brnovich and his team established that Maricopa County failed to follow the 2019 EPM procedures when transporting 20 percent of the early ballots from dropbox locations to the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center (MCTEC). Furthermore, because the Secretary of State (SoS) failed to present the AG a “lawful EPM for approval in 2021,” as required by the statute, there is currently no EPM in place governing the 2022 elections, “exacerbating the issue for the upcoming election.” 

The report maintains the Arizona Legislature should codify ballot custody and transportation procedures for early ballots as established by the U.S. Election Commission. It also recommends the legislature install laws to increase transparency in early ballot chain of custody, including the ability of observers from political parties to monitor the process. Additionally, due to security issues associated with early-voted ballots sitting in bins and containers in remote locations, the legislature should enact laws that either prohibit drop box locations altogether or limit them to early ballot voting centers, polling day locations, or other secure and adequately staffed and monitored locations.

Looking Ahead

Brnovich states that the Office is actively protecting election integrity for the upcoming 2022 election and “successfully defending its election integrity laws in active litigation.” Still, with each passing election, the Interim Report claims that “Americans on all sides of the political spectrum have less confidence in the integrity of our elections.” Reiterating the significant holes left to be answered and addressed in the 2020 election in Maricopa County and across the nation, Brnovich points out that the “dilemma” surrounding confidence in elections is not “regulated to Republicans and the 2020 election,” adding:

“Democrats spent years in uproar over the 2000 election after George W. Bush defeated Al Gore. And they viciously questioned President Trump’s election in 2016. Congressional Democrats also challenged the Electoral College count several times over the past two decades when their candidate lost the race. It is dishonest to pretend that the 2020 election concerns are unprecedented. Both sides have had their share of issues with election processes and procedures, and it is time for Americans’ elected representatives to put aside political differences and do what is necessary to reassure their constituents that every legal vote counts.”