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Unprecedented Challenge To Biden's Presidential Win Is Underway In Arizona

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Nearly five months after the presidential election was certified in Arizona, an unprecedented challenge to President Biden's narrow win in that state is underway. On Friday, a private company began a hand recount of more than 2 million ballots in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix. The audit was ordered by the Republican-led state Senate and follows false claims by some Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, of fraud in the 2020 elections. This audit is also interfering with the efforts by Republicans who control the legislature to pass new voting legislation. Ben Giles with member station KJZZ joins us now from Phoenix. Hello.

BEN GILES, BYLINE: Hello.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They can't seem to let it go. So tell us about this audit. How did it come about?

GILES: Well, it started in December when Republicans first demanded an audit of the election, specifically in Maricopa County, the largest county in the state. Their original subpoena was to gain access to ballots and the county's voting systems. It was tied to an effort to try to upset Biden's victory before it could be certified by Congress. Maricopa County election officials, Democratic senators, the state Democratic Party - they want nothing to do with this. They say it's a sham run for conspiracy theorists by conspiracy theorists. Now that the election is over and Biden is in office, those Republicans are saying they just want to find any problems, if there are any, so they can introduce bills to fix them. And here's Doug Logan - he's the CEO of Cyber Ninjas, the firm the Senate hired to run the audit - speaking about what he thinks is the purpose of all this.

DOUG LOGAN: There's a lot of Americans here, myself included, that are really bothered the way our country is being ripped apart right now. We want a transparent audit to be in place so that people can trust that - the results, so we can get everyone on the same page.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. The founder of this firm, Cyber Ninjas - catchy name - had already tweeted with no evidence that he believed election fraud took place and that, quote, "people better get wise fast." I mean, his firm seems like a problematic choice for this audit, to say the least.

GILES: It has definitely been a low-hanging fruit for critics of this audit. Logan, speaking to reporters here in Arizona for the first time on Thursday, claimed his personal beliefs are irrelevant to the work he's doing. He told reporters, just focus on the audit. Focus on the process. The only problem with that is the audit has been anything but transparent. For example, we don't know who's paying for it or how much it costs. They refused to say. We do know, though, that Logan's firm has been accepting private donations from some folks who have spread election conspiracy theories.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So then what happens next in this?

GILES: Well, it'll be weeks until the work is complete. The firm has until May 14 - that's when their lease is up at a local stadium where the audit and recount are being conducted. And then it could be weeks after that before the Senate Republicans are delivered a final report on what they found or didn't find. The concern, though, is that, even if it comes up clean, it's just not going to change the minds of people who believe in their hearts that Trump won somehow.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I understand this audit has also, though, caused a rift among Republican lawmakers. What happened?

GILES: Yeah, Republican senators were about to pass a bill that would have impacted Arizona's early voting system, but one Republican senator voted against it. Senator Kelly Townsend said it doesn't make sense to fast-track election bills until after this audit is complete. Now, because Republicans hold a one-vote majority in the state Senate, her vote sunk the bill. All Democrats have opposed it throughout the legislative process. Democrats say this is an unnecessary change that's just going to make it harder for people to vote.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, briefly, what would that main bill do?

GILES: So it would remove some voters from the state's permanent early voting list that automatically mails you a ballot for every election in which you're eligible to vote. The bill says that if you don't use that early ballot that's mailed to you in two straight two-year election cycles, officials have to notify you that you're going to be removed from the list. You would have a chance to respond and say, keep me on it. Republicans say it's important to keep that list exclusive to active voters.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Ben Giles reporting from Phoenix and our member station KJZZ. Thank you very much.

GILES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.