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Permanent election 'audit' could be staffed by Cyber Ninjas under Az Senate bill

An Arizona Senate committee voted Thursday to advance an election reform bill that would create a permanent election audit team under the umbrella of the Arizona state Legislature.

Senate Bill 1692, introduced by its principal sponsor state Senator Sonny Borrelli, a Republican from Lake Havasu, is one of 100 election reform bills proposed by Senate and House Republicans this election cycle. On Thursday, the senate committee advanced seven of those 100, including Borrelli's bill.

The team would be created under the auditor general's office, which currently does not field an elections audit team. The auditor general, who was present, was called to speak on the bill.

"This is a significant amount of work that will require my office to conduct year-round continuous election integrity audit work," said Auditor General Lindsey Perry. "We have no experience or expertise in elections laws or processes. Therefore, I would need to train and develop my experienced auditors in all things, elections, laws, policies, procedures."

Senator Martin Quezada, a Democrat from West Phoenix, echoed her sentiments and added that the auditor general would have difficulty finding qualified individuals to hire because there have been no election audits historically.

The chairwoman, state Senator Kelly Townsend, a Republican from Mesa, saw the concept of a lack of experienced election auditors as an opportunity to remind the committee of the Republican-led Cyber Ninja audit.

"I don't agree that people with experience don't exist, I don't agree to that," Townsaid said. "I asked Senator Borrelli how many people actually worked the audit, and he said about 1,500. Thank you to all of those who volunteered their time, they do have experience, so I would check the website for job openings."

The bill would also require volunteers who help citizens register to vote to register in a state database. A lobbyist representing the ACLU spoke in objection to this stipulation.

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"Requiring members of the community to register in a government database before signing up their neighbors to vote is an insidious attack on the access to the ballot," said Hugo Polanco of Creosote Partners speaking on behalf for the ACLU of Arizona. "This bill also requires Cyber Ninja style sham reviews that only target our largest and most diverse counties. It is clear this attempt to undermine elections access is targeting people of color."

Senator Townsend took quick offense to the accusation, shutting off the speaker and letting him know he couldn't make that accusation in her committee. The ACLU rep later explained the bill was unconstitutional, citing the First Amendment and the bill not being narrowly tailored enough to prevent the impediment of free speech.

The bill's sponsor, Senator Borrelli, drew on inspiration from the pulpit to describe his vision for this bill and Arizona.

"We're going to be starting something new," said Senator Borelli explaining his vote. "And we're going to be leading the way and setting the gold standard for other states to handle this. We'll be able to go state to state spread this Billy Graham style and tell them how to do things and do it right."

The bill passed the Republican-majority committee 4-3 along party lines. The bill will be read on the Senate floor. If passed, it will be sent to the House for review.

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