The Arizona State Senate hired a private firm, whose owner is a Trump supporter, to conduct an audit of the 2020 ballots in Maricopa County. Election officials fear that the voting machines may have been manipulated. Replacing the machines are likely to cost $6 million.

The Arizona Republic writes:

The Arizona Senate gave contractors unfettered and unmonitored access to Maricopa County’s vote-counting machines for an audit of the county’s general election results, raising the question of whether the equipment is safe to use for future elections.

It could take a lot of time and money to determine that, due to strict federal and state laws along with local rules for certifying and protecting election equipment.

For now, county officials are promising voters they will use only certified equipment for elections and not equipment “that could pose a risk to free and fair elections,” said Megan Gilbertson, spokesperson for the county’s Elections Department.

Private companies and individuals having access to government-used voting machines are unprecedented in Arizona.

The Senate’s contractors, including Florida-based cybersecurity firm Cyber Ninjas and  others who the Senate and Cyber Ninjas have refused to name, got the equipment last month only after a court ruled that the county had to turn it over in response to Senate-issued subpoenas.

Now that much of the equipment is back, county officials are “working with our attorneys on next steps, costs and what will be needed to ensure only certified equipment is used in Maricopa County, Gilbertson said.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency that certifies all voting systems used in U.S. elections, recommends that any time the rules or procedures for maintaining and securing voting systems — known as the chain of custody — are broken or could have been broken, that the equipment is completely retested under state and county rules, said Mona Harrington, executive director of the commission.

Harrington did not say whether the chain of custody was broken in this instance.

Matt Masterson, a former leader of election security at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, told The Arizona Republic that this kind of review can take weeks to months and cost $100,000 or more, depending on what processes are used.

Considering this, Masterson said it might not be worth it for the county to use the machines again.

“It’s a really hard call for the county,” he said. “It’s a tough situation.”

The county leases its voting machines through a three-year, $6.1 million contract with Dominion Voting Systems. It’s unclear if the county can break that contract if needed, and how much it would cost to replace the machines.

Senate received hundreds of machines

Maricopa County gave the Senate its election equipment, 2.1 million ballots, voter rolls and other election information in response to subpoenas Senate Republican leaders issued in January.

The Senate then handed everything over to contractors, some of whom they have named and some of whom they have refused to name, to audit the county’s November 2020 election results.

What is known about who is involved is concerning to many election consultants. Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas, has touted unfounded claims of election fraud online, and much of the recruiting for the review of ballots was done by right-wing groups.

[Read the rest of the article if it’s not behind a pay wall. It’s fascinating.]