GOP Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona on Thursday pushed Maricopa County officials for answers as to why files were deleted from election servers prior to them being turned over to auditors.
At an Arizona Senate hearing last month, cybersecurity expert and audit team member Ben Cotton testified that the county failed to preserve multiple election-related files and logs.
During a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing in Washington, Biggs first asked audit liaison Ken Bennett whether it is standard practice to delete files from a server after an election.
Bennett, Arizona’s secretary of state from 2009 to 2015, responded, “I hope not.”
Biggs then turned to Maricopa County Board of Supervisors member Bill Gates and asked if he agreed.
“I would say that it is appropriate to maintain files, and that’s exactly what we did. The deleted files have been discussed. They were archived,” he said.
Biggs then confirmed that the archived files were not released to the audit team.
“They did not subpoena those. That is correct,” Gates said, drawing a chuckle from Biggs.
“OK, so you didn’t feel obligated to turn that over, then?” the congressman queried.
“We responded to the subpoena,” Gates reiterated.
Biggs then turned to Bennett for his reaction to Gates’ explanation.
“I find it frankly laughable to suggest that a county in response to a subpoena could say, ‘We will delete files from the hard drives and materials that we give to the auditors because we have those files archived on data that we did not give to the auditors,’ when the subpoena said, ‘Turn over all the records related to the election,’” Bennett said.
Biggs then said Maricopa County had tweeted that “the purging of the 2020 election database in the beginning of February is a standard practice.
“Can you please confirm for me that that’s what you do for all elections?” Biggs asked Gates.
“I cannot confirm that for you today, but we can certainly get you that answer, congressman,” Gates replied.
Biggs next asked Board of Supervisors chairman Jack Sellers if he could.
“I really can’t confirm that either today,” Sellers answered.
The chairman explained that files are deleted in order to make room on the servers for the next election.
“Can you explain to me why data was still present from prior elections on the databases in and of itself?” Biggs followed up.
Gates said he did not have an answer, and Sellers promised County Recorder Stephen Richer would respond to all the issues raised by the audit.
“That’s the same recorder that campaigned that Adrian Fontes was incompetent and called him a criminal, and he was the guy that was running the 2020 election,” Biggs said.
Fontes, a Democrat, narrowly lost a re-election bid to Richer in November.
In January 2019, the Arizona Republic reported that the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, which is Republican-controlled, voted unanimously to look into taking greater responsibility for election oversight following what the outlet described as a “chaotic” 2018 midterm election.
Gates confirmed at Thursday’s hearing that the board did in fact get more involved in “Election Day operations.”
Following the release of the Maricopa County audit, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office announced it would be investigating its findings.
On Sept. 27, his office sent a letter to Maricopa County officials directing them to preserve all relevant information related to the 2020 general election.
The Arizona Senate’s report “raises some serious questions regarding the 2020 election,” Brnovich said in a news release. “Arizonans can be assured our office will conduct a thorough review of the information we receive.”
In a Sept. 24 letter to Brnovich, Senate President Karen Fann highlighted Cotton’s discovery of the missing log entries.
Senate President Karen Fann’s letter to Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, concerning the Maricopa County Forensic Audit pic.twitter.com/TYOb1zRiEr
— Republican Party of Arizona (@AZGOP) September 25, 2021
“The audit found that Maricopa County overwrote the entire activity log in its Election Management System. This was accomplished by churning more than 37,000 identical queries several days after the court ordered Maricopa County to produce its election materials to the Arizona State Senate,” she wrote.
In his presentation to the state Senate, Cotton said the oldest date on the security log is Feb. 5 of this year.
He alleged there was “clear intentional overwriting of the security logs” which took place in February and March and the day before the auditors received the election materials in April.
In a document released this week, the county explained the February activity as “standard archival steps” and preparation for a March local election.
The county said the March activity was in compliance with the Senate’s subpoena, and April’s was to prepare the server for shipment.
In an email to The Western Journal, Maricopa County communications director Fields Moseley offered the same explanation for the deleted files that Gates gave Biggs.
“During the November 2020 General Election, the County created daily backups of the [Election Management System] Database and Election files,” Moseley wrote. “These files have been maintained and safely secured. Despite claims to contrary, the Senate never subpoenaed or asked for these backup logs or archives.”
He further explained that though archiving election data is standard practice, “some data from previous elections could have remained on the server through that process.”