In Arizona, G.O.P. senators defend their vote review but retract claims of deleted election data.
A political firestorm erupted in Arizona this week after Republican-backed reviewers of the November election in Maricopa County, the state’s largest, suggested that someone had deleted a crucial data file from election equipment that had been subpoenaed as part of the inquiry.
The county’s chief official, himself a Republican, called the charge outrageous. Former President Donald J. Trump, who has promoted the lie that the Arizona vote was rigged against him, boasted that the allegation was “devastating” evidence of irregularities.
But on Tuesday, a contractor for the Republican-controlled State Senate, which is conducting the review, said the claim had become “a moot point.” The file had been found on a set of four computer drives in the election equipment, the contractor, Ben Cotton, said at a meeting on the review convened by Republican senators.
Mr. Cotton’s effort to downplay the brouhaha fit the theme of the livestreamed meeting, in which the senators sought to cast the widely ridiculed review as a civics-lesson effort to improve election administration, not a bid to placate angry Trump supporters who refuse to accept his loss in the state.
“I’ve said from the get-go that I’m relatively sure we are not going to find anything of any magnitude that would imply any intentional wrongdoing,” the president of the State Senate, Karen Fann, said at the session. Rather, she said, the review is expected to highlight that “we could do a little better job with the chain of custody” of voting material and other technical aspects of conducting an election.
The review has nonetheless acquired a markedly partisan tilt, with senators employing a firm whose chief executive has spread conspiracy theories of an Arizona election stolen from Mr. Trump, and granting One America News and pro-Trump figures broad access to the process.
Among the ardent set of believers that Mr. Trump actually won the November election, the notion that the Arizona review will demolish all evidence of President Biden’s victory has become an article of faith.
Jack Sellers, the Republican chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, denounced the review on Monday as “a grift disguised as an audit.” Other Republicans in the county government have urged the State Senate to scrap the inquiry, saying it was an effort to undermine the November election and with it, Arizonans’ faith in democracy.
In the meeting on Tuesday, Ms. Fann and another supporter of the review, State Senator Warren Petersen, largely ignored such criticisms, while expressing frustration that county officials had decided not to cooperate with their inquiry.
The 70-minute session raised minor questions about the November election, such as a purported mismatch between some ballots that had been damaged at polling places and the duplicate ballots that were used to record those votes. But it made no broad claims of irregularities.
Mr. Cotton, the founder of a data security firm in Ashburn, Va. called CyFIR, maintained that the data file at the center of the latest dispute over the audit had indeed been deleted from election equipment hard drives. But he later indicated that he had been unable to find the file because county election officials had not given him instructions to find it.
Senator Petersen, seen by many as the prime supporter of the audit, called Mr. Cotton’s discovery of the supposedly deleted file “good news.”
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