An Arizona GOP official resigned his election recount job, complaining of a lack of transparency, then un-resigned

Arizona audit
Former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett (second from left) at the vote recount in Phoenix, Arizona, in May 2021.

  • Te official acting as liaison between the Arizona audit and lawmakers, resigned Wednesday.
  • Ken Bennett complained he’d been denied access to data, but later reversed his decision to quit.
  • The audit has been beset by accusations that it is being conducted in a shambolic way.
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A Republican official serving as a liaison between the Arizona state senate and the private contractor conducting a election recount on its behalf resigned on Wednesday, but changed his mind soon after.

Ken Bennett, a former Arizona secretary of state, told a conservative radio host Wednesday that Cyber Ninjas, the contractor conducting the review, had denied him access to the venue where the recount was taking place.

The audit is going over votes from Marciopa County, which Joe Biden won in the 2020 presidential election, wresting Arizona from Donald Trump and contributing to his election victory.

Bennett was barred from the site last Friday after sharing part of the auditors’ vote tally with independent election experts, reported the Arizona Republic.

The outlet said it correlated with the vote recorded by election officials in the county last November, appearing to disprove the claims of mass election fraud pushed Donald Trump and his allies.

hose claims have also been rejected several other ways, including by the court system.

Two independent audits conducted last year in Maricopa Coiunty found the vote tally was accurate.

“I’ve always tried to act as a man of integrity and honesty and I’m sure I don’t accomplish that all the time, but I cannot put a rubber stamp on a product I am being locked out of its development,” Bennett told radio host James Harris Wednesday.

“I’m going to step down today. I’ll issue a statement later for the press later this morning.”

But when contacted by NBC News on later, Bennett said that after talking with Senate President Karen Fann, also a Republican, he had decided not to resign after all.

“It will include me continuing as Senate Liaison,” he said in the message. He did not provide the outlet with a reason for changing his mind.

Fann in a statement Thursday quoted Bennett apologizing for publicizing data from the audit.

She shared a statement attributed to him, which said: “I shared some box counts of how many ballots were in each box, and that got leaked to the press and I apologized to Senate President Fann. I had promised that information would not be leaked to the press, but it indirectly got done, so that’s how I got barred from the audit.”

The audit has been beset by delays and controversy since it was launched in April by the Republican-controlled state senate.

Maricopa County election officials and observers from the office of the Arizona secretary of state have decried the audit as shambolic, and seemingly based on trying to prove partisan conspiracy theories about mass fraud in last year’s election.

An Republican state senator who had originally backed the audit on Thursday withdrew her support, also expressing concerns about the transparency of the process.

Former President Donald Trump has seized on the audit as part of his bid to delegitimize President Joe Biden’s election win last year, calling on legislatures in other states where he lost to conduct similar audits.

The process of examining ballots in the audit has been concluded, Cyber Ninjas said this week, and contractors are now drawing up a report based on their findings.

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An Arizona GOP state senator who backed the election audit withdrew her support, attacking the process as botched

Arizona
Contractors working for Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate, examine and recount ballots from the 2020 general election on May 3, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona.

  • Arizona state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita thinks the Maricopa County audit has been “botched.”
  • She cited poor execution and transparency as reasons for withdrawing her support.
  • The audit, drawing to a close, has been mired in controversy since being launched in March.
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Republican Arizona state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita withdrew her support for the much-criticized audit of votes from last year’s presidential election being conducted in Maricopa County.

Ugenti-Rita in a Twitter thread said that she believed the audit, which was launched in April by a firm owned by an ally of President Donald Trump, had been “botched.”

She criticized Senate President Karen Fann for the process, which was authorized by a vote from the legislature.

“I supported the audit, but I do not support the Trump audit any longer,” Ugenti-Rita said.

“I wanted to review our election processes and see what, if anything, could be improved. Sadly, it’s now become clear that the audit has been botched. The total lack of competence by @FannKfann over the last 5 months has deprived the voters of Arizona a comprehensive accounting of the 2020 election,” she wrote.

In comments to The Washington Post on Thursday she repeated her concerns, and said that she was particularly worried by the delay in concluding the audit, the lack of transparency, and the extent to which the process had been delegated to Cyber Ninjas.

She also said that Fann had failed to control expectations, allowing Trump and his allies to falsely claim the result of the audit could be used to overturn the result of the election, which Joe Biden won both in Arizona and overall.

Ugenti-Rita’s decision to withdraw support for the audit is significant because the Republicans hold a narrow one-vote majority in the Senate, meaning Fann faces potential defeat in future votes on the audit.

The GOP-controlled chamber authorized the audit in April, using around $150,000 of taxpayer money. Most of the funding came from Trump-supporting private donors.

Fann has defended the audit, saying it is necessary for restoring trust in the elections, even though there had already been two prior audits which did not reveal evidence of widespread fraud.

Insider has contacted a representative for Fann for further comment.

The audit has been beset by controversy since being launched in April, with contractors at one point searching for traces of bamboo on ballots, seeking to confirm a conspiracy theory that thousands of illegal votes were sent from China.

Maricopa County election officials and election observers from the office of the Arizona secretary of state have decried the recount as shambolic and motivated by a partisan desire to delegitimize Biden’s win.

The audit of ballots wrapped up this week, long after its projected completion date. The physical ballots were returned to Maricopa County officials, and the Cyber Ninjas is due to issue a report in the coming weeks.

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Cyber Ninjas says it has received $5.7 million in private donations to fund the Arizona ballot audit

maricopa county recount arizona
Cyber Ninjas contractors examine and recount Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election.

  • Cyber Ninjas leads the widely-criticized election audit in Maricopa County, Arizona.
  • It said it has received $5.7 million in donations toward the audit.
  • Most of the funds come from prominent Trump supporters such as Michael Flynn and Sidney Powell.
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The company contracted to audit the 2020 presidential election result in Arizona’s Maricopa County has said that it had received $5.7 million from pro-Trump groups toward the effort, according to multiple reports.

Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan announced the figures on Wednesday following an extensive request for documentation from Congress’ Oversight and Reform Committee.

The ballot audit has run since April 22 after Arizona’s GOP-led Senate contracted the cybersecurity company for a nominal taxpayer-paid fee of $150,000.

However, the company – which had no prior experience in election audits – was also allowed to collect donations toward the effort.

The Arizona Republic reporter Jen Fifeld tweeted a breakdown of the figures, which come largely from right-wing groups:

  • The largest named donor – The America Project with $3,250,000 – is led by former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, who met with Trump and the conspiracy-theorist lawyer Sidney Powell to plot contesting the result last December, The Washington Post reported.
  • Byrne has previously described the 2020 election as “rigged” and stated his intention to fund “cybersleuths” by the end of November.
  • America’s Future, which was listed as having contributed $976,000, lists former National Security Advisor and prominent Trump supporter Michael Flynn as its chair, the Associated Press reported.
  • Voices and Votes, listed as contributing $605,000, is led by Christina Bobb and Chanel Rion, correspondents for hard-right news network OANN where they have issued calls for donations, the AP reported.
  • Powell – whose multiple attempts at litigating the election have failed – is also behind a major donor, according to the AP. She fronts Defending the Republic, which Cyber Ninjas said donated $550,000.
  • LDFFTAR/EIFFTAR – known as “The Legal Defense Fund for the American Republic” – is a Palm Beach-registered nonprofit which is listed as contributing $280,000, according to Fifeld. Its website states it is raising money for audits in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

The Maricopa County audit has faced intense criticism, such as an expert review by the States United Democracy Center in June which found the effort to have “fatal flaws” in process and conception.

Despite support for the effort from the Arizona Senate, several Republicans have slammed it. Stephen Richer, Maricopa County’s Republican election recorder, called it “borderline dystopian.”

Logan, the CEO of Cyber Ninjas, has previously endorsed pro-Trump conspiracy theories about the election, and most recently agreed to be in a documentary that made false claims of election fraud.

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A Republican official stood by the original vote count in Arizona’s Maricopa County. Now he’s being barred from the Cyber Ninjas’ audit site.

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The Republican fronting the controversial vote recount in Maricopa County, Arizona, has been locked out of the audit.

  • Ken Bennett, director of Arizona’s Maricopa County audit, has been locked out of the vote recount.
  • This is after he shared sample data with external analysts that matched the official vote tally.
  • A local news outlet said Bennett was barred from the state fairgrounds, where a new vote count is underway.
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Ken Bennett, a Republican official and spokesperson for the Maricopa County election audit, was barred last week from entering the audit building.

Per the Arizona Republic, Bennett is now persona-non-grata at the ongoing recount because he shared sample data from the count with election technology analysts Larry Moore and Benny White.

According to a report from local news outlet The Arizona Republic, former Arizona Secretary of State Bennett was banned on July 23 from entering the state fairgrounds where the Maricopa County audit is still going on.

A new vote recount was ordered by Arizona Senate President Karen Fann last week. During this separate count, the 2.1 million ballots will be tallied up again via high-speed paper counters to check the Cyber Ninjas’ work.

Speaking to the news outlet, Cyber Ninjas spokesperson Rod Thomson denied barring Bennett from the premises, saying the order came from Fann’s office.

Fann suggested on July 13 that the official vote count and the Cyber Ninjas’ hand-counted tallies did not match up, which necessitated a further recount. However, the data that Bennett provided to Moore and White corroborated the county’s officially certified vote numbers. This could, potentially, call into question any results or conclusions drawn from the Cyber Ninjas’ audit.

Biden won the election in Maricopa County last November by more than 45,000 votes. Meanwhile, Trump has continued to allege that there were voter irregularities in Arizona, both in statements and at rallies.

The Maricopa County audit is being run by the Cyber Ninjas, a private Florida-based consultancy that has no prior experience handling election ballots. Doug Logan, its founder, is a “Stop the Steal” supporter who promoted several election conspiracy theories in favor of former President Donald Trump. Most recently, Logan even appeared in an election conspiracy theory film alleging the CIA was behind election misinformation.

Cyber Ninjas wants the methods it uses to recount the votes to be kept secret, citing trade secrets and proprietary equipment. But the effectiveness of the audit was called into question after workers from Cyber Ninjas were seen leaving ballots unattended and laptop computers unlocked. The Cyber Ninjas have also been criticized for investigating far-fetched theories that 40,000 Biden ballots were smuggled in from Asia, by looking for traces of bamboo and “Chinese paper” in the voting ballots.

Fann, Bennett, and the Cyber Ninjas did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.

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Trump blasted GOP Gov. Doug Ducey during Arizona rally: ‘He doesn’t do a damn thing’

Trump
Former President Donald Trump.

  • Former President Trump on Saturday criticized Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey at a Phoenix rally.
  • Trump praised Arizona conservatives who backed an audit of the Maricopa County election results.
  • In 2020, President Biden became the first Democrat to win Arizona’s electoral votes in 24 years.
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Former President Donald Trump on Saturday praised the Republican-controlled state Senate for its ongoing audit of the 2020 election results while saving plenty of time to berate GOP Gov. Doug Ducey.

At the “Rally to Protect Our Elections” in Phoenix, Trump thanked the “brave and unyielding conservative warriors in the Arizona state Senate” for proceeding with the partisan audit, which is examining the results in Maricopa County, the most populous jurisdiction in the state.

Trump then praised GOP state Senate President Karen Fann and Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward for their support in his effort to review President Joe Biden’s 10,457-vote statewide victory.

Ward, a former state senator who ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate in 2016 and 2018, was called a “fighter” by the former president. However, Ducey, a two-term governor who certified Biden’s win in Arizona last year, much to the consternation of Trump, received no such praise.

Read more: Where is Trump’s White House staff now? We created a searchable database of more than 327 top staffers to show where they all landed

“Republican Party chairwoman – somebody that has tremendous courage,” Trump said of Ward. “She’s really a fighter, and she fights your governor, who doesn’t do a damn thing.”

“I called up Kelli recently and said ‘Why wouldn’t the governor want an audit?’ Maybe everything will prove to be correct, which we know won’t happen. … When I did rallies, he always wanted to be in the front row. ‘Sir, could you mention my name please?'”

The former president added: “He wasn’t very popular … I’d introduce him and I wouldn’t get much of an applause … and I kept saying, you know, this guy’s not very popular. But now, you know what? He’s not popular with me either.”

The rallygoers cheered at Trump’s proclamation.

The former president also threw cold water on supporting Ducey in a possible 2022 US Senate campaign.

“He’s not getting my endorsement, I can tell you,” he told the crowd.

Last month, Ducey told KTAR News 92.3 FM that he looked forward to the results of the Maricopa audit, but was confident that the outcome of the race would not change in Arizona.

“I do stand behind by what I did,” he said at the time. “I know that there are people that want to complete this audit. I look forward to the findings.”

In 2020, Biden became the first Democratic presidential nominee since Bill Clinton in 1996 to secure the state’s electoral votes. When Biden won the state last year, he also carried Maricopa by a 50% to 48% margin.

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a 2022 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, has repeatedly criticized the audit process and said on Friday that Trump should “accept” his loss to Biden and “move on.”

“The bottom line is that Arizonians are tired of being led by conspiracy theorists,” she said. “They don’t support this fake audit and they’re ready for leaders who are going to put those partisan games aside and deal with real issues.”

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Donald Trump bizarrely mused about how LeBron James could get sex reassignment surgery to compete in women’s sports, video shows

Composite image of Trump, left, and LeBron James, right.
Former President Donald Trump suggested that LeBron James might eventually get sex reassignment surgery.

  • Trump, during a speech at a rally in Arizona, speculated that LeBron James might get sex reassignment surgery.
  • He suggested that the basketball player could “get the operation” to compete in women’s sports.
  • James identifies as male and has never publicly expressed a desire to transition.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

During a rambling two-hour speech in Phoenix, Arizona, on Saturday night, former President Donald Trump bizarrely mused about how basketball player LeBron James could get sex reassignment surgery.

Trump speculated that the Los Angeles Lakers star could “get the operation” in order to compete in women’s sports, he said while speaking at the “Rally to Protect Our Elections.”

The former president joked that, as the coach of a women’s sports team, he would only recruit transgender athletes. “If I were a coach, I wouldn’t be talking to too many women as we know women,” he said. “I’d be getting some of these people that … they’re ‘women.'”

Trump then suggested that James might eventually choose to transition. “Somebody said that if LeBron James ever decided to get the operation, how would he be on the court? How would he be?” he mused.

James identifies as male and has never publicly expressed a desire to undergo gender confirmation surgery.

“LeBron James, you can have him,” Trump continued before further mocking the basketball player. “Did you see the basketball ratings that were terrible? They went up after his team was defeated.”

This isn’t the first time that the former president has taken aim at James. Trump called him “racist” and “divisive” after the Los Angeles Lakers star tweeted a response to the police killing of Ohio teenager Ma’Khia Bryant in April.

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Arizona secretary of state tells Trump to ‘accept’ his election loss and ‘move on’ ahead of Phoenix rally

trump rally arizona
President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Arizona on October 19, 2020.

  • In a CNN interview Friday, the Arizona secretary of state said Trump needs to “move on” from his election loss.
  • Trump is slated to speak Saturday at a rally in Phoenix titled a “Rally to Protect Our Elections.”
  • Hobbs, a Democrat running for governor, said Trump’s visit to the state was “dangerous.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs on Friday said former President Donald Trump needed to “accept” his loss in last year’s election and “move on” ahead of his appearance at a rally in Phoenix on Saturday.

“Well, it is dangerous,” said Hobbs, a Democrat, when asked by CNN’s Jim Acosta about Trump’s upcoming visit. “I’m glad you pointed that out. But the bottom line is it doesn’t matter what he says or does, nothing is going to change the outcome of the 2020 election. But it also doesn’t change how dangerous this is.”

Hobbs said yesterday Trump should “accept” his loss to President Joe Biden and “move on” from it as the former president travels Saturday to the Arizona Federal Theater for the “Rally to Protect Our Elections” in Phoenix. The event, according to AZ Central, is hosted by the conservative nonprofit Turning Point Action. In addition to Trump’s address, the event will feature a forum with Republican candidates for Arizona governor, according to the report.

“The bottom line is that Arizonians are tired of being led by conspiracy theorists,” Hobbs, who in June announced her candidacy for Arizona governor, said. “They don’t support this fake audit and they’re ready for leaders who are going to put those partisan games aside and deal with real issues.”

Trump lost the race in Arizona in one of the key wins for Biden that afforded him the path to victory. In the months that followed his loss, Trump and his GOP allies refused to concede the race and spread baseless conspiracy theories about election safety. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in last year’s general election.

His baseless claims fueled the deadly riot at US Capitol on January 6.

Read more: Trouble is brewing for a Georgia county’s criminal investigation into Donald Trump

Republicans in the Arizona Senate late last year commissioned a controversial audit by a private firm to investigate baseless claims of voter fraud in the election. The still underway review is focused on Maricopa County, which encompasses the city of Phoenix, which Biden won by more than two percentage points.

Election officials in the state have found just 182 cases of potential voter fraud out of more than 3 million ballots cast in last year’s election, the Associated Press reported.

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People didn’t rush back to work when their unemployment benefits were cut early, a new study finds, despite what some GOP governors predicted

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey wears a black suit jacket and speaks into a microphone on a stage.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey cut federal employment benefits in the state on July 10.

  • A new study found employment fell slightly in states that cut federal unemployment benefits early.
  • Some GOP governors have blamed unemployment benefits for sluggish jobs growth.
  • The study analyzed US Census Bureau survey data from between April and July.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

People did not immediately return to work in some states that cut federal unemployment insurance (UI) early, a new analysis found.

In the 12 states that cut the benefit on either June 12 or 19, employment was largely flat in the weeks after, Arindrajit Dube, an economics professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst, found during an analysis of US Census Bureau data.

“Certainly there was no immediate boost to employment during the 2-3 weeks following the expiration of the pandemic UI benefits,” Dube said.

Twenty-six states, mostly led by Republican governors, have said they will cut – or have already cut – the federal government’s $300 weekly top up for unemployed Americans ahead of its planned September 6 expiration. Dube’s analysis focused on the impact of cutting the $300, as well as states that cut other pandemic UI programs.

Cutting UI was followed by a slight drop in the share of the population receiving benefits – but Dube found the proportion of people employed also fell slightly in these states over the same period.

Employment share rose 0.2 percentage points in states where benefits were still available, Dube said.

Read more: Slashing unemployment benefits isn’t just a terrible economic idea – it’s a cruel gut punch for millions of Americans

Dube’s study used the most recent Household Pulse Survey (HPS), which collected employment data on 18-to-65-year-olds for the April 14 to July 5 period. The HPS asked respondents whether they had received UI in the past seven days, and if they were currently in work.

Some governors and businesses have blamed unemployment benefits for sluggish growth in hiring, and said the money held back economic growth.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, who cut all federal UI programs in the state on July 10, said in a May press release that he wanted to use “federal money to encourage people to work … instead of paying people not to work.”

Dube’s findings suggest that, at least in the short term, withdrawing funding has not led to a boom in employment. We need to wait longer to understand the full impact of the cuts, he said.

Dube’s analysis is supported by an Indeed study in June, which said that overall job-search activity had declined in states that cut benefits early.

But the evidence is mixed: Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released in July showed that 13 of the 15 states where employment rates are closest to their pre-pandemic levels had cut the $300 federal UI payments early.

The number of initial UI claims unexpectedly rose to 419,000 in the week ending July 17, up 51,000 from the previous week, despite a general downward trend, according to figures from the Department of Labor.

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Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani could face criminal investigation in Arizona over their attempts to overturn election

Giuliani Trump
Rudy Giuliani watches as Donald Trump speaks.

  • Donald Trump and his allies could face a criminal investigation in Arizona.
  • Arizona’s Secretary of State asked the state Attorney General to investigate Trump allies for violating election laws.
  • Arizona GOP Chair and Trump backer Kelli Ward told Maricopa officials “we need you to stop the counting” the votes.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Donald Trump and key allies could be facing a criminal investigation in Arizona for launching a campaign to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Last week Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs wrote to the state’s Attorney General Mark Brnovich to urge him to launch a criminal investigation into Trump and his allies over the potential violations of state election laws.

Hobbs, a Democrat, made the request after reporting from The Arizona Republic revealed details of the high-pressure campaign launched by Trump and a number of his allies.

Hobbs wrote that Trump and individuals, including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Arizona GOP Chair Kelli Ward, and lawyer Sidney Powell, tried to influence Maricopa officials to stop the counting of ballots.

Hobbs cited comments made by Ward towards the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, including, “We need you to stop the counting” and “I know you don’t want to be remembered as the guy who led the charge to certify a fraudulent election.”

On Friday, Attorney General Brnovich’s office wrote to Hobbs asking for documents related to allegations of violations of election fraud, according to The Arizona Republic.

Brnovich, a Republican running for the Senate, said in the email that Hobbs had not submitted referrals for double voting.

The Arizona Republic said that the latest correspondence from Brnovich is the first public sign that he is examining records after the pressure campaign was revealed.

A spokeswoman for Hobbs told The Arizona Republic that the secretary of state was sending the required records to the Attorney General’s Office on Friday.

Donald Trump has long alleged that the results of the 2020 election were fraudulent, particularly in Arizona.

His claims have been widely debunked. An Associated Press investigation revealed that Arizona county election officials found only 182 possible voter fraud cases out of the three million ballots cast in the state in 2020.

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Arizona Gov. tells school districts they can’t force unvaccinated students to quarantine following COVID-19 exposure

Doug Ducey Arizona governor
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey

  • Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey targeted two school districts over quarantine policies for unvaccinated students.
  • The Republican said requiring certain kids to quarantine if they’ve been exposed goes against state law.
  • But lawyers for the districts argue the policies are based on state and federal public health guidelines.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey warned two school districts this week that requiring unvaccinated students to quarantine after exposure to COVID-19 is against state law.

In a letter to two superintendents on Wednesday, Ducey said the districts’ policy to mandate a 10-day quarantine for unvaccinated students who come into contact with the virus goes against a state law that prohibits schools from requiring vaccines or face masks among students.

The Republican governor’s office tweeted a copy of the letter that was sent to the Catalina Foothills Unified School District No. 16 in Pima County and the Peoria Unified School District No. 11 in Maricopa County, after the districts released guidance for parents in preparation for the impending school year.

Ducey said the policy “must be rescinded immediately” in order for all students’ education to align with the law.

But lawyers for the two districts disagreed with the governor’s characterization and asked that his letter be rescinded.

In a written response obtained by KTAR News, the attorneys argue that both districts are in full compliance with the Arizona law that forbids mask and vaccine mandates, as neither district has a mask or vaccine requirement in place.

Instead, the 10-day quarantine rule for unvaccinated students comes directly from state health and federal CDC guidance.

Arizona’s health department previously issued guidance suggesting that a person who has close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 should quarantine for 14 days from their last exposure. The guidance notes that some individuals, including those who have been vaccinated, are eligible for shortened quarantine or no quarantine at all.

Nothing in the state’s law “restricts a school district from following guidance provided by federal, state, and local public health authorities with regard to students who have been exposed to COVID-19,” attorney John C. Richardson wrote in the response letter.

Both the Arizona Department of Education State Superintendent and the Arizona School Boards Association slammed Ducey’s letter.

“I am tired of Arizona’s public schools being a leverage point for the Governor’s political conversation on COVID-19 that growingly has nothing to do with science or public health,” State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman tweeted.

A representative for Ducey did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Students attending schools in both districts head back to the classroom in less than a month.

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