Feds Want Answers From AZ Senate President On Sketchy ‘Audit’ Practices

PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 01: Contractors working for Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate, examine and recount ballots from the 2020 general election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 1, 2021 in Phoeni... PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 01: Contractors working for Cyber Ninjas, who was hired by the Arizona State Senate, examine and recount ballots from the 2020 general election at Veterans Memorial Coliseum on May 1, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Maricopa County ballot recount comes after two election audits found no evidence of widespread fraud. (Photo by Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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May 6, 2021 10:30 a.m.

The U.S. Justice Department has its eyes on the shady “audit” of 2020 election results in Arizona’s largest county.

The audit of Maricopa County, which contains the majority of the state’s population and voted by a slight margin for Joe Biden in 2020, hasn’t smelled right for weeks: It was commissioned by the GOP-controlled state Senate over the objections of the county. It’s being performed by a contractor whose CEO promoted wild conspiracy theories. And it’s accepting donations from anonymous Trump dead-enders desperate for a way to keep up the narrative that Trump’s second term was stolen.

In a letter to Senate President Karen Fann (R) Tuesday, Pamela Karlan, the principal deputy assistant attorney general in the DOJ’s civil rights division, said the federal government had… “concerns.”

The first issue, Karlan wrote, was the security of actual elections materials, which include Maricopa’s 2.1 million ballots, in the audit venue — the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds.

“We have concern that Maricopa County election records, which are required by federal law to be retained and preserved, are no longer under the ultimate control of elections officials, are not being adequately safeguarded by contractors, and are at risk of damage or loss,” Karlan wrote.

She cited local news reports — like a local reporter who was able to roam around the coliseum, through open doors, without encountering any security for several days in a row, just before the audit began. On the audit’s first day, Arizona Republic reporter Jen Fifield noted that audit workers were using blue pens, which could end up spoiling ballots because voters also often use blue ink. A judge later ordered the auditors to keep all blue and black pens away from the facility.

Karlan then flagged a practice written out in a statement of work from Cyber Ninjas, the company leading the audit: Looking for voter registrations that, in some way, “did not make sense,” and then knocking on doors to confirm if actual voters lived there.

The same statement of work says that auditors will call and physically canvas voters in precincts that “have a high number of anomalies based on publicly available voting data and data from prior canvassing efforts.”

The federal government, Karlan wrote, is suspicious.

“This description of the proposed work of the audit raises concerns regarding potential intimidation of voters,” she said.

“Past experience with similar investigative efforts around the country has raised concerns that they can be directed at minority voters, which potentially can implicate the anti-intimidation prohibitions of the Voting Rights Act,” she wrote. “Such investigative efforts can have a significant intimidating effect of qualified voters that can deter them from seeking to vote in the future.”

Karlan cc’ed the acting U.S. attorney in Arizona, as well as the state’s attorney general and secretary of state, and the recorder in the Maricopa County. She asked Fann to respond to the DOJ’s concerns, but the message was clear: We’ve got our eyes on you.

The letter comes as voter advocates have called for the federal government to get involved in the audit. The Brennan Center and other groups wrote to the DOJ recently and outlined the same concerns about the audit practices as Karlan flagged in her letter Wednesday. That letter ended with a call on the Justice Department’s voting section to send federal monitors to the audit site as soon as possible.

“Ballots that are protected under federal law are in imminent danger of being stolen, defaced, or irretrievably damaged, and Arizona citizens are in imminent danger of being subject to unlawful voter intimidation as a result of flawed audit procedures,” the Brennan Center letter concluded.

The Senate’s spokesperson for the audit, Ken Bennett, did not return TPM’s request for comment on the DOJ letter Thursday morning. But the audit has made its views on outside involvement clear: After Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs wrote Bennett a separate letter earlier Wednesday outlining her own concerns, the audit’s Twitter page told her and the feds to, basically, buzz off.

“Democrat SoS @katiehobbs who does not support election audits or transparency now wants the Federal Government to get involved in the Arizona Senate forensic audit,” the account wrote.

“Arizona has the authority to conduct this audit without interference from the Feds!”

Read Karlan’s letter below:

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