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Justice Department asks Arizona Senate to respond to concerns about election audit

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 5/6/2021 Jen Fifield, Arizona Republic

PHOENIX — The U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division is asking Arizona Senate President Karen Fann to respond to concerns the department has about the security of ballots and potential voter intimidation as the Senate's contractors perform an audit of November's presidential election in Maricopa County.

In a letter sent to Fann on Wednesday, Pamela S. Karlan, principal deputy assistant attorney general in the division, asked for Fann's response to its concerns with an explanation of "the steps that the Arizona Senate will take to ensure that violations of federal law do not occur" during the audit.

The department's concerns may have been prompted in part by a letter it received April 29 from three organizations, including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, asking the department to dispatch federal monitors to oversee the audit. That letter raised the same concerns that the department said it has done, regarding the security of ballots and potential voter intimidation.

Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, speaks to the media in Phoenix on May 26, 2020. © Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, speaks to the media in Phoenix on May 26, 2020.

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The Arizona Senate got the county's 2.1 million ballots, voting machines and private and public voter information last month after issuing subpoenas to the county that a court ultimately upheld.

The Senate then handed over the ballots, machines and information to private contractors to perform the audit, which began at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix on April 23 and is ongoing.

The audit has three aspects:

  • Attempting to recount all ballots cast in the election.
  • Examining the voting machines to see whether votes were counted correctly.
  • Reviewing voter information for potential voter fraud.

Video: Justice Department worried about Arizona Senate recount and potential voter intimidation (Yahoo! News)

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The Arizona Democratic Party and Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo filed a lawsuit to stop the audit, amid growing concerns over the lack of clear procedures for safeguarding the ballots and regarding the transparency around the audit.

Karlan wrote that the department had reviewed "news reports and complaints regarding the procedures being used for this audit" and was first concerned by a number of reports suggesting the ballots, machines and voter information are no longer under the control of state and local elections officials, aren't being kept secure, and are at risk of "being lost, stolen, altered, compromised or destroyed."

"Federal law creates a duty to safeguard and preserve federal election records," Karlan wrote, citing specific provisions of the law.

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The department's second main concern, Karlan wrote, involves the contractors' plan for how it will attempt to verify voter information and who voted in the election.

Cyber Ninjas, the Senate's main contractor, said in its work plan to the Senate that it would be reaching out to voters through a “combination of phone calls and physical canvassing” to “collect information of whether the individual voted in the election."

This raises concerns of voter intimidation, which is illegal under federal law, Karlan wrote.

Federal law says that no one can or threaten to "intimidate, threaten, or coerce" someone for voting or for encouraging someone else to vote.

"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," Karlan wrote. "Such investigative efforts can have a significant intimidating effect on qualified voters that can deter them from seeking to vote in the future."

Fann told The Arizona Republic that the Senate's attorney is preparing a response.

Reach the reporter at jen.fifield@azcentral.com or at 602-444-8763. Follow her on Twitter @JenAFifield

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Justice Department asks Arizona Senate to respond to concerns about election audit

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