The Justice Department on Wednesday raised concerns that Arizona’s controversial audit of last year’s election may violate federal law, NPR reports.
Pamela Karlan, a top official at the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a letter to Arizona Senate President Karen Fann that the ballots are no longer in the custody of election officials, possibly in violation of federal laws requiring state and local election offices to safeguard ballots for 22 months.
"We have a 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.
The state Senate subpoenaed 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County to be audited and recounted. Fann hired a private firm called Cyber Ninjas to run the audit, though critics say the company lacks the qualifications to do so.
Voter intimidation fears:
The Senate contract with Cyber Ninjas includes a plan to "identify voter registrations that did not make sense, and then knock on doors to confirm if valid voters actually lived at the state address" and ask voters about their voting history to determine "whether the individual voted in the [November] election."
Karlan also raised questions about the auditors’ plans to canvass voters door-to-door, potentially violating federal laws against voter intimidation.
"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."
Karlan asked Fann to respond with what steps the Senate is taking to ensure those laws are not violated.
What a mess:
The audit has been dogged by court battles and questions about what is actually happening in the audit. On Wednesday, news outlets reported that auditors were searching for traces of bamboo paper based on a frivolous conspiracy theory that some ballots may have been printed in China.
The effort has fallen far behind schedule and it is unclear when it will actually conclude. The firms are contractually required to vacate the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where the audit is being conducted, by May 14.
But Ken Bennett, an official appointed by Fann, said there is no deadline and the firms involved will take their time to “get it done right” even if they have to change venues.