Arizona Ballot Audit Plan Could Intimidate Minority Voters, Feds Say

The Arizona Senate's ballot audit is being conducted at the state fairgrounds, which is appropriately also hosting the Crazy Times Carnival this week.
Phoenix New Times
The Arizona Senate's ballot audit is being conducted at the state fairgrounds, which is appropriately also hosting the Crazy Times Carnival this week.
Part of the plan for the Arizona Senate's ballot audit of the November 2020 election looks like potentially illegal voter intimidation, a federal election official told Senator Karen Fann in a letter this week.

The involvement of the feds adds another serious element to the bizarre, conspiracy-theory-based ballot audit that's being put on by Trump supporters at Phoenix's Veteran's Memorial Coliseum. One election liaison working for the audit told AzFamily.com political editor Dennis Welch on May 5 that auditors were looking for traces of bamboo in some ballots based on the idea that some might have been fakes smuggled in from Asia.

The same day, Pamela S. Karlan, principal deputy assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, told Fann that the audit was in possible violation of federal laws.

The audit — which is being conducted by a little-known Florida company called Cyber Ninjas, which was hired by the state Senate — is not providing adequate security for the 2.1 million ballots it obtained from a court-ordered subpoena in February, Karlan wrote.

Judging from news media reports, Karlan wrote, the "ballots, elections systems, and election materials that are the subject of the Maricopa County audit are no longer under the ultimate control of state and local elections officials, are not being adequately safeguarded by contractors at an insecure facility, and are at risk of being
lost, stolen, altered, compromised or destroyed."

Another major issue was found in Cyber Ninjas' statement of work for the audit.

"Among other things," Karlan wrote, "the statement of work indicates that the contractor has been working 'with a number of individuals” to “identify voter registrations that did not make sense, and then knock on doors to confirm if valid voters actually lived at the stated address...'"

She went on to state that Cyber Ninjas' plan to review voting histories by physically going out to see voters or calling them "raises concerns regarding potential intimidation of voters."

"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 on qualified voters that can deter them from seeking to vote in the future."

Karlan added that she "would appreciate" a response that includes the "steps that the Arizona Senate will take to ensure that violations of federal law do not occur."

DOJ spokesperson Kristina Mastropasqua said on Friday that the agency had no further comment on Karlan's letter, and declined to answer whether the DOJ had any deadline in mind on when it expected the state Senate's response. The Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office, which received a copy of the letter, also declined comment.

Fann previously assured the public that the results of the audit would not be used to try to overturn the election results. But the state Republican Party and other entities, like the Arizona Rangers, have found that the audit works well as a fundraising tool. The Arizona Rangers, a club of former or retired police that's supposed to partner with a law enforcement agency before it performs real police work, won't say who hired or authorized the group. Neither Fann's office nor Cyber Ninjas, the Florida company hired by the state Senate to conduct the audit, returned calls.

The Arizona Exposition and State Fair office agreed to let the audit continue at the Coliseum until May 14, and an official told the media this week it was "not feasible" to extend the date due to high school graduation ceremonies that had been planned for the venue.

Meanwhile, the State Fair's "Crazy Times Carnival" next to the Coliseum will continue through May 9.

Update: After publication of this article on May 7, the Arizona Mirror reported that Senator Fann sent a letter to Karlan indicating that the state Senate had "determined several weeks ago" not to do the physical canvassing for now.