The Justice Department on Wednesday issued a warning in the Republican-run Arizona Senate-ordered audit of the 2020 election ballots, saying the audit could be in violation of federal voting and civil rights laws.
The warning comes amid scrutiny over the audit of nearly 2.1 million ballots from Arizona’s largest county, Maricopa, where election officials previously found no evidence of widespread voter fraud or other issues during the state’s 2020 presidential election. The review – which perpetuates the falsehood that the election was stolen from former President Donald Trump – has been decried by both Maricopa County’s Board of Supervisors, which is majority Republican, and the Arizona secretary of state, who is a Democrat. The results of the election have long been certified by the secretary of state.
Pamela Karlan, principal deputy assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, warned Senate President Karen Fann, a Republican, in a letter obtained by CNN that turning over election materials to audit contractor Cyber Ninjas – a Sarasota, Florida audit contractor hired by the GOP-controlled Arizona Senate – could be a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1960. Karlan also wrote in the letter that there are “at least issues of potential non-compliance with federal laws enforced by the Department.”
The first, according to Karlan, is regarding reports that suggest the ballots, elections systems, and election materials in the Maricopa County audit are “no longer under the ultimate control of state and local election officials and are not being adequately safeguarded by contractors at an insecure facility, and are at risk of being lost, stolen, altered, compromised or destroyed.”
Federal law requires state and local officials maintain ballots and election materials for 22 months. After a legal battle, an Arizona judge sided with the Senate when it issued a subpoenaed for the Maricopa County ballots and election machines. However, Maricopa County refused to participate in the counting. The letter also notes that the Arizona Senate could give custody of the materials to others, but must retain ultimate control.
“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.
CNN has reached out to Fann’s office for comment.
Karlan also noted that Cyber Ninjas’ statement of work includes canvassing 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” raises concerns of potential voter intimidation.
“The Department enforces a number of federal statutes that prohibit intimidation of persons for voting or attempting to vote,” Karlan wrote, mentioning a section of the Voting Rights Act that prohibits 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.”
CNN previously reported that Cyber Ninjas released some of their procedures, including acknowledging the use of UV lights, after an order by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Martin. In the Cyber Ninjas document, however, it wasn’t clearly explained why they were needed.
Another Cyber Ninjas document revealed security plans for the coliseum where the audit is being performed. Called “The Arizona Audit Security Overview,” it lays out potential security breaches, the number of private security guards and singles out “Antifa” as a security threat.
The document shows that Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey denied a request for members of the Department of Public Safety and National Guard members to provide security. Instead, private security firms, including a volunteer organization known as the Arizona Rangers, have been hired to protect the ballots and election equipment.
CNN’s Kyung Lah and Leslie Perrot contributed to this report.