DOJ fears Arizona's conspiracy-fueled election audit is violating federal law

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It's the latest bad news for the Republican-led audit of 2.1 million ballots cast in Arizona's 2020 presidential election.

The conspiracy theory-fueled audit of Arizona's election results has once again run into trouble, with the Department of Justice raising concerns that the counting of some 2.1 million ballots from the state's 2020 presidential election is violating federal election laws.

The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division sent a letter on Wednesday to Republican state Senate President Karen Fann — who forced the audit, which is the state's third — with concerns that the decision to hire an outside firm to run the audit may lead to noncompliance federal law that says ballots must be controlled by state and local election officials 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," reads the letter from Pamela S. Karlan, the principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ.

Karlan also expressed concern that the audit would violate the Voting Rights Act's ban on voter intimidation, as Cyber Ninjas said auditors were going to knock on the doors of voters whose registrations "did not make sense."

"This description of the proposed work of the audit raises concerns regarding potential intimidation of voters," Karlan wrote.

As it stands, the hand recount of the 2.1 million ballots from Maricopa County — Arizona's largest — is so far behind schedule that the Republicans running the audit are at risk being kicked out of Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where ballots are being counted, according to multiple local media reports.

The contract state Senate Republicans have with the arena runs out on May 14. And an employee of the arena told the Arizona Republic on Monday that it's "not feasible" to extend the contract, as high schools in the state have rented the arena for the entire week of May 17 for graduation ceremonies.

It's unclear where the audit would continue, or if the state Senate could even store the election materials in the arena until counting could resume.

While former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who now serves as a liaison for the state Senate during the audit process, told the Arizona Republic he hopes the ballots can be stored in the arena until the graduation ceremonies resume, the contract Republicans have with the coliseum says all materials must be removed when the contract expires.

Democrats and voting rights groups have panned the audit as a sham intended to prop up Donald Trump and the GOP's voter fraud lies.

The audit is being run by Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based firm owned by a Donald Trump-supporting conspiracy theorist who spread voter fraud lies.

Reporters observing the audit said the firm appeared to be violating election law during the count, saying they witnessed unsecured ballots, as well as audit workers using blue pens near ballots. Only red pens are allowed to be used in order to prevent ballots from being improperly marked and wrongly invalidated.

Meanwhile, Republican former state Rep. Anthony Kern was seen counting ballots, even though Kern was a major figure seeking to overturn Trump's loss and was seen at the Capitol on Jan. 6, the day of the violent and deadly insurrection in which a mob of Trump supporters sought to block certification of President Joe Biden's victory.

Kern tweeted on Jan. 4, "DC Hear [sic] We COME!!!!!! #StoptheSteal," and later posted photos outside of the security fencing at the Capitol. 

Republicans forced the audit even though two previous reviews of the results in the state found no fraud nor wrongdoing in the election.

Auditors are apparently looking into debunked conspiracy theories — some that originated in QAnon circles — including that ballots were flown in from "Asia" and that there may be special "watermarks" on ballots put there by Trump to denote "official" ballots.

Alex Alvarez, a spokesman for the Arizona Democratic Party, told the American Independent Foundation in March: "There is no credible evidence of election tampering, and even former Republican Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell has agreed that this process is unnecessary. Fann and her Republican legislative colleagues are complicit with far-right conspiracy theorists and are doing everything they can to overthrow a free and fair election."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.