Warning of the possible "significant intimidating effect" of private recounts like the ongoing GOP-run audit of an Arizona county's 2020 election ballots, a senior official at the U.S. Justice Department's civil rights division on Thursday advised the Republican president of the southwestern state's Senate that such efforts may violate federal voting and civil rights laws.
"Such investigative efforts can have a significant intimidating effect on qualified voters that can deter them from seeking to vote in the future."
—Pamela S. Karlan, DOJ
In a letter (pdf) to Sen. Karen Fann (R-1), Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan wrote that plans by Cyber Ninjas—the online security firm hired by the Arizona Legislature to perform a hand recount of nearly 2.1 million Maricopa County ballots—to directly contact voters potentially constitutes intimidation.
"The information of which we are aware raises concerns regarding at least two issues of potential noncompliance with federal laws," the letter states.
"The first issue relates to a number of reports suggesting that 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," it continues.
"The second issue," the letter says, "relates to the Cyber Ninjas' statement of work for this audit," which "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.'"
"This description of the proposed work of the audit raises concerns regarding potential intimidation of voters," it warns. "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."
"Such investigative efforts can have a significant intimidating effect on qualified voters that can deter them from seeking to vote in the future," the letter concludes.
The Arizona Legislature is paying the Florida-based Cyber Ninjas—which has no elections experience and whose CEO Doug Logan is an advocate of the "Stop the Steal" movement claiming former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election—$150,000 to conduct the Maricopa County audit.
President Joe Biden won the county, which includes Phoenix and surrounding cities, by over 45,000 votes. In the race for the U.S. Senate, Democrat Mark Kelly defeated Republican Martha McSally by more than 80,000 votes in Maricopa County.
In addition to its CEO's affinity for Trump, Cyber Ninjas has also raised eyebrows and ire by allowing former Arizona GOP state lawmaker Anthony Kern, a rampant pro-Trump conspiracy theorist and participant in the deadly January 6 attack on the United States Capitol, to help conduct the audit.
The auditors—who have fallen far behind schedule—have investigated conspiracy theories during the course of their work, including one that 40,000 bamboo-laced Biden ballots were smuggled into the county from China.
The Justice Department letter follows an April request (pdf) by the Brennan Center for Justice—which said it is "very concerned that the auditors are engaged in ongoing and imminent violations of federal voting and election law"—for the DOJ to send federal monitors to oversee the Maricopa recount.