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Arizona election auditors 'indefinitely defer' voter canvassing following DOJ letter expressing concerns about voter intimidation

·3-min read
AP21126818793699
Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors working for Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, Thursday, May 6, 2021 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. AP Photo/Matt York, Pool
  • Arizona election auditors say the Senate decided to "indefinitely defer" voter canvassing weeks ago.

  • The Justice Department raised concerns earlier this week about Maricopa County's election audit.

  • Republican Sen. Karen Fann responded to the letter Friday, assuring the security of the audit site.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Republican-led election auditors in Maricopa County, Arizona, have "indefinitely deferred" the door-to-door voter canvassing aspect of the audit, two days after the US Justice Department sent a letter to the president of Arizona's state senate expressing various legal concerns about the November 2020 election inspection.

In a May 7 letter obtained by The Arizona Republic journalist Jen Fifield, Republican Sen. Karen Fann responded to the DOJ's concerns, claiming the Senate decided weeks ago to halt voter canvassing for the time being.

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In a May 5 letter to Fann, Pamela S. Karlan, the principal deputy assistant attorney general with the DOJ's Civil Rights Division had raised concerns the private conducting firm Cyber Ninjas' plan to "identify voter registrations that did not make sense, and then knock on doors to confirm if valid voters actually live at the stated address," could potentially intimidate voters, which is prohibited by federal statutes.

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The audit of the November 2020 election is being conducted by a private firm, Cyber Ninjas, that has no previous election experience and is led by a man who promoted conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. Over the objections of Maricopa County's local Republican officials, Fann chose the firm to lead the effort, even after two audits were already conducted last year.

President Joe Biden won the county by more than 45,000 votes.

According to Fann, the Senate had decided not to canvass voters "weeks" before the Justice Department's letter raised concerns, though Fann notes that canvassing is not out of the question completely. "If and to the extent the Senate subsequently decides that canvassing is necessary to the successful completion of the audit," she said it's vendor, Cyber Ninjas, will do so in a way that complies with civil rights laws and the US Constitution.

Fann said if canvassing resumes, auditors will not: select voters of precincts based on race, sex, or any other legally protected category; wear or display any badges or insignia indicating an affiliation with law enforcement, immigration enforcement, or the military; carry a firearm; or ask voters to identify for which candidate they voted.

Canvassers will also: wear a shirt identifying themselves as an employee of the Senate's audit vendor; clearly state that canvassed voters are not under investigation and that participation is voluntary; use a pre-approved script and standard questions, Fann said in the letter.

In addition to concerns about voter intimidation, the DOJ also suggested Cyber Ninjas' involvement may be illegal.

"Federal law creates a duty to safeguard and preserve federal election records," Karlan wrote. The department is concerned that this is not happening in Maricopa County, where the records "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."

In Fann's response, she assured the agency the Senate's appointed liaison, former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, is present at the audit site "virtually every day" and oversees "every facet" of the audit, including the security of the site and election materials.

When asked about the decision to "indefinitely defer" voter canvassing on Friday, Bennet told reporter Ben Giles he wasn't in on the decision.

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One week before the Justice Department's letter, a coalition of voting rights groups had requested an intervention, as Insider previously reported, asking the government to safeguard the more than 2 million ballots in the county.

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