The ongoing audit run by Florida-based Cyber Ninjas has been widely criticized as fueling wild theories that fraud and other electoral problems led President Donald Trump to lose the presidential race. Officials in Maricopa County, which went for Joe Biden in November, say the results have been validated repeatedly.
But Republicans have pressed ahead with a new, highly unusual inquiry that has ranged from scrutinizing ballots under UV lights to seeking traces of bamboo. With Cyber Ninjas, they hired a company whose chief has echoed Trump’s unfounded claims of problems with the 2020 election.
Fann defended the audit’s security protocols to Karlan on Friday. She also said the Senate had “determined several weeks ago that it would indefinitely defer” the voter canvassing elements of the audit. If lawmakers decide the canvassing is necessary, Fann said, their vendor will take steps to ensure it is following the Constitution and civil rights laws.
The senator laid out conditions for anyone contacting voters: Canvassers would convey that participation is voluntary; would not select people for characteristics such as race or party affiliation; would not carry a weapon; and would not wear or say something implying an affiliation with police, immigration, tax enforcement or the military, among other requirements.
Karlan, in her letter, raised particular worries about targeting by race. “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,” Karlan said.
Responding to the Justice Department’s security concerns, Fann said that “not a single ballot or other official election document has been destroyed, defaced, lost, or adulterated.” Ballots must be securely maintained for 22 months following a federal election.
“We are unaware of any significant security breach since the day the ballots were delivered; this is undoubtedly due to the thorough protocols implemented since that time,” Fann added.
The Justice Department declined to comment on Fann’s letter.
Former Arizona secretary of state Ken Bennett, the audit’s spokesman, previously told The Washington Post that Cyber Ninjas had not begun interviewing voters and said the company has pledged to do nothing that would constitute intimidation.
“This is a matter between the Arizona Senate and Maricopa County,” he said. “We don’t see any grounds for anyone else to intervene.”
Bennett on Friday responded to concerns from another official — Arizona’s Democratic secretary of state, Katie Hobbs, an outspoken critic of those promoting baseless election fraud theories. In a six-page letter Wednesday, Hobbs said observers with her office had catalogued a host of problems with the audit, from ballots left unattended to ever-shifting procedures for untrained workers.
Bennett wrote back that Hobbs’s letter “demonstrates a degree of bad faith” in light of a settlement agreement. Independent observers, initially barred from the recount, were allowed in after Hobbs and the Arizona Democratic Party filed a lawsuit; they agreed to settle Wednesday, with the Arizona Senate and Cyber Ninjas vowing to keep ballots secure and voter information confidential.
“You clearly had these concerns before signing the settlement agreement, and you could have raised them with us or incorporated them into the agreement before releasing your claims,” Bennett wrote of Hobbs’s letter. But he went on to defend the audit as adhering to a “rigorous chain of custody protocols.”
A spokeswoman for Hobbs, Murphy Hebert, said “it appears that they are not taking our concerns with security seriously.”
Hobbs, meanwhile, has gotten a 24/7 security detail after contacting the governor’s staff requesting the protection in light of an incident in which a man chased her, as well as threatening or harassing messages that have increased notably since the start of the audit, Hebert said.
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s office, which did not immediately respond to an inquiry Friday, confirmed to the Arizona Republic that Ducey had ordered Arizona Department of Public Safety protection for Hobbs and her family after threats related to the audit in Maricopa County.
“We take threats of violence very seriously and they are unacceptable,” spokesman C.J. Karamargin told the Republic.
Hobbs tweeted Thursday that a man called her office saying she deserved to die — “one of at least three such threats today.” Then, she said, a man she did not know chased her and a staffer outside of the office.
“The @ArizonaAudit and its far-right allies know their rhetoric will lead to this,” Hobbs said. “They are complicit.”
In Maricopa County, the Republican chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Jack Sellers, vented Friday at the persistent unfounded rumors about the county’s election process. Multiple independent audits have affirmed the integrity of the 2020 election, he said, and the county government is not involved in the audit.
The board said it called a closed “emergency” meeting Friday in light of the state Senate indicating it could take legal action if the county does not “provide passwords it does not have, and routers that could allow access to sensitive law enforcement data, as well as protected health information and personal data of county citizens.”
“What makes me angry are the allegations of corruption being thrown around — sometimes by elected officials who should know better — denigrating the good names of public servants who devoted the last two years of their lives to running quality elections in 2020,” Sellers said.