/Arizonas vote audit prompting arguments for — and against — federal intervention

Arizonas vote audit prompting arguments for — and against — federal intervention

  • Some worry any Justice Department intervention could incite violence similar to the January 6 riot.
  • The Justice Department has expressed concerns federal laws may be violated during the audit process.
  • Federal involvement in the audit could also cause Democrats headaches in the 2022 midterms.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The audit of the 2020 election results in Arizona’s Maricopa County has been called everything from a “sham” to a “fundraising ploy” for Republicans to raise money. And election-security experts are requesting that the Department of Justice monitor it.

But there’s serious risk that would come both with the Justice Department jumping in — and with it not doing so.

Perhaps most urgent is the threat of violence akin to the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, perpetrated by supporters of President Donald Trump who believed the 2020 presidential election was rigged.

Some officials said this threat alone necessitated federal involvement, particularly since Trump himself continues to tell lies and push conspiracy theories about the election. The New York Times recently reported that Trump had told associates he expected the audits would lead to him being reinstated as president by August.

While that’s a constitutional impossibility, don’t tell that to Trump’s most ardent supporters.

“Could there be another riot or interaction like they had on January 6? You bet,” said Steve Gallardo, the only Democratic official on the board of supervisors in Maricopa County. “These are the unintended consequences to them continuing to push the big lie. They continue to undermine our democracy, and they continue to discredit the election system in the state of Arizona.”

Gallardo added that the Justice Department “needs to stand up and come to Arizona, and intervene and put an end to this,” saying: “If our top law-enforcement officers are not willing to do it, then I believe the Department of Justice needs to do it.”

The Justice Department has not responded to Insider’s inquiries on whether it will intervene.

Federal officials have, however, already cautioned Arizona officials about the audit.

For example, Pamela Karlan, the principal deputy assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, previously told the Arizona Senate’s president, Karen Fann, that her chamber could be violating the Civil Rights Act of 1960 if it turned over all of its election materials to Cyber Ninjas, the private firm that is conducting the Arizona vote audit.

Federal law requires state and local officials to maintain ballots and election materials for at least 22 months.

Karlan also expressed concerns about reports that ballot and other election materials were being destroyed and compromised under the supervision of the cybersecurity firm, which would be another violation of federal law.

Ken Bennett, the Arizona Senate liaison overseeing the Maricopa County audit, dismissed the Justice Department’s concerns, telling Insider that the audit process was violating no federal laws and that it’s “unnecessary” for the department to get involved.

Arizona officials have recounted more than 80% of the Maricopa County ballots and could finish the hand-count portion of the audit by the end of this week, Bennett said in a phone interview.

He added, however, that the final report of the audit would most likely come out in late July or early August.


President Joe Biden.

Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

Not Biden’s call to intervene

Some officials worry that if the Justice Department begins to monitor the audit, then it may look as if President Joe Biden’s administration is trying to control the outcome of the audit results.

This could complicate the prospects of some Democrats who are running for office on both the state and federal levels.

If Democrats believe the audit “is a train wreck, then they should let the train run off the track, not stop the train from breaking,” said Bennie Smith, a Democratic election official in Tennessee who has traveled to Arizona to monitor the audit.

He said that if the Justice Department did get involved, it would “look like they are covering up something that they don’t want to be revealed.”

Biden won Arizona in the November elections by a slim margin, making him the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since 1996.

Many Arizona state officials have criticized the audit, saying it is undermining the US electoral process. Jack Sellers, the Republican chairman of the board of supervisors in Maricopa County, called the audit “dangerous.”

“This board is done explaining anything,” Sellers said. “People’s ballots and money are not make-believe. It’s time to be done with this craziness, and get on with this county’s critical business.”

If the Department of Justice monitored or otherwise involved itself in the Arizona audit, it would not be at the direction of Biden, said Ronald Weich, a former Justice Department assistant attorney general for legislative affairs who is dean of the University of Baltimore School of Law.

“The White House should have nothing to do with the decision-making,” Weich told Insider, referring to Biden’s promise to let the Justice Department operate independently from the White House.

High stakes

Several election experts told Insider there was still a need for the Justice Department to get involved because of Cyber Ninjas’ lack of transparency on conducting the audit.

Alex Gulotta, the Arizona director for All Voting is Local, said it was the Justice Department’s job “to enforce our laws in terms of the conduct of our election and the processing and handling of our ballots.”

“If there are companies that are in fact violating those laws, then they should take that seriously,” he said.

Grant Woods, a former Republican attorney general of Arizona, told Insider he had also tried to reach out to the DOJ to deploy some of its agents to the state and monitor the audit.

“Everyone has pointed out the myriad of problems with the so-called audit, and yet it continues on,” he said. “At some point, we’re going to have to make a point in this country that you can’t do this.”

The audit was launched in April after Trump continued to peddle conspiracy theories about the November election and Fann, the Arizona Senate president, subpoenaed ballots for a recount of the results.

Lawmakers from several states, including Georgia, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Colorado, have traveled to Arizona to observe the audit.

The cybersecurity firm has been under intense scrutiny because it had never conducted an election audit before this one.

In 2013, Doug Logan, a staunch Trump supporter, founded the firm. Reports have highlighted that after Biden won the election, Logan continued to advocate on social media for the “Stop the Steal” movement that continued to tout that the election was rigged.

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