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In Response To Justice Dept., Arizona Senate Says Plan To Canvass Voters Is On Hold

Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted Thursday by contractors hired by the Republican-led Arizona Senate.
Maricopa County ballots cast in the 2020 general election are examined and recounted Thursday by contractors hired by the Republican-led Arizona Senate.

Responding to concerns raised by the U.S. Justice Department about aspects of a controversial election review, the leader of Arizona's state Senate says plans to go door-to-door asking residents about their voting history are "indefinitely" on hold.

The decision, which had not previously been announced, follows a letter sent to state Senate President Karen Fann from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

Pamela Karlan, the principal deputy assistant attorney general with the division, wrote Wednesday that plans to canvass voters asking for information about their voter registration and voting records, as outlined in a contract detailing the scope of the Senate's review of the 2020 election in Maricopa County, could violate federal laws barring voter intimidation.

Fann, a Republican, wrote in a reply to Karlan on Friday that that portion of the review is off, at least for now.

"With respect to voter canvassing, the Senate determined several weeks ago that it would indefinitely defer that component of the audit," Fann wrote.

The Senate president left open the possibility that canvassing may occur at a later date. There's no estimate for when the review, primarily an audit and recount of the nearly 2.1 million Maricopa County ballots cast last November, will end.

If the Senate moves forward with door-to-door voter inquiries, "its vendor will implement detailed requirements to ensure that the canvassing is conducted in a manner that complies fully with the commands of the United States Constitution and federal and state civil rights laws," Fann wrote.

As for ballot custody and security, another concern raised by the Justice Department, Fann wrote that while the audit and recount have been outsourced to private firms, "questions of physical security ... were expressly reserved for the Arizona State Senate in the prime vendor contract."

"And in practice, the Senate's appointed liaison, former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, is present at the audit site virtually every day, and is integrally involved in overseeing every facet of the audit," Fann wrote.

The DOJ had warned that keeping the ballots in the custody of private firms was a possible violation of federal law, which requires state and local election workers to store and safeguard federal voting records. The Maricopa ballots include races for federal offices, such as the presidential and U.S. Senate races being recounted.

Fann wrote that no ballots or other official election documents have been destroyed, damaged or misplaced during the review, "and we are confident that our strong security infrastructure has minimized to the greatest extent feasible the risk of any such breaches in the future."

The Justice Department's letter followed a request by the Brennan Center for Justice and voting rights organizations, which wrote to the DOJ on April 29 and asked the government to send federal monitors to observe the audit and recount process.

Election experts have criticized Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based cybersecurity company Fann hired to lead the audit and recount, as unqualified to review the 2020 election.

This story was originally published by KJZZ in Arizona.

Copyright 2021 KJZZ. To see more, visit KJZZ.