PHOENIX (AP) — The Republican president of the Arizona Senate said in a letter Friday to the U.S. Justice Department that ballots being recounted from November's presidential election are secure and the department's worries about voter intimidation are unfounded.
The letter from Senate President Karen Fann came two days after the head of the department's Civil Rights Division sought assurances from the Senate that 2.1 million ballots from the state's most populous county are being secured as federal law requires.
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan also warned Fann that the Senate's plan to have the contractor overseeing the unprecedented election audit contact voters could amount to illegal voter intimidation.
Fann said in her response that the Senate had determined several weeks ago that plans to directly contact voters to see if they actually cast a ballot were being indefinitely deferred. And Fann said that if the Senate ultimately decides to contact voters, the vendor will implement detailed rules ensuring the contacts comply with federal and state civil rights law.
The Justice Department letter said federal law requires ballots from federal elections to remain in the control of election officials for 22 months, and that Fann's decision to hand them over to a contractor may violate that law.
Fann, a Republican, said in her response that security is tight at the state fairgrounds venue where teams of contractors are recounting votes in the race won by President Joe Biden, and that former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett is at the site daily to ensure that remains true.
She vowed that “not a single ballot has been destroyed, defaced, lost or adulterated” and said she was confident none would be.
A Justice Department spokesperson didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Fann's letter.
Voting rights groups last week asked the Justice Department to send monitors to Veterans Memorial Coliseum to watch over the recount.
“We are very concerned that the auditors are engaged in ongoing and imminent violations of federal voting and election laws,” said the letter sent by the Brennan Center for Justice, the Leadership Conference and Protect Democracy.
The Senate is counting ballots from Maricopa County, which it obtained after a judge upheld a December subpoena issued by Fann because she wanted to do a separate audit of the results to ensure that Biden actually won in Arizona.
Fann has said it is needed to put to rest concerns by former President Donald Trump and his backers that he lost Arizona and other battleground states bets because of fraud.
Multiple audits, a hand recount of a sample of Maricopa County ballots, and numerous lawsuits found no evidence of any problems with the election.
In addition to the 2.1 million ballots, the county handed over their ballot tabulation equipment, computer servers and other elections-related equipment and a huge trove of information, including its voter database.
None of the elections equipment is ever connected to the internet.
Jack Sellers, the Republican chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, said the Senate is now threatening to issue a new subpoena to obtain routers the county uses for all its departments, including the sheriff's office.
The county has refused to turn them over, saying doing so would cause major security issues and cripple county operations.
“We have provided eight terabytes of data, ballots and election equipment as commanded by the subpoenas,” Sellers said in a statement.
“Our efforts to cooperate while following the law have been rewarded with accusations, untruths, and threats.”
Also Friday, Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs asked GOP Gov. Doug Ducey to provide her security. The request was granted.
Hobbs tweeted late Thursday that she had received several death threats because she is an outspoken critic of the Senate's unprecedented effort to audit the 2020 election, which she and Ducey both certified last year and declared as free and fair. She also complained that she was chased by a reporter for a rightwing website. Hobbs is the state’s top elections official.
“The @ArizonaAudit and its far-right allies know their rhetoric will lead to this,” she tweeted. “They are complicit.”
Ducey's spokesman, C.J. Karamargin, said the governor immediately assigned a Department of Public Safety detail to Hobbs.
“Threats of violence are completely unacceptable, we take them very seriously,” Karamargin said.
Hobbs wrote a letter earlier this week to Bennett, laying out a series of concerns she had with the policies the contractor was using in the recount. Hobbs said the policies were “vague and insufficient to ensure accuracy and consistency.”
Bennett responded Friday, saying Hobbs had signed a court stipulation Wednesday releasing any claims that the recount policies were "legally inadequate or not ‘consistent with state and federal statutory and constitutional law and the EPM, including with respect to the security and integrity of ballots and election equipment.’ ”
“With all due respect, it reads like a political press release calculated to undermine a process that you have opposed since its inception,” Bennett of Hobbs' letter.
The recount that began on April 23 is moving extremely slowly, with only about 10% of the ballots counted so far and only a week left on the Senate's lease on the Coliseum.
Bennett said earlier this week that he hopes they can pause the recount while a series of high school graduations are held and then restart it at the same site. The fair board's spokeswoman, however, said an extension is not possible.