Senate President Karen Fann has halted plans for a controversial provision of her election audit that called for auditors to knock on voters’ doors to confirm voter registration information, she informed the U.S. Department of Justice.
Fann, R-Prescott, told the Department of Justice in a letter on Friday that the Senate decided several weeks ago that it would “indefinitely defer that component of the audit.”
The statement of work for Cyber Ninjas, the Florida-based cybersecurity firm that is overseeing the audit, states that the audit team worked with unnamed individuals to “statistically identify voter registrations that did not make sense.” The plan called for auditors to visit voters’ homes to determine if the person listed in voter registration records lived there and if they voted in the election.
The letter came in response to concerns the department raised earlier this week that her audit of the 2020 general election in Maricopa County was violating federal laws, including provisions in the Voting Rights Act that bar voter intimidation. DOJ asked Fann to provide details on how the audit would avoid illegally intimidating voters, as well as an explanation on how it would avoid violating a federal law requiring the preservation of ballots.
A group of voting rights organizations asked the Department of Justice in late April to send federal monitors to the audit, citing potential voter intimidation from the in-person canvassing as worrisome.
If the Senate revives its plans to canvass neighborhoods and visit voters’ homes, Fann said the audit team will take several steps to ensure that it complies with the Voting Rights Act and avoids voter intimidation.
She said the audit team won’t choose voters or precincts based on race, ethnicity, sex, party affiliation or any other legally protected status. Audit workers won’t carry firearms or wear badges or other insignia that would falsely imply they’re law enforcement or other government agents. Instead, they’ll wear brightly colored shirts identifying the specific vendor they’re working for. And they’ll explain up front that the voters don’t have to answer questions and that they’re not under investigation, using a standardized script with pre-approved questions.
“If canvassing is necessary to complete the audit, we believe these protocols, which will be reinforced by thorough training programs, would permit the Senate to discharge its legislative oversight and investigation functions without compromising the rights or privacy of any voter,” Fann said in the letter.
Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has been among the critics who were concerned about possible voter intimidation due to the canvassing. Spokeswoman Murphy Hebert said Hobbs found Fann’s decision to halt the canvassing to be encouraging, but that she still has other security concerns regarding the audit.
Fann told DOJ that the decision to call off the door-to-door canvassing was made weeks ago, though neither she nor anyone from the audit team had previously given any indication that the plan was off.
In response to the Justice Department and Brennan Center letters, former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who is serving as a spokesman and liaison for the audit, described the canvassing in terms that implied it was still part of the audit team’s plans. He described the request for federal monitors as “laughable” and defended the plan from allegations of voter intimidation.
“We don’t want anyone to intimidate any voters on checking voter registrations or checking who voted at a particular address,” Bennett told pool reporters on Thursday at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where the audit is taking place. “If somebody knocks on your door and you don’t want to answer their questions, you don’t have to.”
Unfounded allegations have proliferated since the election among promoters of the baseless allegations that the election was rigged against former President Donald Trump through widespread fraud. Some Trump supporters claimed that dead people had voted, that illegitimate voters were registered at vacant lots, and that more than 2,000 voters were suspiciously registered at a single address.
As for DOJ’s concerns about the ballots, Fann said they’ve been under video surveillance and guarded in-person by armed security personnel 24 hours a day. All entrances and exits to Veterans Memorial Coliseum are locked and guarded by security personnel as well, she said. And the chain of custody for the ballots, which are stored in boxes on the coliseum floor and unpacked so auditors can count them and subject them to other analyses, is carefully documented, Fann said.