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Elections experts call on Justice Department to send monitors to Arizona audit

A group of election security and administration experts are asking the Justice Department to send federal monitors to Arizona as the Republican-led state Senate carries out an audit of 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County in the state's 2020 presidential election.

In a letter to the top official at the Justice Department's voting section, five elections experts from the Brennan Center for Justice, Protect Democracy and The Leadership Conference expressed deep concerns about how the audit is being conducted, warning that it has put ballots "in danger of being stolen, defaced, or irretrievably damaged."

"They failed to ensure the physical security of ballots by keeping doors unlocked and allowing unauthorized persons to access the ballot storage facility," the letter reads. "They also risk compromising the integrity of the ballots themselves, using materials and technologies that will cause the ballot paper and marks to deteriorate, such as holding ballots to ultra-violet light without gloves.

"And, by restricting access to the audit by nonpartisan observers, election administrators and voting machine experts, they are failing to ensure that the audit is transparent."

The letter also expresses concern that the state Senate and the firm it has hired to run the audit - a Florida-based company called Cyber Ninjas - "are preparing to engage in conduct that will constitute unlawful voter intimidation in violation of the Voting Rights Act and other federal laws."

At issue, they wrote, is a plan to "physically canvass" voters in Maricopa County as part of the audit, and to gather information related to their voting history.  

"Regardless of the fact that these actions will occur after the 2020 Election, they constitute intimidation because they seek to stoke fear amongst Arizonans of exercising their fundamental right to vote in future elections," the letter says.

The audit marks the latest effort by Arizona Republicans to call into question the results of the 2020 presidential election. Former President Trump narrowly lost Arizona to President Biden, becoming the first Republican presidential candidate in more than two decades to suffer defeat in the state.

But nearly six months after Election Day, Trump and his allies have continued to spread baseless claims that the 2020 election in Arizona and other battleground states had been "stolen" from him as a result of alleged voter fraud and systemic irregularities. 

Previous audits of the vote in Maricopa County, Arizona's largest and the home of Phoenix, determined that the election results were accurate and that there was no significant occurrence of fraud. 

Nevertheless, Republicans in the state Senate have marched forward with their own audit of the vote. The process has raised particular concerns among Democrats and election experts, who have criticized the audit for a lack of transparency and warn that partisan elected officials may be sacrificing accuracy and security in favor of speed and political convenience.

In their letter on Wednesday, the elections experts argued that the Justice Department should use its authority to dispatch monitors to the site of the audit, saying that the need to do so is "especially urgent here, as there are ongoing and imminent violations of federal election laws in Arizona, and these violations may be used to justify further intrusions on Arizonans' voting rights."

"Ballots that are protected under federal law are in imminent danger of being stolen, defaced, or irretrievably damaged, and Arizona citizens are in imminent danger of being subject to unlawful voter intimidation as a result of flawed audit procedures," the letter reads.

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