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Justice Dept takes an interest in Arizona's bonkers election 'audit'

Arizona Republicans have handed millions of ballots over to Cyber Ninjas, led by a conspiracy theorist. What could go wrong? According to the DOJ, plenty.

Arizona Republicans weren't satisfied with the official 2020 vote count. Or the audit of those results. Or the second audit. Or the hand recount. Each of those independent assessments told the GOP what it didn't want to hear, which led Republicans to believe it was time for a new approach.

And so, Arizona Republicans recently launched yet another review, led by an obscure company -- called "Cyber Ninjas" -- with dubious credentials and led by a fringe conspiracy theorist.

As the review process began in earnest last week, it managed to become even more bonkers, with a combination of hidden procedures, security problems, weird inventions with unclear purposes, and rules that appear to have been made up on the fly. (Don't even get me started on the bizarre search for "kinematic artifacts.")

Perhaps it was inevitable that the U.S. Justice Department would take an interest in the circus unfolding in Phoenix. The Arizona Republic reported overnight:

The U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division is asking Arizona Senate President Karen Fann to respond to concerns the department has about the security of ballots and potential voter intimidation as the Senate's contractors perform an audit of November's presidential election in Maricopa County.

Pamela Karlan, the principal deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division, wrote in her letter to Fann that the department had reviewed "news reports and complaints regarding the procedures being used for this audit" and was first concerned by a number of reports suggesting the ballots, machines and voter information are no longer under the control of state and local elections officials, aren't being kept secure, and are at risk of "being lost, stolen, altered, compromised or destroyed."

Karlan, seeking an explanation from the Senate GOP leader about compliance with existing legal safeguards, reminded Fann that "federal law creates a duty to safeguard and preserve federal election records."

Complicating matters, as the Arizona Republic report added, Cyber Ninjas -- the curious private outfit, led by a conspiracy theorist, which now has its hands on more than 2 million ballots for no reason -- has announced plans to verify voter information by reaching out to Arizonans directly. The plan may very well include door-to-door interactions, in which citizens will be expected to tell Cyber Ninjas about their 2020 votes. (Yes, I realize it sounds ridiculous when I put it this way, but this is the reality we've found ourselves in.)

The Justice Department fears the possibility of voter intimidation, which is also illegal.

Also last night, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) wrote to Ken Bennett, who's serving as the Arizona Senate's liaison for the Maricopa County election audit, identifying 13 areas of concern with the ongoing process. "[E]ither do it right, or don't do it at all," Hobbs wrote.

And speaking of not doing it at all, the Cyber Ninjas' process was originally supposed to be wrapped up next week, which is now impossible, since auditors have only gotten through roughly 10% of the ballots -- and the Republicans' lease on the venue ends on May 14.

In theory, the facility could extend the existing lease, but as it turns out, its administrators have other plans for the space in the coming weeks.

As for why it's taking so long, it's an open question as to whether anyone involved in conducting the audit knows what they're doing, and one of the officials overseeing the process said on the record this week that auditors are looking for -- I kid you not -- bamboo fibers in the ballots, as part of an unintentionally amusing conspiracy theory involving China.

Meanwhile, 2,000 miles to the east, Donald Trump has, according to a New York Times reporter, told people he believes the increasingly laughable Arizona audit "could undo" the 2020 presidential election, which is every bit as nutty as it seems. In fact, it comes on the heels of a Washington Post report that said Trump "has become fixated" on the absurd process in Arizona, asking aides for updates "multiple times a day."

Indeed, before anyone laughs too much at the nonsensical process underway in the Grand Canyon State, the former president genuinely seems to believe this is the first domino of many -- and outfits like Cyber Ninjas may be coming to your state next.