The US Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division says it has "concerns" over Arizona's 2020 election audit.
The concerns were raised in a letter to state Sen. Karen Fann, a Republican.
Voting rights groups last month asked the Justice Department to intervene.
The US Department of Justice has reviewed details that "raise concerns" about the integrity of the Republican-led audit in Maricopa County, telling the president of Arizona's state senate that the effort may violate federal law.
The audit, taking place at a sports arena in Phoenix, is being conducted by a private firm, Cyber Ninjas, that has no experience in elections and is led by a man who promoted conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. The firm was chosen to lead the effort by state Sen. Karen Fann, over the objections of Maricopa County's local Republican officials - and after two audits were already conducted last year.
President Joe Biden won the county by more than 45,000 votes.
In a May 5 letter to Sen. Fann, obtained by local news station KNXV's Garrett Archer, the Department of Justice's Pamela S. Karlan, principal deputy assistant attorney general with the Civil Rights Division, said Cyber Ninjas' involvement may be illegal.
"Federal law creates a duty to safeguard and preserve federal election records," Karlan wrote. The department is concerned that this is not happening in Maricopa County, where the records "are no longer under the ultimate control of elections officials, are not being adequately safeguarded by contractors, and are at risk of damage or loss."
-The AZ - abc15 - Data Guru (@Garrett_Archer) May 6, 2021
The department's second area of concern is Cyber Ninjas' stated intent to "identify voter registrations that did not make sense, and then knock on doors to confirm if valid voters actually lived at the stated address." This, Karlan wrote, "raises concerns regarding potential intimidation of voters," which is prohibited by federal statutes.
The letter closes by asking for a response on what steps the Arizona Senate will take to ensure the audit does not break federal law. It comes the same day that one audit official told reporters he was attempting to find traces of "bamboo" on voters' ballots to prove a conspiracy theory that they came from southeast Asia.
Sen. Fann did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
The Department of Justice's letter comes about a week after a coalition of voting rights groups had requested such an intervention, as Insider reported.
In an interview last month, the head of the Arizona Democratic Party, state Rep. Raquel Terán, said that Cyber Ninjas was engaged in a "sham audit" intended to justify new restrictions on voting.
Local Democrats welcomed Wednesday's intervention.
"We are glad that the DOJ is engaged and monitoring this sham," Alex Alvarez, a party spokesperson, told Insider.
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