Department of Justice expresses concerns over Arizona GOP’s 2020 election audit

The U.S. Justice Department sent a letter to the Arizona Senate president warning about "potential non-compliance with federal laws." CBS News congressional correspondent Kris Van Cleave spoke to the Democratic Secretary of State who is receiving death threats for opposing the audit and she says she's worried Arizona won't be the last state to see such an effort.

Video Transcript

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- Welcome back to "CBS This Morning." an unprecedented audit of votes from the 2020 election will continue for at least another month in Phoenix. The Republican-led Arizona State Senate just extended the recount for Maricopa County. It won't change Joe Biden's narrow victory there, but the people in charge are hunting for evidence of fraud that other recounts failed to find. Kris Van Cleave is at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the site of the audit. Kris, good morning.

KRIS VAN CLEAVE: Good morning. This is the Crazy Times Carnival. It shares a parking lot with the audit. It's happening inside the Coliseum here. I used to go to Phoenix Suns games, the basketball team, in there as a kid. It was known as the Madhouse on McDowell. And critics say what's going on inside now is living up to that nickname.

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Outside the Arizona State House, the battle over the 2020 presidential election is still raging--

- USA!

KRIS VAN CLEAVE: --and far from over because of the work being done across town at these 46 tables, where workers are hand recounting nearly 2.1 million ballots, some being tallied in as little as six seconds.

- This has nothing to do with going back and trying to change the results of the November 2020 election.

KRIS VAN CLEAVE: This is an up-close look at Arizona's partisan election audit, ordered by the GOP-held state Senate, and run by Cyber Ninja, a private company whose CEO promoted election conspiracy theories on Twitter.

They fought to keep audit procedures secret and initially tried to keep media out. Observers noticed workers checking ballots with UV lights, looking for a watermark, rumored to be a sign of fraud. We watched them photograph ballots, looking for folds and checking the thickness of paper. Some are said to be looking for signs of bamboo fibers on the ballots, which election officials have dismissed as part of a conspiracy theory.

Ken Bennett is monitoring the election for the state Senate.

The UV light plays into a QAnon conspiracy theory. The bamboo hunt plays into this allegation that thousands of ballots were flown in from Asia after the election and somehow counted. I mean, it's silly.

KEN BENNETT: If that didn't happen, then we will dispel that.

KRIS VAN CLEAVE: Do you really think thousands of ballots were flown in from Asia?

KEN BENNETT: No, I don't personally, but there are a lot of people that do, or did.

KATIE HOBBS: This so-called audit is making a mockery of our election.

KRIS VAN CLEAVE: Katie Hobbs, the Democratic secretary of state, is receiving death threats over her opposition to the audit. She welcomed a letter from the Department of Justice warning it may be violating election laws, but worries Arizona won't be the last state to see such an effort.

KATIE HOBBS: I'm very concerned that this sideshow becomes the first domino to fall. I know my colleagues around the country are feeling the same way.

KRIS VAN CLEAVE: There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Arizona. The results were validated in a partial recount, and two extra audits found no issues.

Do you think the county got it wrong?

MICHELLE UGENTI-RITA: I think checking is appropriate, and that's what we're doing.

KRIS VAN CLEAVE: State Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita was among the 16 Republicans who voted for this outside review.

How do you think the recount is going so far?

MICHELLE UGENTI-RITA: I think it's going well. You know, there's been some ups and downs, and that's to be expected. The scale of it is quite large. We're looking at the equipment, the technology, the software, the machines, the ballots themselves. And so I'm very anxious and eager to get the results.

This was a clown show.

KRIS VAN CLEAVE: Grant Woods is a former Republican Arizona attorney general. He left the GOP during Mr. Trump's presidency.

GRANT WOODS: This is hurting our democracy. The state Senate should know that, and they should call it off. If they won't do it, the Department of Justice needs to step in.

KRIS VAN CLEAVE: The audit says it's looked at about 25% of the ballots, but they're going to have to pause the audit, move everything out of the Coliseum because high school graduations start inside this weekend. That's raised questions about ballot security. The audit says they'll be kept under armed guard and then moved back in after the graduations.

If they're not done looking at everything by the end of June, they'll have to move out again to make room for a gun show. Vlad?

- Wow, bamboo fibers and thickness of the paper-- remarkable. Kris, thank you so much. We appreciate it.