PHOENIX — State Attorney General Mark Brnovich is warning his federal counterpart to stay out of the way of the current audit of the 2020 election returns.
In a letter Monday to Merrick Garland, Brnovich said he is displaying “an alarming disdain for state sovereignty’’ by suggesting that there may the need for some federal oversight of what is playing out at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. And Brnovich hinted that any intrusion will result in a lawsuit.
“Arizona will not sit back and let the Biden administration abuse its authority, refuse to uphold laws, or attempt to commandeer our state’s sovereignty,’’ wrote Brnovich who recently announced his bid to become the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate.
What’s causing the latest political dust-up between Brnovich and the administration is a speech that Garland made Friday suggesting that ballot reviews like the one in Arizona are “based on disinformation.’’ More to the point, Garland said his agency is watching -- and may take action.
“The Justice Department will do everything in its power to prevent election fraud and to vigorously prosecute it,’’ he said of the role of his agency.
“But many of the justifications proffered in support of these post-election audits and restrictions on voting have relief on assertions on material vote fraud in the 2020 election that have been refused by law enforcement and intelligence agencies,’’ Garland said.
He also announced that his agency’s Civil Rights Division would double its staff working on voting rights enforcement in the next 30 days and publish more federal guidance on post-election procedures.
Brnovich, in his Monday letter, pointed out that this isn’t the first time Garland’s agency has interceded in the audit.
On May 5, Pamela Karlan, the principal deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, demanded some answers from Senate President Karen Fann about how the audit, ordered by Fann, is occurring.
Karlan said her agency is concerned that the nearly 2.1 million ballots from Maricopa County are no longer under the control of state and local officials. Instead, they are at the Coliseum which Karlan describes as an “insecure facility,’’ putting them at risk of being lost, stolen, altered, compromised or destroyed.
What makes that a federal concern, Karlan said, is federal law creates a duty to safeguard and preserve records of federal elections, including the presidential, Senate and nine House races conducted.
“This letter appeared more interested in supporting the hysterical outcries of leftist pundits on cable television, rather than the rule of law,’’ Brnovich wrote of Karlan’s letter.
And he told Garland to back off.
“My office is not amused by the DOJ’s posturing and will not tolerate any effort to undermine or interfere with our State Senate’s audit to reassure Arizonans of the accuracy of our elections,’’ Brnovich wrote. “We stand ready to defend federalism and state sovereignty against any partisan attack or federal overreach.’’
And, if nothing else, Brnovich contends that federal intervention or oversight is not just unnecessary but also illegal.
“It is important to remember that the states created the federal government, not the other way around,’’ he told Garland.
“America’s founders intentionally restrained the federal governments constitutional boundaries to ensure each state could flourish in unique ways,’’ Brnovich continued. “Today, our federal government has largely forgotten the Founders’ intent, but my office has not.’’
In his letter, Brnovich did not address the fact that the U.S. Constitution does provide a role for the federal government.
It does say that the “times, places and manner’’ of holding elections for federal lawmakers are prescribed by each state legislature. But it also empowers Congress to make laws and regulations.
Brnovich’s letter comes as Republicans are trying to block Congress from enacting comprehensive new federal regulations Democrats say are designed to remove hurdles -- some imposed by states -- to the voting process. The proposals include various measures to make it easier to register and vote and limiting the influence of money in politics.