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Arizona Senate falls vote short of holding Maricopa County supervisors in contempt
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Arizona Senate falls vote short of holding Maricopa County supervisors in contempt

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State Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, voted against holding the county supervisors in contempt.

PHOENIX — A bid by Senate Republicans to hold Maricopa County supervisors in contempt faltered Monday as one GOP lawmaker balked.

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, said he believes the Senate does have the power to use its subpoena power to demand access to the county’s voting machines and ballots from the Nov. 3 election.

“That authority is clear, and it will be used if necessary,” Boyer said. But he said he believes that power should be used “sparingly and reluctantly.”

Arizona officials have certified Joe Biden’s narrow victory over President Donald Trump in the state. Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Republican Gov. Doug Ducey stood up for the integrity of the election even as lawyers for Trump were across town Monday arguing without evidence to nine Republican lawmakers that the election was marred by fraud.

More to the point, Boyer said he believes the county is willing to conduct an additional audit of the presidential election results to answer questions about whether the reported results giving the edge to Joe Biden were accurate. What’s needed, he said, is a judge to issue an order clearing the way for the access that senators seek, rather than a contempt citation.

“I believe the board (of supervisors) genuinely seeks the confidence and clarity of a court order to legally proceed,” Boyer said. And once that happens, he said, there will be no legal reason for the supervisors to claim that giving the Senate what it wants would violate the law.

That drew derision from Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Phoenix, who walked colleagues through a timeline of what he said has been an ever-changing stance by the supervisors over whether there would or would not be an audit; who has access to the ballots; and some apparently conflicting arguments about whether courts have authority over the enforcement of legislative subpoenas.

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, detailed for colleagues her own attempts to resolve the issue with the supervisors. In fact, Fann said she originally planned a contempt vote for 2½ weeks ago but held off in hopes it wouldn’t come to that.

Every effort to get a resolution, she said, was met with objections from the board.

“So I’m sorry to say, this is why we’re at where we’re at right now,” Fann said.

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said claims by the supervisors that they want this resolved ring hollow. He cited a filing Monday morning that sought a court order to block the Senate from voting on the contempt resolution.

In that filing, board attorney John Doran told a Maricopa County judge the scheduled contempt vote was part of “politically charged paranoia” and a bid by the Senate to “press ahead with a false narrative belied by the actual facts and evidence.”

Mesnard called that filing “beyond outrageous. Their actions show they are dripping with contempt.”

With the 30-member Senate having just 16 Republicans and the Democrats opposed, Boyer’s decision left the majority one vote short of approving the contempt resolution.

A spokesman for the board said late Monday the supervisors had no comment.

What happens next is unclear.

There is still a Senate subpoena demanding access to the machines and the ballots.

The supervisors, four Republicans and one Democrat, have a pending lawsuit asking a judge to void the subpoena as invalid, saying state law prohibits the county from surrendering access.

Much of the dispute is over a section of state law that says after the post-election canvass, an envelope with the ballots is placed in a secure facility managed by the county treasurer “who shall keep it unopened and unaltered for 24 months for elections for a federal office.” Tully contends the only exception is when there is a legal challenge by a candidate or a recount, neither of which is at play here.

Petersen said he doesn’t read the law as precluding the supervisors from allowing legislators — or their designated agents — from looking at the ballots. But even if that were true, he said, another section of Arizona law says any evidence produced to comply with a legislative subpoena cannot be used against anyone to prosecute them.

“And just think about it practically,” Petersen told colleagues. “Who’s going to prosecute them? The county attorney? I doubt it.”

But the bottom line is about who ultimately is in charge.

“We issued a subpoena, and they have given us the finger,” Petersen said. He said that undermines the authority of lawmakers to issue subpoenas presumably backed by the power to enforce them.

“When we were given the authority under the state constitution to be lawmakers, we need to be able to collect facts, we need to be able to investigate,” he said.

“Otherwise, how are we going to know how to change the laws?” Petersen continued. “How are we going to know how to make a law to fix something if we can never know what to fix?”

That presumes something went wrong with the election, despite the fact that not a single legal challenge to it was upheld.

Fann said she’s not starting from that premise. But she said there are enough questions from constituents to require an inquiry.

The Senate president also said supervisors promised to do two independent audits of their own. But instead, she said, they hired firms that certify machines, not companies capable of doing the “forensic audit” senators want.

“I’ve gotten tens of thousands of emails from people, voters in our county, that don’t believe the system is working,” said Sen. Rick Gray, R-Sun City. “I think it’s egregious that we just blow them off.”

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, questioned why the supervisors are expending energy trying to deny the Senate has absolute power to demand an audit and access to equipment and ballots.

“It leads the public to believe they are hiding something,” she said.

The issue of the subpoena aside, the next bit of fallout could be political.

Fann made it clear she would not have brought the resolution up for a vote had Boyer told her ahead of time he wouldn’t go along.

“I think all my bills are now dead,” Boyer told Capitol Media Services, predicting his GOP colleagues who control both the Senate and House won’t provide the votes.

Townsend all but confirmed that.

“If you say you’re going to vote along with your caucus and then you do not, your word is never going to be trusted again,” she said.

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