Chandler politicos in historic confrontation The Chandler Arizonan

Chandler politicos in historic confrontation

February 23rd, 2021 Chandler Arizona Staff
Chandler politicos in historic confrontation
City News

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

The chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, whose district includes part of Ahwatukee, and his colleagues are at the epicenter of a historic confrontation with the State Senate over the Nov. 3 presidential election results.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers, a former Chandler City Council member, and his four colleagues are at odds with his fellow Republicans in the Senate over lawmakers’ demand for access to voting machines and ballots from the last election.

The Senate Republicans’ effort to hold Maricopa County supervisors in contempt – possibly exposing them to arrest – faltered two weeks ago after Glendale Republican Sen. Paul Boyer refused to go along.

For his part, Sellers said Feb. 12 at a Chandler Chamber of Commerce that it was time Senate Republicans put the election in the rearview mirror.

“I’m anxious to get back to the real work of the county,” he said, repeating his and his three Republican supervisor colleagues’ insistence that they have given senators everything they legally can provide.

Boyer said that while he believes the Senate has the power to use its subpoena power to demand access to the voting machines and ballots, he believes that power should be used “sparingly and reluctantly.’’

Boyer said he believes the county is willing to conduct an additional audit of the results of the Nov. 3 election to answer questions about whether the reported results giving the edge to President 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 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 Gilbert Sen. Warren Petersen, 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 even some apparently conflicting arguments about whether courts have authority over the enforcement of legislative subpoenas.

Petersen late last week took a new tack, sponsoring a measure that would change the law retroactively in a bid to eventually get their hands on voting equipment and ballots, even if it takes months.

SB 1408 would spell out in statute that county election equipment, systems, records and other information “may not be deemed privileged information, confidential information or other information protected from disclosure.’’

The measure, approved on a party-line 5-3 vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee, declares that this information is “subject to subpoena and must be produced.’’ And it empowers the judge to compel production of the materials and records.

Petersen, who chairs the panel, made it clear the legislation has one purpose: to force the hand of Maricopa County officials who have so far refused to comply with a subpoena the Senate has issued.

They have produced various records.

But the supervisors contend the county is precluded from surrendering access to voting machines and the actual ballots to senators or the auditors they hope to hire. And so far, the Senate’s efforts to get a court ruling compelling disclosure have faltered.

Chandler Sen. J.D. Mesnard said claims by the supervisors they want this resolved ring hollow, citing a filing which sought a court order to block the Senate from even voting on the contempt resolution.

In that filing, board attorney John Doran told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Mikitish the move 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.’’

“That is beyond outrageous,’’ Mesnard said. “Their actions show they are dripping with contempt.’’

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 had planned a contempt vote for 2-1/2 weeks ago but held off in hopes it wouldn’t come to that.

Yet 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.

Sellers has the full support of the board’s other three Republican members and the lone Democrat.

In a Facebook post Feb. 5, Sellers castigated Fann, stating she “continues to run from the fact that she has hired debunked conspiracy theorist utilized by Rudy Giuliani to conduct a Senate ‘audit’ suspiciously as an impeachment trial is set to begin in the United States Senate.

He noted it is illegal for the board to give custody of ballots to anyone without a court order and that the county already has given the Senate “reams of data” and “everything in their subpoena that we are legally allowed to provide.”

Sellers also noted the county is conducting two audits with the help of certified auditors from the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission.

Supervisor Steve Gallardo, the lone Democrat on the board, was more blunt, stating in a release, “Arizona GOP senators have been complicit in a big lie about the election for three months now. This sham subpoena to get access to people’s private ballots is all in service of the big lie.  The big lie has always been about a single issue on the ballot—the presidential race—and the ego of the former President…The November election was safe, secure, and accurate.”

He also said a vote in favor of the contempt action is “expressing their contempt for the will of the majority of Maricopa County residents.”

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

What happens next is unclear.

Contempt citation or not, there is still a subpoena demanding access to the machines and the ballots.

The county has a pending lawsuit asking a judge to void the subpoena as invalid, saying state law prohibits the county from surrendering access to them. But that lawsuit could be used to adjudicate the dispute about whether that also applies to the Legislature.

Much of the dispute is over a section of state law which says that 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.

“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?’’

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

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

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

“I think all my bills are now dead,’’ Boyer told Capitol Media Services, as 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.

Then there’s the 2022 election.

“I’m sure there will be political ramifications as well,’’ Boyer said.

Arizonan staff contributed to this report.

Fann said this isn’t about overturning the last election. But she said lawmakers have the power to review.

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