Arizona Senate fast-tracks contempt vote in election wrangle
PHOENIX - Republicans who control the Arizona Senate voted Thursday to fast-track a resolution finding Maricopa County in contempt for failing to turn over elections equipment and ballots cast in the November election as a subpoena demanded.
The rules change brought furious opposition from minority Democrats, who called the effort further evidence that GOP senators have bought into unfounded conspiracy theories that President Joe Biden won Arizona because of problems with vote counting.
“The more we play along with this silly game the more we are lying to the people of Arizona about it,” Sen. Martin Quezada, a Glendale Democrat, said. “We need to cut this out, and we need to cut it out now.”
The 16-13 party-line vote to waive requirements for committee hearings and full debate sets up a formal vote on the resolution as soon as Monday. If it passes, county supervisors could be arrested for failing to comply with the subpoenas.
Republicans said they were not challenging the election results, noting that Biden is now president. Instead, they said they want to do their own audit of the county's voting machines and review ballots to restore confidence in the county's elections.
“What we are trying is to prove to the voters of Maricopa County that they can trust and count on their election process,” GOP Sen. Rick Gray said during the vote. “I think that is reasonable. I think that is necessary.”
The county Board of Supervisors held an emergency meeting shortly after the Senate adjourned for the day and voted unamimously to have their attorneys go to court "protect the integrity of the electoral process and the privacy of the ballots and of the voters of Maricopa county in the courts.”
The Senate introduced the resolution Wednesday afternoon, and all 16 Republican senators are listed as sponsors, meaning it is virtually certain to pass. It authorizes Senate President Karen Fann to take “all legal action" needed to enforce the subpoena.
Republican Sen. Sonny Borrelli said the county's refusal to allow access to its voting equipment was infuriating.
“This is a challenge, a direct challenge to your authority, to this body. And I’m really surprised you that you don’t recognize this and you’re making it a partisan issue,” Borrelli said. “We have a political subdivision literally spitting in the face of the state Senate.”
The Republican-dominated board on Tuesday again refused to comply with subpoenas GOP lawmakers issued as they try to show that fraud or other election misdeeds might have led to Biden's win in the state. Courts rejected eight lawsuits filed by backers of former President Donald Trump after his loss, finding there was no evidence that he did not lose.
The Senate has demanded access to voting machines and all 2.1 million ballots cast in the election. The board has said it can’t comply because ballots are sealed by law and the voting machines the Senate wants to examine need to remain secure.
The supervisors have repeatedly pointed to multiple tests of the voting machines done before and after the election and hand counts of a sample of ballots that showed the count was accurate. They fought subpoenas issued in December by the Senate Judiciary Committee with the backing of Fann in court. Still, the county is conducting two new voting machine audits.
New subpoenas were issued after a new Legislature was sworn in on Jan. 11. No new proceedings have been initiated by either side befoe the county action Thursday afternoon.
GOP county Supervisor Bill Gates issued a statement after the resolution was introduced saying “I will never be in favor” of turning over ballots without a court order.
“Not only is it illegal under Arizona state law for this Board to turn over custody of the ballots, it is also unfathomable that the Arizona Senate has hired a known, and frequently debunked, conspiracy theorist to conduct their audit,” he said in a statement that he also posted on Twitter.
Documents released Wednesday by the county show that Fann is considering hiring a firm with strong connections to the Trump campaign’s efforts to overturn election results in multiple battleground states to do its audit.
Fann said Thursday that no firm has been hired, and that arresting the supervisors isn't the only option if the resolution passes.
“First and foremost, the supervisors could pick up the phone and say you’re right, let’s get a third independent (auditor) and do that,” Fann said.
She listed other options, such as going again to court or asking the attorney general to intervene.
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