Senate committe wants Maricopa County election documents, records

PHOENIX – The head of the Senate Government Committee is demanding that Maricopa County officials produce a laundry list of documents and records regarding the just completed general election.

And Kelly Townsend wants them by Monday morning.

Some of the information the Apache Junction Republican wants delivered to the Senate already has been addressed by either County Recorder Stephen Richer or Bill Gates who chairs the board of supervisors. That includes things like a list of which voting centers had problems with tabulators accepting ballots and the “exact reasons for the issues.”

County officials have said some of the ballots that were produced on site – a necessity because any voter could go to any polling place – were not dark enough because of issues with some printers, resulting in the tabulator scanners not being able to read the marks to align them.

But Townsend also wants things like the names of voters who checked in at voting centers on Election Day and dropped off their early ballots but whose votes were subsequently voided. She is demanding similar information about people who checked in at a second voting location after experiencing problems with their ballots at the first site.

Townsend wants proof that the county followed certain procedures required in law for everything from reconciling the number of ballots cast versus the number of people who checked in to obeying rules on maintaining an unbroken chain of custody of the ballots.

And then she wants details of how the printers were set up, and by whom.

All this comes as Townsend is preparing to leave the legislature at the end of the year. She lost her primary race to Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, who she had to face after the Independent Redistricting Commission put them both in the same district.

The legislature is not set to reconvene until Jan. 9.

But Townsend told Capitol Media Services her committee can still meet to review what the county produces. And she said there is a need for action.

“I have many questions that I asked,” Townsend said. “They told me to do a public records request and get in line.”

That, she said, was not an acceptable answer, particularly after she sought information following the August primary, turned in public records request – and ended up with a $300 bill from the county.

Townsend said that, as a state senator she has a tool not available to the general public.

“So I chose to go the route of a subpoena,” she said.

Townsend also said the information she wants is “time sensitive.”

That relates to the fact that the state is set to "canvass'' the results of the election on Dec. 5. And state law allows for challenges within five days after that.

But a successful challenge requires proof that either there were "illegal votes'' or that there was an “erroneous count” that declared the wrong person the winner.

There already is one challenge mounted by Abe Hamadeh, the Republican candidate for attorney general. His attorneys contend there were enough mistakes to make up the 510-vote lead tallied by Democrat Kris Mayes.

Anything discovered by Townsend and her committee, however, could provide fodder for claims by losing GOP gubernatorial hopeful Kari Lake that the election was stolen from her, at least in part because of the Election Day issues in Maricopa County.

The final tally showed her behind Democrat Katie Hobbs by 17,116 votes. But Lake has refused to concede, with allies like Republican Congressman Paul Gosar urging a "redo'' of the election, something that does not appear to be a legal option.

Whether the county can meet Townsend's deadline is unclear.

County spokesman Jason Berry said the clerk of the board of supervisors was not formally served with the subpoena until 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, with Thanksgiving on Thursday and and the county not open on Friday.

“But we will do our best,” Berry said.

There is no question but that a legislative subpoena is legal – and can be enforced.

After the 2020 election – the one that Donald Trump lost – Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, subpoenaed various election records and access to voting equipment. County supervisors voted 4-1 to sue instead and ask a judge to determine whether the subpoena was legally valid.

The case ultimately was settled with the supervisors conceding the Senate's authority.

Townsend said the information she wants is crucial to the role of the legislature in crafting new election laws.

“We need to make an assessment of what happened,” she said. “If we don't know what happened, we don't know how to propose legislation.''

Townsend said she believes something needs to change, saying that the problems that developed “completely undermined any confidence that was left.”

“Now we're the laughingstock of the entire country,” she continued.

And Townsend said it's irrelevant that she won't be back when the new legislature convenes next year to consider changes in law.

“Just because I'm not going to be here doesn't mean I don't have a duty to ask the questions now,” she said.

It isn't just Townsend demanding immediate answers from officials in the state's largest county.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich, also leaving office at the end of the year like Townsend, submitted his own list of questions. And Jennifer Wright, who heads the agency's Elections Integrity Unit also gave county officials until Monday – the day the county is to certify its own results and submit them to the Secretary of State's Office – to respond.

“That's a deadline we intend to meet,” Berry said, even as the board prepares for its formal vote certification on Monday.

“We understand the attorney general has questions that voters have,” he said. “We are anxious to answer them.”

That desire may stem from the fact that Wright has said that statements by Gates and Richer, along with other county communications “appear to confirm potential statutory violations of Title 16,” meaning the state Elections Code. And Brnovich, unlike Townsend, has the power to bring criminal charges against those who break the law.

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