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Maricopa County rejects Senate election subpoena demands, spawning contempt charges

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors did not comply with the Arizona Senate’s request to set a date for turning over materials that Republican lawmakers subpoenaed for a proposed audit of the 2020 general election.

And that could land them in jail for contempt, if one of the Senate Republicans who issued the subpoenas has his way.

The Senate had given the county supervisors a deadline of noon Tuesday to say when they would comply with the disputed subpoenas, which Maricopa County has challenged in court and says are outside the purview of the Senate’s legal authority. After conferring with legal counsel on Tuesday morning, the supervisors again refused the Senate’s demand for ballot tabulation machines, software, data and more than 2 million paper ballots.

Fields Moseley, a spokesman for the county, said the supervisors have turned over some data sought by the Senate, such as publicly available voter registration information. But it legally can’t and has no intention to provide other items requested in the subpoenas.

“The board has no interest in turning over 2.1 million ballots that are under seal, per state law. There is no mechanism other than a court order to compel the release of those ballots,” Moseley said.

The county began its own audit of its ballot tabulation machines on Tuesday, which it expects to wrap up by the end of the week. But even after that audit is complete, Moseley said the county wouldn’t agree to turn the machines over to the Senate without knowing who will examine them or what scope of work they’ll undertake.

Moseley said the machines are critical infrastructure, and that giving them to people who aren’t certified or qualified to examine them would “create an inherent security risk” and might violate the county’s contract with Dominion Voting Systems, which the county leased the machines from in 2019.

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said Senate Republicans will meet on Wednesday to determine how to respond to the county’s refusal.

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Sen. Warren Petersen, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and jointly issued the subpoenas with Fann, wrote on Twitter that it was “truly unfortunate” that the county refused to comply with the subpoenas. Petersen said the Senate was drafting a contempt resolution, which could subject the supervisors to arrest and misdemeanor charges.

“There is no legal consequence if they allow us access to the machines and ballots,” the Gilbert Republican wrote on Tuesday. “However there are serious legal consequences for failing to comply with the subpoena.”

The Senate can vote to hold a witness in contempt for refusing to comply with a legislative subpoena, and refusal to comply with a legislative subpoena is a class two misdemeanor. It’s unclear how many Senate Republicans would vote to hold the supervisors in contempt. There are only 16 Republicans in the Senate, meaning a single defection — the Democrats would likely vote unanimously against contempt — could derail a contempt vote.

A judge in the county’s lawsuit has not yet ruled on whether the Senate is actually entitled to the materials it sought with its subpoenas or whether the Senate has the legal authority to conduct an audit of the election.

Fann has refused to say who will conduct the audit if the county complies with the subpoenas. Fann and Petersen announced Jan. 29 that they had hired a firm, but Fann told the Arizona Mirror on Monday that the statement had been in error. Though the Senate has chosen a firm, the decision is not final, and two other companies are under consideration as well. Fann declined to identify any of the firms.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.


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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy/Arizona Mirror

A protester holds a sign outside the Executive Tower in Phoenix on Dec. 14, 2020. Senate President Karen Fann has refused to say who will conduct the audit if the county complies with the subpoenas.

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