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Judge sides with Senate, says Maricopa must turn over election materials for audit

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors must turn over ballots and tabulation machines to Senate Republican leaders so they can conduct an audit of the 2020 general election, a judge ruled.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomason ruled on Friday that it was within the Senate’s authority to subpoena the materials and equipment so it can audit the election. The ruling brings a potential conclusion to the months-long battle between the supervisors and the Senate.

“The Court finds that the Subpoenas are legal and enforceable,” Thomason wrote in his ruling.

It’s unclear whether the supervisors will appeal. A spokesman for Maricopa County said the supervisors will meet with legal counsel to determine the best path forward.

Senate President Karen Fann and two successive Senate Judiciary Committee chairmen issued subpoenas for nearly 2.1 million ballots, around 300 tabulation machines and a trove of other data and materials. They sought to conduct an audit of the election in response to the baseless fraud allegations and conspiracy theories espoused by former President Donald Trump and many of his supporters, including some Senate Republicans, after President Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election.

“We are very, very thrilled and grateful for the judge to look at the big picture and recognize that this was never about overturning any election. This was always about voter integrity and the integrity of the voting system itself,” Fann, a Prescott Republican, told the Arizona Mirror.

The dispute began in December, when then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Eddie Farnsworth held a six-hour hearing to question county officials about the conduct of the election. Even though the hearing turned up no evidence of any fraud, malfeasance or misconduct in the way Maricopa County conducted the election, Farnsworth and Fann issued the first round of subpoenas, prompting a lawsuit from the supervisors. Sen. Warren Petersen re-issued the subpoenas in January after he succeeded Farnsworth as the committee’s chairman.

Maricopa County challenged the subpoenas in court, arguing that it would be illegal to turn over the ballots to anyone, citing state laws requiring ballots to go under lock and key once an election is canvassed. And the supervisors said it would jeopardize the certification of its ballot tabulation machines to allow an unaccredited or unqualified auditor to examine them.

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All 16 Senate Republicans co-sponsored a resolution to find the supervisors in contempt for defying the subpoenas, which authorized Fann to have all five of them arrested and could have potentially led to misdemeanor charges. But the resolution fell one vote short when Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, opposed it, saying he wanted to give the county more time to sort out the legal issues.

Petersen, a Gilbert Republican, later introduced legislation that would expressly authorize legislative chambers and committees to subpoena ballots and other election equipment and materials, and specifies that the legislature has the right to investigate any matter it wants. The Senate has approved the legislation, which now awaits action in the House of Representatives.

While the legal battle ensued, the Board of Supervisors conducted its own audits of the election machines. Maricopa County’s ballot tabulation machines are provided by Dominion Voting Systems, the nation’s second largest provider of such equipment, which has been the subject of many conspiracy theories and false allegations since Trump lost the election.

The audits gave the machines and their software a clean bill of health, finding that they weren’t connected to the internet during the election, weren’t hacked or infected with any malicious software, and hadn’t switched any votes during the counting of ballots. The audits were conducted by SLI Compliance and Pro V&V Laboratories, the only two companies accredited by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to certify and examine tabulation machines.

Fann has taken issue with the two companies because they had previously certified Dominion’s machines and software. She had looked to hire Allied Systems Operations Group, a Texas company whose employees had served as witnesses for the Trump campaign during various legislative hearings about the election and have a well-documented history of spreading false claims about election fraud in Arizona and other swing states that voted for Biden.

Fann told the Mirror that she is considering several potential auditors, though she said ASOG likely will not be one of them because some people believe it would not be independent.

“I think that would be difficult for anyone to select them at that point, just because of the perception out there. However, I do believe they’re fully qualified. However, there’s a perception that they would not be fully independent,” Fann said.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.


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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy/Arizona Mirror

While the legal battle ensued, the Board of Supervisors conducted its own audits of the election machines. The audits gave the machines and their software a clean bill of health.

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