Arizona Senate pushes backup plan in election fight with Maricopa County

Arizona Senate Republicans who have been battling with Maricopa County to get access to ballots and election equipment from the November election are pushing a backup plan to gain that access in case a court agrees with the county board’s position that the materials are protected.

A Senate committee dominated by Republicans advanced a proposal Feb. 11 that says ballots and election machines are not privileged, confidential or protected from disclosure if the Legislature issues a subpoena. Democrats were opposed.

The Republican-controlled county board has been fighting the Senate’s effort to get access to ballots and election machines since mid-December under a subpoena issued by lawmakers who have questioned President Joe Biden’s win in the state. The board maintains the ballots are secret under law and the state constitution and tabulation machines can’t be compromised by allowing uncertified people to examine them.

RELATEDArizona State Senate fails to pass contempt resolution against Maricopa County Board of Supervisors

The board handed over reams of materials and is doing two audits of their own on the machines to ensure they accurately counted ballots and weren’t hacked.

The Senate fell one vote short of finding the board in contempt on Monday, just days after the county board asked a judge to quash the subpoenas.

GOP Sen. Warren Peterson of Gilbert, who issued the latest subpoenas after taking over as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, said his new proposal is "an insurance policy" in case a judge rules against the Senate.

"They continue to hold the position that we don’t have the authority to investigate and audit the ballots and in this case the equipment," Peterson said at Tuesday’s hearing on his proposal, SB 1408. "So this makes clear what we already believe is the law."

Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada called the proposal another effort by Republicans who question former President Donald Trump’s defeat to perpetuate their unfounded claims and question dozens of court rulings nationwide that found no fraud or other issues with the vote.

"I think that’s the big problem here, that there’s a small segment of our population, and a large segment of our elected officials, that are refusing to accept the result of these judicial challenges," Quezada said. "And that’s the furtherance once again of "The Big Lie", that there was some sort of election fraud. There wasn’t, at all."

On Wednesday, the Republican county recorder in Maricopa County issued a detailed defense of the audits the county is holding, saying statements by Peterson and others that the audits fall short are inaccurate. And a county board member leveled a broadside against a GOP senator who accused him and the board during the contempt vote Monday of shifting its positions as it fought the subpoenas and the supervisor as misrepresenting the truth.

MORE: Maricopa County asks court to quash Senate subpoena over 2020 election ballots

"What’s the difference between that and a bald faced lie," Sen. Rick Gray said. "I don’t see a difference."

GOP Supervisor Clint Hickman was visible angry at Wednesday’s board meeting as he blasted the senator, who he didn’t name in keeping with Senate tradition of not naming people they are criticizing. Instead, he called Sen. Rick Gray, who blasted Hickman and the board, "Senator Dick."

"So Dick had some horrible things to say," Hickman said. "He questioned the honorableness of our board. He questioned my honesty, and he knew he had a microphone to do it, and I don’t possess the kind of microphone he has speaking on a floor speech."

Hickman went on to say his wife was worried about the family’s security after watching Gray’s comments.

"He lost control," Hickman said. "It’s almost like Senator Dick lost himself, almost like Dick didn’t know Dick. And that is horrible to me."

Gray said Thursday that it’s clear from media coverage that the county has as large a voice as his, and that all he wants is an outside audit that will satisfy those who are questioning the results.

"I personally do not want to go back and forth with him," Gray said Friday. "My goal is to drop this as soon as possible."

A court has not yet set a hearing on the county’s request to quash the senate subpoenas.

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