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Senate searching for place to store subpoenaed ballots

By: - March 3, 2021 1:22 pm

Image courtesy Maricopa County

Maricopa County won’t let the Arizona Senate use its facilities to conduct an audit of the 2020 general election, and the Senate is now trying to figure out where to store the nearly 2.1 million paper ballots it subpoenaed.

A judge ruled that the county had to comply with Senate subpoenas for all ballots, as well as a plethora of other materials and equipment from the November election. There are about 70 pallets of ballots ready for delivery, according to the county elections department.

In an email exchange on Monday, the Senate’s attorneys told the county’s lawyers that the Senate’s preference is for the audit to take place at the county’s facilities or for the county to hold onto the ballots until suitable arrangements can be made to store them elsewhere. Kory Langhofer, an attorney for the Senate, said he hopes to finalize plans over the next few days.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers told Senate President Karen Fann in a letter on Wednesday that the ballots had been loaded onto trucks and were ready to go, even including a photo of one truck filled with ballots. He said the subpoenas issued by Fann and two Senate Judiciary Committee chairmen in December and January, which commanded the county to “produce” the ballots and other materials and to permit inspection of them, hadn’t been modified, and that the county planned to deliver those ballots to the Senate building on Monday.

However, the Senate’s legal counsel said the Senate was unprepared to take custody of the ballots, Sellers wrote, and there was no agreement or subpoena regarding the use of the county’s facilities. Because the county is currently administering municipal elections, Sellers said it can’t permit unauthorized people in the elections facility.

“Please advise us when the Senate is ready to receive the subpoenaed materials and where they should be delivered. If the Senate no longer wants the materials delivered, the County stands ready to discuss next steps,” Sellers wrote.

Mike Philipsen, a spokesman for the Senate Republicans, was dismayed that the Senate’s auditors won’t be able to use the county’s facilities, and will instead have to store and examine the ballots elsewhere.

“I’m not sure why the County is not treating this third audit like the previous two, when they invited the auditors to the County facilities. The Senate made it clear that was its intention for this audit,” Philipsen told the Arizona Mirror in an email, referring to audits that Maricopa County recently commissioned of its ballot tabulation machines.

Audits find no problems with Maricopa County election machines

County spokesman Fields Moseley said the county doesn’t want to let the Senate auditors use its facilities because it’s in the middle of conducting a municipal election in Goodyear. He said the decision wasn’t driven by any bad blood or lingering animosity from the county’s legal battle with the Senate over the ballots and other election materials. And if the Senate’s intent was to use county facilities, Moseley said that’s never been conveyed to the county.

“Why would you assume you can come to our place of business and conduct whatever business you see fit? That’s not a part of the subpoena,” Moseley told the Mirror. “Nobody is really sure why they made this assumption.”

Even if the dispute over where the audit would be conducted were settled, there would still be more work to be done before the audit takes place, largely because the Senate hasn’t actually selected an auditor, despite having more than two months to do so.

Fann chose Allied Security Operations Group, a firm allied with former President Donald Trump that has repeatedly spread misinformation about the election and made baseless claims about election fraud, to help conduct the audit. But she’s no longer considering the company for the audit, saying there was too much negative media coverage about the firm’s past that would lead to criticism the company wouldn’t be independent.

The Senate president has said she is considering several firms to conduct the audit, but has not identified them.

Whether the Senate uses county facilities to audit the election tabulation machines may be another matter. Dominion Voting Systems, which provides the county’s machines, has hired an attorney and has told the Senate that it wants the machines to remain with the county, according to an email provided by the Senate.

Moseley said the county is concerned that any failure to deliver materials and equipment to the Senate would violate the subpoenas, and the supervisors have no desire to see another contempt vote in the Senate. Prior to the judge’s ruling upholding the subpoenas, a resolution to hold the supervisors in contempt for refusing to turn over the materials, which empowered Fann to have them arrested, failed by one vote in the Senate.

But Moseley left the door open to such an arrangement, if Dominion requests it and the Senate agrees.

“I think anything’s possible. There would have to be a lot of discussions and things would have to be in writing,” he said.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Associate Editor Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”

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