Arizona Senate Republicans Pass Subpoena Insurance Policy

Published: Friday, February 19, 2021 - 8:06am

Arizona Senate Republicans voted to retroactively change a law that could force Maricopa County officials to hand over 2020 voting records and election equipment they’ve so far refused to provide.

Senate Bill 1408 states that the Legislature’s authority to conduct an investigation on any matter “may not be infringed by any other law.”

Sponsored by Gilbert Republican Warren Petersen, the bill also states that county election equipment and records may not be deemed “privileged information, confidential information or other information protected from disclosure.”

The bill is something of an insurance policy for Petersen and other Senate Republicans, who’ve demanded Maricopa County officials grant them access to election equipment and ballots so the Senate can conduct its own audit of the 2020 general election.

The Maricopa Board of Supervisors complied in part by turning over a trove of election data. But the Republican-controlled board has refused specific demands for ballots and equipment. 

Supervisors filed a lawsuit to quash the Senate GOP subpoena, arguing a state law prohibits them from turning over ballots, and that providing the Senate access to certain election equipment could disqualify those machines from being used in future elections.

The court has yet to settle the issue.

In opposing the bill, Sen. Martin Quezada (D-Glendale) said Republicans’ justification for the subpoena and demand for yet another audit of the election is founded on a “lie” — that the election was stolen or fraudulent.

“The more we continue down this path, we continue to spread the big lie that something was wrong with our election,” Quezada said. “The more we continue to go after the county Board of Supervisors and try to subpoena all this information, all of this stuff, we are furthering and perpetuating this lie.”

Sen. J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler) acknowledged that law has clear application when it comes to the Senate’s recent subpoena.

But Mesnard argued clarifying the Senate’s authority is the bigger issue now at stake.

“This is a much broader statement about the Legislature and our subpoena powers, because as of late, it seems that those powers are not respected,” Mesnard said.

The party-line vote was a victory for Republicans, who saw their last vote attempting to uphold their subpoena of Maricopa County officials fail. The Senate had already considered holding county supervisors in contempt, but Republicans fell one vote short with a 15-15 tie.

Republican Sen. Paul Boyer cast the decisive vote against the contempt resolution, arguing it was too drastic to threaten to arrest the supervisors. But Boyer also said he wanted to give the county and Senate Republicans more time to resolve their differences and come to an agreement that resulted in the Senate getting what they demanded. 

That now could happen as a result of SB 1408. However, it could be awhile before Republicans get their way.

Though the bill applies retroactively, it can’t take effect until 90 days after the end of the legislative session. Assuming the bill passes the House and is signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey, it could be late summer or early fall until the law can be applied.