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Senate vote to hold Board of Supervisors in contempt fails

Posted at 10:58 PM, Feb 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-09 08:05:09-05

PHOENIX — The Arizona Senate has a narrow majority, but still, many believed it would be enough to secure votes to hold the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in contempt of the legislature.

Finding them in contempt would force them to respond to subpoenas issued by the Senate in December demanding more than two million ballots be delivered for review.

A simple majority vote would not just be symbolic -- it would authorize their arrest. Yet, after more than two hours, the effort failed. All but one Republican senator voted in favor of the measure.

"Oversight and review of government are the responsibilities of the Senate. It will happen when all parties have legal confidence, it should happen without contempt charges, and the legal process to proceed is underway," said Senator Paul Boyer.

It's been an ongoing push and pull between both bodies of government.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors has repeatedly refused to turn over ballots cast in the 2020 general election, citing state statutes that prohibit county election officials to do so without a court order.

Despite months of disagreement, several subpoenas, lawsuits, and meetings, the two have never seen eye to eye. Many Republican senators continue to demand an audit of the election, even after the Maricopa County agreed to hire two independent firms to conduct them.

The Senate still argues those audits wouldn't produce sufficient results without looking at ballots cast.

“The two audits they have are a joke," said Senator Warren Petersen, the Republican Senate Judiciary Committee leader. "They’re not going to find anything. They’re not meant to find anything, even if there is fraud."

There is no evidence that the election was fixed, stolen, or otherwise compromised. Arizonans voted to send Joe Biden to the White House, rejecting now-former President Donald Trump.

"The Board of Supervisors is insisting that the 2020 election was conducted flawlessly in Maricopa County and that they can pick and choose what election materials it will or won’t produce to the Senate," added Warren. "This defiance of valid subpoenas is unlawful, and it’s offensive."

The 15-15 vote surprised Senate President Karen Fann, who pled to the Senate to pass the resolution at the eleventh hour, telling the floor she was confident the measure had the votes to move forward prior to the call for a vote.

"I am asking for enough votes to get this to pass so that we can actually pursue this matter with the courts so we can get a resolution and get this out behind us," said Fann.

“I would have not put this on the board had I not been under the impression and was told that we had 16 solid votes. Had I been told that there wasn’t, perhaps we would’ve talked about this before it went up on the board.”

Other GOP lawmakers also blindsided, used their time to aim questions and comments to Boyer after he announced he wouldn't be aligning with his party on the issue.

“We have someone who has reneged on his word and now he’s going to have to go into the hands of the public," said Senator Kelly Townsend.

"Right now, the last place this needs to be is in a place where the public is so lathered up over all of this... I’m embarrassed, I’m ashamed and I’m disappointed that those I believed have completely destroyed my confidence in them. So, public, do what you got to do."

Republican Senators in favor of the measure argued their votes were not related to the results of the 2020 election. Many argued they wanted the county to comply with subpoenas to reassure voter confidence, and to allow the Senate to move forward with legislation to improve future elections in Arizona.

Others, however, focused on the county's seemingly rebellious decision; one many saw as an attempt to undermine the authority of the Senate.

“I never pledged to a white flag and that’s what you’re doing right now," said Senator Sonny Borelli. "You’re surrendering your authority. I’ll tell you right now surrender is not in my creed and I can’t believe you guys are allowing them to walk all over you."

"[The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors] are people that I personally like," said Senator J.D. Mesnard. "The institution's record will be damaged. People will now think they can ignore a subpoena and that there isn’t, you know, likely consequence to that even though our subpoenas are if every bit as enforceable as judicial subpoenas.”

"Their actions show they are dripping with contempt," added Mesnard.

Just hours before Monday's vote, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors filed a restraining order against the Arizona Senate, unaware of the eventual outcome in their favor.

The court filing asked a judge to grant the county its relief:

"...For the purpose of restraining and enjoining the Senators from taking any further action to hold the Supervisors in contempt pursuant to A.R.S. §§ 41-1153 or -1154-including voting to do so, or to enforce that contempt pursuant to A.R.S. §§ 41-1153 or -1155, until this Court determines whether (a) the subpoena at issue were lawfully issued and remain valid, and (b) any contempt process utilized against the Supervisors will afford them basic due process, which at minimum includes adequate notice of how precisely the Supervisors have acted contemptuously and an adequate opportunity to address those allegations."

The Senate's split vote means the issue will likely continue to be dealt with in courts and could make its way to the state supreme court.