Arizona legislator subpoenas Maricopa County for answers about Election Day problems. Will the county respond?

Ray Stern
Arizona Republic

A new state Senate subpoena served to Maricopa County officials demands extensive information about Election Day problems, but is unenforceable without a Senate vote.

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction, who issued the subpoena that was served to the county on Wednesday, said she's trying to get answers about why some voters were frustrated in their attempts to cast ballots.

If she cannot find a majority of votes to enforce it, "I still have to do my job — I still have to ask the questions," she told The Arizona Republic.

The county Board of Supervisors, through a spokesperson, declined comment about the subpoena other than acknowledging it was received.

Even without being enforced, the subpoena adds more grist to the call for a new election in the county by conspiracy theorists and Trump-supporting Republican candidates who lost their races to Democratic opponents. They claim the polling-place problems, in which printer ink issues kept ballots from being accepted by tabulator machines, led to numerous spoiled votes or people who abandoned the process after attempting to vote.

On Saturday, the state Attorney General's Election Integrity Unit demanded information from the county about the same problems and suggested that county officials may not have followed state election law. Two of Arizona's 15 counties, Cochise and Mohave, delayed certifying their election results until the Nov. 28 deadline because of questions about the voting process.

Maricopa County election officials have downplayed the issues, saying that no voters were disenfranchised. They and state officials have said they will carry out certification of the Nov. 8 election even if some counties don't. The county and state certification deadlines are Nov. 28 and Dec. 5, respectively.

The subpoena, which Townsend shared with The Republic, commands county officials to bring a hard copy of the answers to the state Senate by 9:30 a.m. Nov. 28. It includes a list of 31 bullet points that each has one or more questions, asking first about the "exact locations of day-of voting centers that experienced issues with tabulators accepting ballots" and asking the reasons why the tabulating machines could not process some ballots.

It asks how the county handled the process, when officials knew of the problems, how many complaints came in and other questions directly related to the voting issues, such as how many voters checked into a polling place on Nov. 8 yet did not cast a vote that day.

It becomes part fishing expedition with other questions, asking for emails and other communications from County Recorder Stephen Richer and Elections Director Scott Jarrett, and between the county and Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who won the race for governor against Republican Kari Lake.

Most of the questions in the subpoena should be "pretty simple to answer," Townsend said.

She's not going to weigh in on whether the county needs an election do-over, even if the county answers her questions, she said.

"That is for candidates or whomever else the party wants to bring to court, and for judges to decide," Townsend said. "My role and my colleagues' role is to write law to prevent these kinds of things from happening."

The questions are time sensitive because of the upcoming certifications, she added.

Townsend has been a leader among other election deniers in the state Legislature as chair of the Senate Government Committee, holding hearings for dozens of bills this year that were based on unproven allegations of fraud in the 2020 election.

After then-President Donald Trump lost that election, she sent a letter to then-Vice President Mike Pence — signed by 30 current and former state lawmakers — asking him to delay the election's certification or turn over the state's electoral votes to Trump.

After failing to obtain Trump's endorsement for a run for Congress, Townsend decided in March to run against fellow Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, who had been drawn into the same district as her by the once-a-decade redistricting process that ended this year. Townsend lost the primary race to Rogers and won't be returning as a senator in 2023.

Rogers is a nationally known, Trump-endorsed election denier and hard-line conservative who was censured by both Republicans and Democrats earlier this year for implying her political enemies should be hanged and for threatening to destroy the career of fellow GOP lawmakers who criticize her. She was also referred to the Senate Ethics Committee after suggesting the shooter in the racist massacre of 13 Black people in May at a Buffalo, New York, grocery was a federal agent and part of a federal conspiracy.

Rogers was recently appointed to lead the new Senate Election Committee.

State law allows the state Senate president, speaker of the House or "the chairman of any committee" to issue a subpoena that compels a witness to appear before the Senate or House at a certain time or place. If a witness "neglects or refuses to obey" the subpoena, lawmakers can order the arrest of the witness.

But first, a majority of members in the House or Senate must vote to hold the witness in contempt.

Republicans have a one-vote majority in the Senate and House. In February 2021, the Senate — while preparing its partisan audit of the 2020 election — was thwarted by the single vote of Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, from holding county officials in contempt for failing to turn over records demanded in a subpoena.

Boyer was vilified by his Republican peers for the vote and had to request police protection at his home after receiving violent threats from members of the public. A veteran lawmaker who had served in the House or Senate since 2008, Boyer decided not to run for office again this year.

Asked Wednesday what he would do if the county ignores Townsend's subpoena, Boyer said, "I'd vote for Townsend for Senate president before I'd vote for contempt for the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors."

Reach the reporter at rstern@arizonarepublic.com or 480-276-3237. Follow him on Twitter @raystern.

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