Maricopa County must turn over ballots from the November general election to the Arizona Senate and provide the Senate access to its voting machines so it can conduct an audit, a judge ruled on Friday.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomason said that the subpoenas issued by the Arizona Senate are valid. He said he disagreed with the county’s arguments that they were unlawful and that the county legally could not hand over the ballots.
The decision may resolve a months-long feud between the supervisors and the Senate over how the election should be audited.
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The Senate wants another audit of ballots and a careful check of voter information, while the county believes its multiple audits have been sufficient and says the ballots must remain sealed under state law.
Thomason emphasized in his ruling that he did not want to wade into the politics of the issue.
He said the Senate has broad authority to issue subpoenas, and the Senate’s reasoning to issue them — to see if there are changes that could be made to state law to further protect the integrity of elections — was valid.
Senate President Karen Fann said on Friday that the Senate is “thrilled” with the judge’s decision, and grateful to the judge for seeing the big picture.
“It was never about overturning the election, it was about the integrity of the Arizona election system,” she said. “If people have questions, they deserve answers.”
In response to the ruling, the Board of Supervisors will meet with its attorneys and determine the best way to move forward, according to Fields Moseley, a county spokesperson.
The supervisors could choose to appeal the decision, or they could choose to hand over the ballots, other materials and machines in response to the subpoenas.
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Thomason said in his ruling that he disagreed with the county’s argument that the ballots could not be turned over because they had to remain locked up for a certain period after the election.
On Thursday he had asked the attorneys for the county and Senate to explain their stance on one of the main disagreements in the case: whether the subpoenas override a state law that requires the county to lock up the ballots for two years after an election.
Two state laws apply, and they are contradictory. That’s partly why the supervisors filed the lawsuit — to gain clarity from the court.
First, state law gives the Legislature sweeping authority to issue subpoenas and conduct investigations. The Arizona Attorney General’s Office weighed in on this, saying that legislative bodies or committee chairs can issue summonses either to inform future legislation or to “investigate whether a particular governmental entity properly discharged its functions.”
But state law also requires that, after results are certified, ballots be kept “in a secure facility managed by the county treasurer, who shall keep it unopened and unaltered for twenty-four months for elections for a federal office.”
That portion of the law also states that a court order could unseal the ballots.
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