In a sign the Senate audit, which was supposed to be only about the 2020 election results, is now expanding in scope, Senate President Karen Fann now wants documents from Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.
In a public records request, the Prescott Republican is demanding any communications Hobbs has had with anyone about the audit and the litigation it has produced. And Fann is casting a wide net, seeking not just messages with federal, state and local officials but also political parties, volunteers, consultants, vendors, formal or informal advisors, fundraisers and the media.
“I can’t disclose what we’re looking for at this time,” Fann told Capitol Media Services, including how any of what she wants fits into the Senate’s need to investigate the election conduct and results as part of its duties to review existing laws and craft new ones.
The move comes as Hobbs, a Democrat, has publicly accused the auditors of “making it up as they go along,” and saying she has no confidence in whatever is produced by Cyber Ninjas, the firm Fann hired to conduct the review.
For the moment, Hobbs aide Murphy Hebert said her boss, is reviewing the request.
“At this point it appears to be the kind of nebulous fishing expedition that we’ve come to expect from the Senate president,” she said. And Hebert called it “ironic” that this comes even as Fann has hired outside counsel to fight requests for public records about the audit, “including who’s actually funding the partisan ballot review.”
The development comes as former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who was Fann’s initial choice as her liaison with Cyber Ninjas, said he has been locked out of the Veterans Memorial Coliseum over a dispute about information he provided to outsiders.
Meanwhile, Randy Pullen, whom Fann also tapped to work with the auditors, said the final counting of the ballots was completed Tuesday. He said they are being packed up for return to Maricopa County.
Pullen said a report on the audit could be prepared by the middle of August.
But all that depends on what new information is obtained from the county. And that goes to Fann’s separate decision to now issue new — and long expected — subpoenas to the county supervisors for items that Cyber Ninjas contends is necessary for it to complete its work.
Here, too, the scope is broad, ranging from envelopes in which early ballots were received to passwords, security keys or tokens to access the ballot tabulation devices. And then there’s the demand for the county’s routers, the devices that show traffic between computers as well as any links to the internet.
All that goes to the contention by the auditors that the county’s election system had somehow been compromised or hacked. That follows reports that the county’s voter registration system had been breached.
The issue of those routers — and what those who question the fact that Joe Biden won the state’s 11 electoral votes — has become so heated that former President Trump commented on it during the rally this past weekend in Phoenix, telling senators they must pursue that demand.
County officials say the election equipment itself was never connected to the internet, citing their own audit which they say confirms that fact.
But the fight goes beyond that, to the claim by Sheriff Paul Penzone that giving outsiders access to the routers could compromise law enforcement because it provides a road map of everyone communicating with anyone else in the county.
The subpoena also wants up-to-date voter records along with notations of any changes made. That goes to allegations by Cyber Ninjas that there is evidence some people were permitted to vote who had not registered by the deadline.
County spokesman Fields Moseley said any response will have to wait until the supervisors meet and consult with their legal counsel. But he said the supervisors believe “the county has already provided everything competent auditors would need to confirm the accuracy and security of the 2020 election,” a slap at Cyber Ninjas which has never performed this kind of audit before.
And Jack Sellers, who chairs the board, already has made his feelings quite apparent.
“I want to make it clear: I will not be responding to any more requests from this sham process,” he said in May.
The board is set to meet Wednesday. They don’t have a lot of time to respond: Fann has demanded that everything they want be produced at the Senate at 1 p.m. Monday.
That’s also the same deadline Fann set for Dominion Voting Systems, from who the county leases the counting equipment, to produce all the passwords necessary “for all levels of access, including, but not limited to, administrator access.” County officials, who have also been asked for that information, say they can’t produce what they don’t have.
Dominion is making it clear it intends to fight.
“Releasing Dominion’s intellectual property to an unaccredited, biased, and plainly unreliable actor such as Cyber Ninjas would be reckless, causing irreperable damage to the commercial interests of the company and the election security of the country,” a spokeswoman said in a prepared comment. “No company should be compelled to participate in such an irresponsible act.”
All this could pave the way for a new round of litigation about the extent of the ability of Fann to demand whatever she says is necessary for the Senate to investigate the 2020 election.
Strictly speaking, Fann does not have the necessary 16 votes in the Senate to hold the supervisors — or anyone — in contempt for failing to comply with the subpoenas.
Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, balked at an earlier contempt vote. And since that time, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, initially a supporter of the audit said she has become soured on what has happened.
“Sadly, it’s now become clear that the audit has been botched,” she wrote in a Twitter post. “The total lack of competence by Karen Fann over the last five months has deprived the voters of Arizona a comprehensive accounting of the 2020 election.”
But just because the Senate can’t hold anyone in contempt does not leave Fann powerless.
The last time the supervisors sought to fight a subpoena they lost. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomasson said that Fann,, as Senate president, has broad powers to issue subpoenas for anything related to a legitimate legislative purpose. And he said the Senate is entitled to review the election results to determine whether changes are needed in election laws.
More to the point, the judge said there is no requirement for a majority of the Senate to approve issuance of a subpoena.