In letting the Senate’s audit drag on as auditors demand more subpoenaed materials, Senate President Karen Fann has managed to delay a fight within her caucus over how to handle the eventual results.
The July 15 impromptu broadcast meeting with Fann, Senate Judiciary Committee chair Warren Petersen and the audit team they hired laid bare ongoing rifts in the Senate Republican caucus, as some responded with calls to overturn election results and others stepped up criticism.
Sen. Wendy Rogers, a Flagstaff Republican who has been among the most vocal to question the 2020 presidential election results, tweeted partway through the meeting that she had heard enough and it was time to remove President Joe Biden’s Arizona electoral votes – something the Senate cannot do, and that wouldn’t affect Biden’s national victory.
On the other end of the spectrum, Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, has renewed his criticism of the audit. Boyer, like all Senate Republicans, supported the concept of a Senate-led audit last winter, but quickly soured on the idea after Fann attempted to hold Maricopa County’s supervisors in contempt and selected the Cyber Ninjas, a firm that lacks election auditing experience and has a CEO who promoted election conspiracies on since-deleted social media accounts.
“You told us in closed caucus the ‘audit’ would not cost taxpayers more than 150k and you wouldn’t divulge who you were hiring,” he tweeted at Fann. “Had you told us it was an inexperienced, partisan firm, I wouldn’t have been the only one to object.”
Boyer did not return a call Wednesday. Sen. T.J. Shope, a Coolidge Republican who with Boyer is widely viewed as the closest thing to a moderate left in the Senate Republican caucus, said he wants to get a second opinion on any audit results before the Legislature tries to pass new laws.
He worked closely with election officials across the state this year to introduce a rare noncontroversial election law bill, with adjustments to filing deadlines and a ban on using slogans as part of a nickname on a ballot.
“I’ve been at this thing for nine years,” Shope said. “I’ve made relationships with different county recorders across the state and elections department officials, obviously good enough to run a bill that was written the way that they wanted it earlier this year, so there are people that I trust that I would go to with any of these findings.”
Fann said during an interview last week that she stood behind the audit and would repeat the whole process over again.
“I think that it’s going to open up a lot of eyes about some improvements that we can make in our system,” she said.
But her insistence that the Senate is only looking forward at how to pass laws affecting the next election, not changing the results of the prior one, is an unpopular opinion among some in her caucus.
Along with Rogers, Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, has said the Legislature should consider reconvening to attempt to overturn the 9-month-old election results. Townsend is also seeking an Attorney General investigation into Maricopa County based on last week’s hearing, though she said she has yet to hear back about whether Attorney General Mark Brnovich will take up her request.
Townsend said she wants to change a state law requiring the House or Senate to vote on a resolution to hold anyone who refuses to comply with a legislative subpoena in contempt, thus enabling Fann or House Speaker Rusty Bowers to send the sergeant at arms to fetch recalcitrant witnesses without needing the support of a majority of a legislative body.
Instead, she said, it should be a class one misdemeanor – punishable by up to six months in jail – for anyone to ignore a Senate subpoena.
“We’re not going to give up,” Townsend said. “I’m not giving up, and I will do what’s necessary to complete the people’s audit. And if they can’t do it on their own, we will find a way to force them to do it, either now or next year, and if laws were broken, people need to go to jail.”
Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said the auditing team came across as professional and competent to him during last week’s hearing, and he blames Maricopa County for delays in completing the Senate’s review. While he hoped the investigation would have been completed a long time ago, he said the Senate can’t stop now.
“If folks know that they can obstruct and delay, and that if they do that long enough and persist in it that you will just walk away, then everybody will do it,” he said.
Mesnard, who represents a district won by Biden and Democratic U.S. Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, said he isn’t concerned about the audit’s political effect in swing districts like his. The 2022 election should favor Republicans because Democrats hold the White House, House and Senate, and voters don’t usually make their decisions based on a single issue, he said.
The Senate’s audit has thus far been an entirely partisan affair, and Senate Democrats are waiting to see if they’ll get the chance to review the final results and question the auditors. Ahead of last week’s meeting, Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale, said he received no notice that it was a hearing or he was invited until a Senate staff member sent him a picture of a seat in the audience with a sign saying it was reserved for him.
Quezada watched the meeting from afar and marveled at why anyone thought it was a good idea. He can only see one way out of the ongoing investigation: for Fann to announce that it’s gotten ridiculous, she’s ending the audit and she’ll accept the consequences.
“I think that would be a good way, and a good reason to be dethroned as Senate president,” he said. “That’s what I would do if I was her. I would say, ‘Look, guys, this is stupid. We’re ending this.’”