Senate has no space for ballots it got after court fight

PHOENIX (AP) — Millions of voted ballots from Maricopa County’s November election won by President Joe Biden are loaded on a truck and ready for delivery to the Arizona Senate after a judge ruled that lawmakers can access them to perform their own forensic audit.

But after the Senate spent more than two months fighting to enforce a subpoena seeking access to the 2.1 million voted ballots, it apparently doesn’t know what to do with them. Last week, a judge ordered the ballots and vote tabulation equipment handed over so the Senate can try to show if problems with the election led to former President Donald Trump’s loss.

Jack Sellers, the Republican chair of the county Board of Supervisors, sent a letter to GOP Senate President Karen Fann and other lawmakers on Wednesday seeking instructions on when and where she wants them delivered. He included a photo of a box truck loaded with shrink-wrapped pallets of boxes filled with ballots.

“Please advise us when the Senate is ready to receive the subpoenaed materials and where they should be delivered,” Sellers wrote. “If the Senate no longer wants the materials delivered, the county stands ready to discuss next steps.”

In an email exchange between lawyers for the Senate and County released by the county on Tuesday, a Senate attorney said its preference was for the county to keep the ballots until the Senate finds a place to put them.

Despite Friday’s court order ordered the county to produce the ballots, Fannb said in a statement Wednesday that Republicans “were shocked” when they learned Maricopa County’s attorneys wanted to turn the ballots over immediately

“The attorney for the Senate immediately contacted the county, reasserting that the Senate felt the best way to maintain the security of machines and ballots was to leave them at the county and have the independent auditors come to them, as was done with the first two audits,” her statement said.

Ballots are handled with an extremely robust chain of custody, with observers from both major parties watching each movement from polling places to tabulation centers as they are processed and counted. After the election is over, they are stored in a secure vault in sealed boxes.

“Yes, the Senate’s preference is to maintain the materials in the County’s facility until the Senate has made suitable arrangements for storing the materials elsewhere, or to work out an agreement to review the materials inside the county’s facility,” attorney Kory Langhofer wrote on Monday evening. “The resulting delay in delivery would be regarded as an accommodation rather than a frustration of the Senate.”

Sellers said in his Wednesday letter that nothing in the subpoenas demanding the ballots asked that they be kept by the county.

“The county is currently involved in municipal elections and cannot permit unauthorized persons inside the elections facility,” he wrote.

Minority Democrats in the Senate opposed issuing the subpoenas, saying Republicans were just trying to sow division after a fair election.

A judge last Friday rejected arguments from the five-member Board of Supervisors dominated by Republicans that the ballots were secret, that the Legislature had no right to access them and that the subpoenas issued by Fann were for an illegitimate purpose, among other arguments.

The Senate’s lawyers contended that the Constitution gives the Legislature the role of maintaining the purity of elections and making sure voter integrity is protected, that the subpoenas were legal and a proper use of legislative power. The judge agreed.

Fann wants to audit the election results to try to show whether there were problems with the election. Trump backers made claims rejected repeatedly by the courts that fraud or other issues led to his loss in Arizona and in other battleground states.

The county Board of Supervisors pointed to repeated checks that showed the election was free, fair and properly conducted.

Last week, they released the results of two new audits of their equipment done to mollify the Senate. They showed no malicious software or incorrect counting equipment and that none of the computers or equipment were connected to the internet. Previous reviews and a hand recount of a sample of ballots also found no issues.