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State senate won't wait for judge to rule in audit dispute, passes subpoena bill

Posted at 9:47 PM, Feb 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-19 23:47:37-05

Next week a superior court judge is scheduled to hear arguments to determine if the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors must comply with subpoenas issued by the State Senate ordering it to turn over sensitive election data for an audit. Thursday, Republicans in the State Senate decided they were not going to wait for a ruling.

“Our subpoenas are supposed to matter,” State Senator J.D. Mesnard (R) Chandler district 17 said. Mesnard was one of the 16 votes passing a bill which will give the legislature near-absolute authority to subpoena anything it wants from local and county governments if it’s part of an investigation by the legislature. “This is a much broader statement about the legislature and our subpoena powers because of late it seems those powers are not respected,” Mesnard said.

Democrats see the move as a power grab, an attempt to once again push an unproven narrative the election was stolen. “They are only furthering the distrust in our public election system. Even though they all know our election system was legitimate. It was fair. It was done legitimately,” State Senator Martin Quezada (D) Glendale district 29 said.

The bill’s sponsor is State Senator Warren Petersen, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It gives the legislature the express authority to subpoena ballots, election equipment and information from counties. It also says the legislature has the authority to investigate any matter and to ignore all other laws in the process.

“The drafter of this senate bill obviously skipped one of the basic classes in constitutional law,” says elections attorney Tom Ryan. Ryan doesn’t believe the bill will withstand a legal challenge because in his view it ignores the separation of powers. “If he studied correctly he would understand Marbury v Madison. The original Supreme Court case in the United States. It is uniquely the power of the courts to declare what is and isn’t law,” Ryan said. “This bill SB-1408 guts that. I have no doubt the Arizona Supreme Court will have an easy time dismissing this statute as unconstitutional.”

Whether Ryan’s assessment will matter with lawmakers in the House remains to be seen. It will consider the bill now. If it passes it will go to the governor’s desk. And the man who told the world “Arizona knows how to run elections,” will have another opportunity to say it again.