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Arizona state senators deny Attorney General more power to investigate elections


By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Arizona state senators on Monday quashed a bid to give Attorney General Mark Brnovich more power to investigate elections.
Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, voted with Democrats against SB 1475. That left the measure without the necessary 16 votes for approval.
The move came despite a last-ditch plea by Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction who urged fellow Republicans to back what she said the Republican attorney general wants.
"The language was written by the attorney general's office, requested by, and is important to be put into statute,'' she said.
Boyer, however, said the measure is flawed.
Existing law gives the attorney general the authority to enforce laws for statewide elections, including state officials, lawmakers, appellate court judges and statewide ballot measure. SB 1475 added to that elections for members of Congress as well as choosing presidential electors.
All that, said Boyer, violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution which puts certain federal issues beyond the reach of state laws and regulation.
For example, the state cannot impose term limits on members of Congress.
"The state attorney general doesn't have any authority over federally elected officials,'' he said, calling the proposal a"massive power shift.''
But that, said Boyer, is just a small part of the problem.
He pointed out that the measure would give the attorney general the power to written "investigative demands'' -- essentially administrative subpoenas -- to any person in regards to any investigation of violation of election laws. It also would permit the AG to issue court-enforceable subpoenas to people not in the state.
And it would permit the AG to examine people under oath, inspect, study or copy "any account, book computer, document, minutes, paper, recording or record.''
"The language is broad enough to loop in anybody they want, with no probable cause requirements,'' he said.
And there's something else. When SB 1475 first came to the Senate floor for debate, Townsend expanded its scope, a move that would have given each and every county attorney the same powers.
A spokeswoman for Brnovich, who is running for U.S. Senate, sought to put some distance between it and the legislation despite what Townsend said was its authorship.
"While we supported the bill, it is what it is.'' said Katie Conner. "We will continue to do everything we can to protect the integrity of our elections.''
Townsend made a procedural maneuver that would allow her to try to resurrect the measure later this legislative session. But with the 30-member Senate having only 16 Republicans, that move would be futile unless she can convince Boyer to change his mind.
Townsend had no better luck Monday with SB 1478, another of her election bills..
An outgrowth of what became known as "Sharpie-gate,'' it would have barred county supervisors from requiring the use of a specific kind of marker.
There were complaints during the 2020 election that ballots were no accepted at polling places because of "bleed-through'' or related problems. The claim was that the Sharpies actually made marks on the reverse side of the ballot that either could have affected the races being tallied there or resulted in the ballot not being counted.
Maricopa County officials, who specifically provided Sharpies at polling places, said that was the kind of pen recommended. That's because the ink dries fast and doesn't gum up counting machines.
And even Brnovich, after conducting a review, concluded that there was no basis to believe tht ballots had been left uncounted based on a bleed-through problem.
On Twitter: @azcapmedia