By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- The Arizona Senate is dropping its demand for Maricopa County to produce its computer routers.
In a deal approved Friday evening by county supervisors, the county instead will make the devices available to a "special master.'' That person, in turn, will be able to hire experts who are sworn to secrecy to examine the equipment.
"This was a huge win for us,'' Senate President Karen Fann told Capitol Media Services.
The Prescott Republican said the whole purpose of the subpoenas was to see if the election equipment had been connected to the internet at any time during the tabulation, a situation that could have resulted in vote tallies being altered. She said the routers, which direct computer traffic, would show if that had occurred.
Now with this deal, Fann said it is no longer necessary to give the routers to Cyber Ninjas, the private firm she hired to audit the 2020 returns in Maricopa County.
"We have access to everything we wanted,'' she said.
The supervisors, in turn, believe it is a victory because it ensures that the routers won't wind up in the hands of Cyber Ninjas, a firm headed by Doug Logan who said even before the audit began that he believes the election results were fraudulent. More to the point, the supervisors said giving that access to an outside firm could result in sensitive private and law enforcement information being compromised.
And there's something else as part of the deal: The county is dropping its demand that the Senate reimburse it the $2.8 million cost of obtaining new voting equipment.
That demand came after Secretary of State Katie Hobbs told supervisors that once the county surrendered the machines to Cyber Ninjas, as demanded in earlier subpoenas, it lost custody and control of the voting systems, meaning they are not fit to be used again.
Friday's vote was not unanimous.
Supervisor Steve Gallardo, the lone Democrat on the board, said he would have preferred to fight the subpoena.
That, however, came with a big risk.
Attorney General Mark Brnovich last month concluded that the failure of the supervisors to comply with the subpoenas put them in violation of state law. And that paved the way for him to order the state treasurer to withhold nearly $700 million in state shared revenues.
"We were also in a very difficult position because of the attorney general's findings,'' said Supervisor Bill Gates. He said that loss of the funds "would have been catastrophic to county operations.''
Gallardo, however, said he believes the law that Brnovich was using to threaten to cut county funds could be challenged as unconstitutional.
But there's something else.
He pointed out that nothing in the agreement
stops Fann or other lawmakers from issuing future subpoenas every time they contend that an election did not turn out as they wanted. All the supervisors have done, Gallardo said, is kept the county from losing $700 million -- and only for today.
"We are dealing with irrational people, people that will go to any length to prove a point,'' he said.
We aren't dealing with rational people,'' Gallardo said. "We are dealing with bullies.''
Fann did not dispute that this is a one-time deal: It settles only the fight over this particular batch of subpoenas.
"I can still issue subpoenas,'' she said. "We can do whatever we want to get this audit done.''
And that, in turn, means that whatever is made public this coming Friday may not be the end of the allegations and investigations.
Gallardo said that proves his point.
"There is no guarantee that we're going to come right back here with another subpoena and another letter to the attorney general,'' he said.
The heart of the deal is that appointment of former Congressman John Shadegg to be the special master.
Shadegg will take questions from the Senate about any security issues with the equipment. He then has the authority to hire up to three computer technology experts to assist him in responding to those questions.
Those experts, in turn, will sign confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements agreeing to keep secret any information they acquire during their employment.
The deal comes a week ahead of Cyber Ninjas due to give its findings to the Senate. The company was asked to examine not just the equipment but also to do a hand recount of the 2.1 million ballots cast, at least in the races for president and U.S. senator.
Both of those races were won by Democrats, leading to many Republicans to charge, without proof, that the election had been stolen.
All this comes as separate fights are playing out in Maricopa County Superior Court over public access to documents related to the audit.
Kory Langhoer, the Senate's attorney, said the Senate has produced thousands of pages of documents in its own possession. And, following a Supreme Court ruling, Fann sent a letter to Doug Logan, the CEO of Cyber Ninjas demanding access to all of the firm's records related to the audit.
But Logan, in court filings, has balked at the requirement. And the Senate itself is withholding thousands of its own documents under the theory they are protected by "legislative privilege.''