The day Congress certified the 2020 election results, then-President Donald Trump and his allies addressed thousands of his supporters from the Ellipse, a park south of the White House.
The “Save America Rally” on the raw, wind-whipped day of Jan. 6 wasn’t the last gasp of a failed candidate coming to terms with the looming loss of power. It was fresh impetus to continue challenging the 2020 presidential results.
“We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women,” Trump said. “We’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them, because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”
Up to that point, Trump and his allies had cajoled and pressured officials in Georgia to little effect. In Arizona, Trump’s efforts had yielded only subpoenas from the state Senate seeking election materials from Maricopa County, and the matter was quickly tied up in court.
The rhetoric of Trump and his allies grew more desperate as the days to change the election results dwindled.
U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., who had falsely claimed on Twitter 700,000 votes were stolen, was at the Ellipse. He tweeted a picture of the crowd. “Biden should concede. I want his concession on my desk tomorrow morning. Don’t make me come over there,” Gosar wrote.
Onstage, Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, cited a law professor’s theory that Vice President Mike Pence had the authority to send electoral results back to certain states to have their legislatures pick electors.
“We now have letters from five legislatures begging us to do that,” Giuliani told the crowd. “They’re asking us. Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Wisconsin, and one other coming in.”
It wasn’t true.
The Arizona Legislature had not convened in months. House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, didn’t back the subpoenas sent to the county to force the handover of election material, or an effort to set aside the state’s electors.
Instead, state Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, a staunch Trump supporter, wrote Pence a letter signed by some of his GOP colleagues and gathered material he considered evidence of fraud. He headed to Washington.
Finchem and one of his like-minded conservative colleagues, then-Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, made their way to the U.S. Capitol as a pro-Trump mob broke in to pressure Congress to reverse Trump’s loss.
As rioters fought their way into the inner sanctums of the Senate and House of Representatives, Finchem posted a photo on social media looking up at a crowd amassed on the east steps of the Capitol. One person stood on top of a vehicle.
“What happens when the People feel they have been ignored, and Congress refuses to acknowledge rampant fraud,” he wrote.
Arizonan Jake Angeli, the so-called “QAnon Shaman,” was one of the most distinctive insurrectionists inside, with his face paint, bull-horn headgear and spear. He was only part of the flourishing extremist movement in Arizona that includes the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters.
'QAnon shaman' sentenced: Jake Angeli sentenced to 41 months for his role in Jan. 6 Capitol raid
And in the same building, Republican Reps. Andy Biggs and Gosar led the effort to render the votes of 3.4 million of their state’s residents irrelevant by attempting to prevent Arizona’s electoral college votes from being counted.
The deadly riot failed to overturn the results. Congress certified Joe Biden’s presidential win after hours of violence and bloodshed.
Video shows chaos as rioters breach U.S. Capitol Police barricades, assault officers
Staff Video, USA TODAY
But the narrative of a stolen election pressed by Trump, Gosar and Biggs, and echoed by millions of the president’s followers, encouraged state Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, to push ahead with a partisan ballot review.
And so Arizona, with the closest presidential race in the nation, found its way back into the spotlight as a hotbed of partisan extremism and a magnet for those pushing election conspiracies.
Fann battled the Maricopa County supervisors — nearly all Republican — to inspect ballots and election equipment, as well as other fellow Republicans who viewed the review process as ill-conceived.
Her effort created novel legal concerns over how far legislative inquiry can reach into election administration. It led to lingering personal rifts among elected officials. And it gave birth to a review that showed, regardless of the results, many Arizona Republicans would not let go of Trump.
Listen to the story: Find the audiobook version of the article below.
In a four-month investigation, The Arizona Republic examined a trove of text messages, emails and court records, many made public after suing the state for access. Republic reporters spoke to decision-makers, consultants, staff, contractors, campaign aides and others tied to the review of the presidential and U.S. Senate races in Maricopa County. Some talked on the record about their experiences, while others spoke on the condition they not be identified in order to speak candidly about private conversations.
Democracy in Doubt series Part 1: White House phone calls, baseless fraud charges: The origins of the Arizona election review
Trump and many of those who backed the ballot review, such as Fann, did not respond to repeated requests to discuss their recollections.
Those who know Fann and did speak said she sought to quell the anger over Trump's loss and could not resist the pressure campaign from his allies. The resulting partisan ballot review shredded the Senate's relations with the most populous county in the state and undermined public confidence in elections.
Others involved offered vivid accounts of how the events leading up to the recount unfolded before the spectacle itself began.
Dominion voting machines were OK a year before the Capitol assault
It’s almost forgotten now, but there was a moment in 2020 when the Arizona Legislature adopted bipartisan legislation in cooperation with Maricopa County to ensure faster, more accurate vote counts.
Once reliably Republican, Arizona has evolved into a more competitive political landscape. That shift is most evident in Maricopa County, which accounted for about 76% of the state’s voters in 2020.
Trump won Arizona in 2016, though by slimmer margins than Republicans usually tally. But former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, his friend and political ally, lost that night. So did Helen Purcell, the longtime Republican county recorder who oversaw elections.
Her successor, Democrat Adrian Fontes, sparked immediate suspicion from Republicans about the county’s elections. That only grew after the 2018 elections, which were the most successful for Democrats in decades.
The U.S. Senate race between Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Martha McSally became a flashpoint for some conservatives. McSally led balloting on election night. Over six days, her lead dwindled and eventually disappeared. Sinema won by 2.3 percentage points.
The slow-motion defeat caught Trump’s eye.
He tweeted about “Electoral corruption — Call for a new Election? We must protect our Democracy!” and explained his concerns to reporters in Washington.
“But it is interesting — it always seems to go the way of the Democrats,” he said. “Now, in Arizona, all of a sudden, out of the wilderness, they find a lot of votes. And she’s — the other candidate — is just winning by a hair.”
Democracy in Doubt series Part 2: 'Asked to do something huge': An audacious pitch to reverse Arizona's election results
After those elections, the state and Maricopa County took steps to ensure better election management.
The Republican-controlled Legislature changed state law to give all counties two weeks instead of one to process and count the votes cast before Election Day. In a state where nearly 80% of ballots are cast before Election Day, that meant officials could release a more complete count on the night of the elections.
Meanwhile, Maricopa County upgraded its voting machines from a system in place since 1996.
After close inspections of several alternatives, county officials purchased more than 1,000 machines and other vote counting equipment from Colorado-based Dominion Voting Systems in 2019. One feature of the new machines was “electronic adjudication,” which essentially allowed digital copies of ballots to be reviewed when voter intent was less than obvious because of stray or faint marks or smudges.
The feature would allow officials to focus on a single race where machines could not determine voters’ intent and quickly inspect their choices. But Arizona’s election laws didn’t specifically allow the use of such a tool, so county officials went to the Legislature.
That effort resulted in Senate Bill 1135, sponsored by then-Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, who chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee. Fann and Bowers co-sponsored the measure, along with Democratic Party leaders in the House and Senate.
At an early hearing on the bill, Farnsworth engaged in friendly banter with Republican county Supervisor Steve Chucri with a representative from Dominion present.
“There’s nobody in opposition,” Farnsworth said of the bill, before complimenting Chucri on his suit.
The softball exchange belied the more serious concerns lawmakers already had explored in some depth with the county and the vote-machine manufacturer.
Before the hearing, 11 state lawmakers examined the machines and toured Maricopa County’s election facilities over two trips to the building south of downtown Phoenix.
The first visit came on Jan. 6, 2020, one year before the riot at the Capitol. It featured some of those who would later be among the most prominent to challenge the 2020 election results: Kern and then-Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa.
The county showed them the tabulators were not connected to the internet and performed tests to show how votes the machines initially were unable to read were handled and counted. Some lawmakers followed up with written questions to the county in a sign of their scrutiny.
In the end, SB 1135 passed both chambers unanimously and became the first law enacted in 2020.
The comity didn’t last.
Randy Pullen, other Trump advocates work behind the scenes
After Biden’s victory, Republicans in Arizona and across America pushed Trump’s unfounded claims of fraud and called for audits intended to expose the alleged cheating.
Only a handful of people were needed to bring such reviews to life. And most of the persuading took place out of the public eye.
Trump and Giuliani privately pressed Fann to examine the 2020 election results. It reflected Trump’s confidence he would win the state dating to the earliest days of his first presidential campaign.
But they had other allies. One of those pushing for an election review was longtime Arizona political operative Randy Pullen, a former state Republican Party chair and certified public accountant.
Arizona audit: Senate confirms Biden win, but more review to come
For months, he was one of the more secretive figures in the process. Beginning in December 2020 and then working behind the scenes for months more, Pullen quietly urged a ballot review in Arizona, helped shape the Senate’s deal with the lead contractor for it, consulted on social-media strategy and was a conduit for private fundraising. Long before Pullen was publicly identified as a “co-liaison,” he was devising a plan for what he described as an “audit.”
His efforts gained momentum as Trump allies’ attempts to discredit election results collapsed in courtrooms.
After Jan. 6, when Congress certified the results, loyalists pivoted to an audit-centered strategy. It was rebranded as a review of election integrity, but it kept alive Trump’s claims of a stolen election.
Pullen had direct communication with Fann dating to at least February.
Pullen, 72, had twice run for mayor of Phoenix, finished third in a four-way GOP primary for state treasurer and has worked in conservative politics for decades. As state party chairman, he helped press the party in Arizona rightward.
He led the Arizona GOP during then-President Barack Obama’s first term. But Pullen’s tenure was perhaps more memorable for its intraparty battles at that time.
Then-Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was running for reelection in 2010, did not trust Pullen and used his influence to help redirect money from the state GOP and into the coffers of the Yuma County GOP, which marginalized the state organization under Pullen’s leadership.
Pullen also served for a time as treasurer of the Republican National Committee and tapped his connections there.
On the night of Dec. 8, he texted Trump’s former chief of staff, Reince Priebus, a man he had known and worked with for years. Priebus headed the Wisconsin Republican Party when Pullen headed Arizona’s. In addition, Pullen was the RNC treasurer when Priebus was its general counsel.
“I worked with a data scientist to design an audit of the digital ballot images,” Pullen wrote. “Incredible.”
He wrote that he sent a summary of the idea to the county’s Board of Supervisors and legislative leaders: “Crickets. They don’t want anything that would show the election was a fraud.”
Priebus didn’t text back. Days later, on the evening of Dec. 14, after the state Senate announced it would issue subpoenas to the county for election materials, Pullen texted Priebus: “We won. Doing forensic audit in AZ.”
Priebus replied, “What ? Call u tomorrow am ??”
That same day, Pullen sent an email to Jovan Pulitzer, who had developed controversial ballot-inspection methods. The Senate has so far withheld the full contents of that email, saying it was not related to the ballot review and predated Pullen’s official work on the review.
Pullen’s communication to Pulitzer came the day Fann and Farnsworth held the only legislative hearing to acquire election materials from the county. The initial subpoenas had not yet been formally issued.
In the series of text messages to Priebus, an attorney, Pullen called the coming ballot review a lawyer’s “dreams come true.”
The Senate has withheld many other documents related to the review, citing internal legislative discussions or attorney-client privilege. The Arizona Republic has gone to court asking that many of these documents be released to the public.
Tensions between Senate, county grow in new year, new leadership
Less than a week after the Jan. 6 riot, the Arizona Senate and Maricopa County officials remained at legal loggerheads over ballots and election machines from November. Both had new leaders in key spots.
On Jan. 12, Fann and state Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, who replaced the retired Farnsworth as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, issued a subpoena to the county for its 2.1 million ballots and election equipment.
The new subpoena continued a fight that Fann and Farnsworth had ignited in mid-December with separate subpoenas that expired as the county contested them in court. The subpoenas legally required the county to provide the Senate its ballots, equipment and voter records and carried the possibility of jail if ignored.
Soon after, county officials began providing the Senate with election data and publicly available voting records. They did not release the ballots and tabulation equipment.
With Fann, just reelected Senate president, exerting her authority, quiet concern grew among Senate staff.
After the January subpoena, Clint Hickman, a Republican county supervisor, texted his friend Wendy Baldo, the Senate’s longtime chief of staff, who reported to Fann.
The county did not want to fight with the Senate, said Hickman, who headed the board in December when it challenged the initial subpoenas. He wanted the county to move forward with an independent audit of its election-machine equipment, not a state-forced review.
“It is because of (Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman) Kelli Ward and grandstanding members of the legislature appealing to a Base that is shrinking by the minute,” he wrote. “We need to get on with this audit. Litigation needs to be dropped. Karen got her leadership … now she needs to lead all of us out of this mess.”
Baldo was known as a fierce extension of the leaders she served. She faithfully backed GOP leadership, even when she didn’t agree with the party’s individual members.
Along with some other staff members, Baldo believed an audit of the election results by experienced professionals could be a useful tool to demonstrate that elections were conducted fairly. By the time of the January subpoena, however, Baldo was sympathetic to Hickman.
“Clint. I am trying very hard to push the people I work for to stop this nonsense,” she replied. “I am on the county side on this. I will do everything I can.”
Within days, Baldo indicated to Hickman there was little she could do.
“I have stayed a little detached (from) this because I am disgusted with this,” she said. “My leadership knows it.”
Baldo, who retired in July, switched her party affiliation to Libertarian.
By early February, the Senate Republican majority was increasingly irritated by the county supervisors’ intransigence. Fann pushed toward an extraordinary showdown with the supervisors for failing to fully respond to the subpoenas.
Fann already had contacted a little-known firm out of Sarasota, Florida, that would lead the election review.
Jack Sellers had replaced Hickman as the chairman of the supervisors in January as part of the county’s periodic rotation in leadership.
Sellers, like Fann, is a lifelong Republican with a background in municipal government and an interest in transportation. He served on the state transportation board for years.
Fann owned a transportation-related company, and her family did, too.
Sellers symbolizes a more civil era in politics. At 78, he is a soft-spoken man who wears a suit jacket and pocket square to greet visitors at his office, even in a pandemic. During his two terms on the Chandler City Council, Sellers learned to watch debates unfold before revealing his own views, in part to leave room for his own mind to change as needed.
Sellers hoped his friendship with Fann and his genteel demeanor could help bring the county’s relations with the Senate to a more collaborative point.
They talked frequently, and he usually left those meetings feeling optimistic. Like Hickman, Sellers said the county would work cooperatively on an audit with the Senate if she hired a “qualified company.”
Fann maintained to him the ballot review was about improving election procedures, not about overturning the election results. But at the same time, Sellers saw social media posts from other Republicans showing they had not given up on changing the results.
As Sellers discussed the subpoena with Fann, the county moved ahead on its own with a pair of independent audits intended to dispel doubts about its election operations.
By early February, county officials hired the only two firms in the nation accredited by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to certify voting systems.
The county invited members of the Legislature and staff from the offices of the governor, the attorney general and secretary of state to observe the work done by Pro V&V of Alabama and SLI Compliance of Colorado. Each firm conducted audits separate from the other.
Democracy in Doubt series Part 4: 'You’ll get nothing out of this': Partisans with limited experience stumble through gaffe-prone 'audit'
Around the same time, Fann and all of the other Senate Republicans drafted language for Senate Resolution 1005, a measure to hold the Board of Supervisors in contempt of the Senate for failing to comply with both rounds of subpoenas.
The resolution, which had an erroneous date for the December subpoenas, named all five supervisors and said they “have repeatedly and willfully delayed and obstructed a vital and duly authorized investigation by the Arizona Senate.”
‘They feel like you guys are thumbing your nose at the power of the Senate’
The contempt resolution, crafted by elected Republicans against other elected Republicans, escalated the dispute to a frightening level for the supervisors. They believed in the integrity of the county’s vote count, believed they were following federal election law — but feared going to jail.
Republican county Supervisor Bill Gates couldn’t believe it.
Gates, 50, is a Harvard-educated lawyer for the PING golf company. In the mid-2000s, he led the Arizona Republican Party’s election-integrity efforts that involved organizing poll watchers and lawyers to ensure eligible votes were counted.
He reached out to Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, who was seen as a swing vote but had signed onto SR 1005.
Gates asked Boyer why he did so.
“The pressure that they put on me was awful,” Boyer told Gates. “The Senate is upset. They feel like you guys are thumbing your nose at the power of the Senate, and they just can’t allow this to stand.”
County officials didn’t think state law authorized the release of ballots, even to the Legislature. In court papers seeking to block a contempt vote, the county noted that federal election rules prohibit handing over the voting machines to anyone not certified to handle them. Just giving the machines to the Senate could render the machinery unusable.
Gates made a less-formal appeal to Boyer. He sent Boyer a column by The Arizona Republic’s Robert Robb that argued the Senate was abusing its subpoena power. Robb, a respected conservative-libertarian voice who has watched the state’s politics for decades, thought Senate Republicans were unfairly trying to “act as judge, jury and jailer.” He urged both sides to move on and leave Trump voters “to their delusions.”
“Do I even bother?” Gates wondered before sending Boyer a link to the column.
Boyer, 44, is a deliberative man.
He has taught Latin to junior high school students, and studies Greek as he seeks a master’s degree. He casually invokes Shakespeare in conversation.
More than once, Boyer has rescued his bills from the brink of failure.
In 2019, Boyer withheld his support of the state budget to force his colleagues to back legislation that expanded the time frame for people who claim they were sexually abused as children to sue their alleged abusers and institutions.
This year, he passed a bill that had languished last year to make it easier for firefighters with certain cancers to access workers’ compensation.
Boyer also had experienced the gut-churning angst of a tight election race. On election night in 2020, he went to bed thinking he had lost but woke up at 2:30 a.m. to learn he had pulled ahead.
Boyer thought the county did a good job with its elections. An audit seemed reasonable, but he wasn’t obsessed with it like some of his colleagues. He had serious concerns about holding the board in contempt, and the notion of possible jail time was unthinkable.
Petersen, another longtime friend of Biggs whom Fann had named chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, kept telling him, “They’re lying to us … They’ve been dragging this out for months,” Boyer recalled.
The weekend before a vote on the contempt resolution, Boyer thought about the Robb column while in Mexico as part of a ministry retreat. He read it, prayed about it and weighed the decision before him.
Hickman, meanwhile, texted Baldo, the Senate chief of staff. He told her about “incursions” and protests at his home — one on a Sunday night that drew 90 angry people that evoked fears of the riot at the U.S. Capitol. It kept his wife and kids locked inside.
“I can tell you the first person that comes to my house in hopes of utilizing a Citizen arrest clause, I will directly blame Representatives of the Senate with leadership in first place,” he wrote. “Sounds very familiar to Jan 6th. Only worse when it comes to my family."
“I don’t know what to say,” she texted back. “This is out of my hands. I am very very sorry.”
That Sunday, on Feb. 7, Gates sat down in the living room of his Phoenix home to watch the Super Bowl, a rare respite from the drama hanging over his family. His phone rang.
It was Boyer.
“You know, I’ve been thinking about this a lot,” Gates recalled the lawmaker telling him. Boyer wondered if there was any chance to get Sellers and Fann in a room one last time before the contempt vote scheduled the next day.
“You know me, I’m always open,” Gates told him. “We can discuss this and see if we can figure something out.”
Gates worked the phone with renewed urgency and only watched about 10 minutes of the game.
A tense meeting, and one last try for a deal
Early the next morning, Gates, Sellers, and Boyer gathered in Fann’s office at the state Capitol.
The supervisors sat on a couch. Fann and Boyer sat in chairs facing them.
Gates laid out his case: The supervisors were in court over the subpoenas, seeking direction from a judge. They had asked for an expedited hearing.
By the county’s reading of the law, the ballots and machines had to remain locked up for a certain period after the election. Either way, he said, the county needed clarity from the court, and a judge would decide soon.
“You would bring a contempt action when you had someone who’s flaunting a subpoena,” Gates remembered saying. “We’re in court to get direction. You don’t need to do this. Why would you?”
How we got here: An Arizona audit timeline
Fann crossed her arms at times and seemed irritated. “It’s going on the board today,” she said, meaning a vote was imminent.
Fann acted as though there was nothing she could do to prevent the vote from happening, Gates, Sellers and Boyer recalled in separate interviews.
“You’re the Senate president, you can stop this,” Boyer thought to himself.
Gates switched from a legalistic argument to an emotional plea. He told Fann his daughter had asked, “Dad, when are you going to jail?”
“We’re not going to jail you,” she told him.
“Karen, you cannot assure me of that,” Gates replied. “You may think that right now, but if you guys want to hold us in contempt, within two hours, the same people that have been emailing and calling you are going to demand that we be jailed or detained in some way, and you’re not going to be able to stop that.”
Fann, who had known Gates for a long time, stared at him.
The prospect of citizen intervention seemed especially combustible with the memory of the Capitol riot only a month earlier and the recent protests at the homes of county supervisors, lawmakers and others.
Arizona election review: A look at the key players in the 'audit'
If Gates’ comment about his daughter had left Fann unmoved, it stayed with Boyer.
“We have to take contempt off the table,” Boyer recalled telling Fann.
She didn’t respond, he said.
“What’s the plan?” Gates asked her.
“I’m not going to put you guys in jail,” she said. “I’m not going to have you arrested or anything.”
“That isn’t my question,” he said. “My question is: What would you do with that?”
Fann said she would turn over the matter to the attorney general.
“That’s all we need to hear,” Gates said.
With that, Boyer, Gates and Sellers got up and walked out of Fann’s office.
Boyer didn’t talk to the supervisors as they left.
It was unusual for Fann to meet privately with Boyer, and he thought his request for the 11th-hour talks with the county should have suggested he had serious misgivings against the resolution.
But Boyer had co-sponsored the language of the resolution, and he never explicitly told Fann he would vote against it. No one on her leadership team asked him how he intended to vote, he recalled.
Instead, Boyer worked with Mike Philipsen, then the Senate GOP’s spokesperson, on a statement indicating his objection to the contempt resolution. Boyer asked Philipsen to tinker with it.
Philipsen was with Fann after talking with Boyer and before the vote.
“I thought that was enough” to convey his opposition, Boyer said.
The supervisors plotted in their own minds potential scenarios if the contempt resolution passed: Which law enforcement authority would arrest them? Would it be the sergeant-at-arms? Would they have to do “perp” walks? Where would they be held? Which court would have jurisdiction over the proceedings?
There was no precedent. Not even the county’s most experienced lawyers could say with certainty what would come next. The county’s lawyers prepared for various scenarios. One involved filing an injunction in the hopes of preventing the Senate’s vote. Another scenario would have asked a judge for a restraining order to prevent arrests by the sergeant-at-arms.
Sellers had been asked to approve filing an injunction before the meeting with Fann. He had declined, hoping to change the trajectory of the conversations.
Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates' 'political suicide video'
Courtesy of Bill Gates
Gates returned to his office atop the county administration building in downtown Phoenix. Anticipating his arrest, he shot what he called a “political suicide video” that explained his position on the situation.
“By state law, your ballots are sealed and protected after an election,” he said. “We cannot legally give them to the Senate. … We cannot give them to anyone without a court order. The Senate has asked us to violate the law, and we won't.”
He directed viewers to the Legislature’s website for members’ contact information. He arranged for his chief of staff to post the video in the event he couldn’t.
The Senate votes: One member’s choice made the difference
In the meantime, Fann moved ahead with the only vote on the ballot review that the entire Senate ever considered.
Until this vote, Fann and her two judiciary chairs had issued the subpoenas, held one hearing, and waged a war of words against the county in an effort to review the 2020 election results practically on their own.
The contempt vote was the only chance for senators to hold a formal, public vote on the issue. For some, it was as much about preserving the chamber’s authority as it was about the ballot review.
About 40 minutes before the Senate’s afternoon floor session began, Boyer sent Gates an email. He planned to vote “no.”
“I’ve always said so long as there’s hope for both sides to work with one another, I want to do all I can in my limited power to have us work amicably together,” said Boyer’s prepared statement. “We still have time to work together on this.”
Read the statement: State Sen. Paul Boyer's Vote of Contempt explanation
Republicans hold a 16-14 edge in the state Senate, meaning the defection of even one of their members is enough to torpedo a measure that otherwise runs along party lines.
Democrats had never indicated support for the ballot review, so a Boyer vote against the resolution would sink it.
Gates, who was watching the Senate on his iPad in his office, told his chief of staff. His chief spread the news to aides for the other supervisors, who were watching the Senate proceedings from a nearby conference room.
If Boyer could withstand the pressure about to be unleashed on him during the vote, the supervisors would be spared.
Hickman, who had retained a personal attorney because of the ordeal, reached out to Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge. Shope also carried a reputation as a movable vote.
During a text exchange with Hickman weeks earlier about the extended legal battle between the county and the Senate, Shope noted that he was “so sick of all this s---.” Days before the contempt vote, Shope had texted Hickman, “I’m doing what I can here.”
This time, Hickman wrote to Shope: “I am very sure there is a no vote, maybe he could use some company. And if you are ready to jump on that island I will keep calling other legislators. I have never grandstanded against anyone in the legislature. Don’t plan to start now.”
Shope responded only with a thumbs-up on the text.
Minutes later, Hickman sought to persuade another potential swing vote. He texted Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye. Hickman, an executive from a prominent West Valley family that runs an egg company, and Kerr, a well-known dairy farmer, have known each other for years.
“Sine, I am pretty sure there are a few No votes out of R’s for contempt,” Hickman wrote. “Please do not participate in a vote that will bring protesters to my home and family. There are already people on social media talking about using Citizen’s arrests to our exposed addresses.”
He added, “This has gone on too long. I look forward to working with you as we continue our certified audits.”
Boyer, meanwhile, stood in the hushed chamber and spoke into a microphone. His voice shook.
“My no vote today will give the board time to resolve itself on how to legally proceed with providing these public records for independent sunshine and scrutiny, while also providing 100% protection for the private nature of an individual’s vote.”
As he spoke, Sen. Rick Gray’s eyes widened.
The Republican majority leader from Sun City, whose job is to keep the caucus together, sat in front of Boyer. He swiveled around to look at Boyer. Gray appeared shocked.
Sen. Paul Boyer's speech on contempt vote
Arizona Capitol TV, Partner Content
Overall, Boyer said he thought the supervisors had no disagreement with audits of the 2020 election but needed confidence and direction from a court.
“Make no mistake, today’s vote merely provides a little bit more time for us to work together charitably and amicably as friends for the sole purpose of gaining more clarity,” Boyer said. “It is not a final determination, nor is it the end of this process.”
The names of all 14 Democrats lit up red, signaling their opposition to the resolution. So did Boyer’s.
The names of all of the other Republicans lit up green as they registered their support — including Shope and Kerr.
Boyer said Gray told him after his remarks that Boyer had stabbed him in the back.
Starting with Petersen, the judiciary committee chair, some inveighed against the county and tried to convince Boyer to change his vote.
“They thought they could peel off one of our Republican senators,” Petersen said. “It sounds like they may have. I hope that’s not the case. I hope that changes.”
Sen. Sonny Borrelli, the GOP whip whose job is counting Republican votes ahead of time, took his turn.
He described “a power struggle between a political subdivision” that was “trying to cover their butts.”
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The retired Marine gunnery sergeant from Lake Havasu City and proponent of the “Stop the Steal” movement accused lawmakers of allowing the county board to “trample” their authority. “I hope you reconsider,” Borelli shot in the direction of Boyer’s desk.
Around then, Gray texted Hickman: “Listen to my comments coming shortly on the floor.”
Gray was aggravated. He said he’d received tens of thousands of emails from voters “who don’t believe the system is working.” It was “egregious that we just blow off” their concerns without thoroughly reviewing election procedures.
“I talked with my county supervisor multiple times as we were going through this process to tell him we just want our voters to have certainty,” he said, referring to Hickman.
“And I’m not talking about a superficial audit that they’re doing now. I’m talking about a forensic audit.”
Gray said he had considered Hickman a friend, but he was upset the supervisor had cast the Senate’s efforts as a way to overturn the election results.
“He’s made the Senate look bad in the media,” Gray said. “Is that the kind of government we want?”
His voice quaking, Gray ended, “I am utterly, utterly, utterly disappointed with our Board of Supervisors … They care more about protecting themselves than really showing that their system worked thoroughly.”
He then voted “Aye.”
All attention pivoted to the Senate president, who seemed painfully embarrassed.
“I’m going to explain my vote, and plead for one of our members to please change their votes, if at all possible,” she said. “Needless to say, I would not have put this on the board had I not been under the impression and was told that we had 16 solid votes. Had I been told that there wasn't, perhaps we would have talked about this before it went up on the board.”
Fann said the contempt resolution was “about the Constitution,” not about friendships. She criticized the county’s audits and said she had proposed alternatives: “They still said no.”
“So I’m sorry to say this is why we’re at where we’re at right now,” she said. The resolution was not meant to be “hateful” but rather a procedural move required to compel the information.
Boyer held firm, and the measure failed on a 15-15 vote.
By failing to pass the resolution, Fann said, the chamber had undermined its own power. Others agreed.
Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said he was astounded by the contempt the supervisors had shown the Senate’s authority and was offended they considered asking for a court to intervene. The power of the institution was forever damaged: “It means that people will know they can ignore a subpoena and that there isn’t, you know, likely consequence to that.”
The day after the contempt vote, Fann summoned Boyer back to her office.
“You know you still have three days to change your mind?” she said, according to Boyer.
“I looked her in the eye and said, ‘Karen, you could give me three years and I’m not changing my vote.’”
Boyer quickly felt the wrath of Trump supporters.
His phone blew up with calls and texts from angry people all over the country. In one day, he received 9,000 text messages.
Trump supporter Liz Harris left this voicemail for Sen. Paul Boyer
State, county, and local police provided security at various points; Boyer got another phone. Over three nights, his family stayed at three different locations.
There was another move as well.
He found his Senate desk had moved to the left side of the chamber’s aisle, with the Democrats. The GOP caucus never added his new number to its group text messages.
On Feb. 23, two weeks after the contempt vote, county officials announced the two independent firms they had hired separately concluded the election equipment used by the county worked properly.
With legal costs and security expenses, the Senate's ballot review cost taxpayers nearly $425,000 by early September. Private donors chipped in at least $7 million for a process Cyber Ninjas said cost $9 million overall.
By contrast, the county audits cost taxpayers about $65,000. The county paid another $65,000 to an accounting firm to review its contracts with Dominion Voting Systems and verify the county properly leased the equipment.
Cost to taxpayers: A/C units, rent-a-cops, legal fees cost $425,000; more coming
On Feb. 26, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomason upheld the Senate subpoenas. The county supervisors didn’t appeal the ruling, clearing the way for the Senate to access its ballots and tabulation machines.
In Queen Creek, a surreal scene: ‘We are chosen for such a time as this by God’
By then, Trump supporters were eager for a ballot review they expected would vindicate their belief in a stolen election. A well-heeled ally helped give a revival feel to one event in suburban Queen Creek.
On March 10, hundreds of people flocked to a gated lakeside community to see a mix of Arizona politicians, a nationalist preacher and social media personalities.
The Arizona Republican Party promoted “The Mike Lindell Election Integrity, Faith and Freedom” event, which was sponsored by We the People Alliance AZ.
Porsches and deluxe SUVs outnumbered pickup trucks, suggesting attendees were more privileged than populist. At the entrance, people were asked to sign recall petitions against Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and the GOP-led Maricopa County Board of Supervisors because of their resistance to an election “audit.”
They also watched a video of Mike Lindell, the CEO of My Pillow, whose fealty to Trump has made him one of the former president’s most visible cheerleaders.
Trump was the rightful president, Lindell said, and he knew of "miracles" to prove it.
Lyle Rapacki, a conservative activist in Yavapai County who has spread the narrative of a stolen election, mentioned the meetings Trump's allies had with Fann and other Arizona legislators in November and December.
State Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, who is running for Congress, called Trump a modern-day Moses and said people were waiting for God to speak the truth to them.
Later, Lindell said it was too dangerous to leave his home state to appear in person at the event.
He repeated baseless allegations about Dominion’s voting machines and promised he would, within six weeks, expose the fraud to the country. He also promised Arizona’s ballot review would reveal fraud, and Trump would return to office before summer’s end.
Those in attendance raised their hands and called on God to protect Lindell and to “bind up our enemy.”
“Arizona is going to pave the way,” Lindell said to cheers. “We are chosen for such a time as this by God.”
Includes information from Arizona Republic reporters Robert Anglen and Jen Fifield.