42% of Maricopa County budget on the line as officials discuss next move on Arizona senators' election subpoenas

Jen Fifield
Arizona Republic
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich

Maricopa County stands to lose hundreds of millions in state funding — an estimated 42% of the money it uses to run the county's day-to-day operations such as public safety, the court system and public health — if officials don't act soon.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said last month that, by not fully responding to subpoenas for election information issued by a few state Senate leaders, the county had violated state law and would lose state money, amounting to about $676 million of the $1.6 billion in general fund revenue the county expects this fiscal year.

Key among the Senate's demands: access to the county's routers.

Brnovich gave the county 30 days to respond, with a deadline of Sept. 27.

The supervisors are considering how to move forward. They met in a closed-door session to discuss the issue on Thursday, but didn't come to any decision. Supervisors were not immediately available for comment.

"Productive talks today," county spokesperson Jason Berry said. "We'll act before the deadline."

Among the various options, he said, are further responding to the subpoenas, attempting to negotiate with the Senate or filing a lawsuit.

The fight continues to pit county Republicans — four of five supervisors and Recorder Stephen Richer are Republican — against state Republicans, including Brnovich and the two senators who issued the subpoenas, Senate President Karen Fann and Senate Judiciary Chairman Warren Petersen.

Republican County Assessor Eddie Cook attended the supervisors meeting Thursday, saying after that he wanted to share his thoughts with the supervisors because if Brnovich cuts state funding it will affect his office. He said other elected county officials also attended the closed-door session.

The supervisors provided the vast majority of what the senators requested in their January subpoenas, including the county's ballots, voting machines and election information, which kicked off the months-long audit of the 2020 general election. But they did not provide the county's routers or copies of routers, which are not used to transfer election results. The county also did not provide certain administrative passwords to voting machines, saying they did not have them and the Senate would need to get them from Dominion Voting Systems.

Arizona Senate President Karen Fann

Fann and Petersen filed another subpoena in July again demanding the routers, passwords and other election information. The county said it would hand over the other election information, such as voter roll data, but reiterated it would not hand over the routers.

The issue escalated when former President Donald Trump visited and called on the county to provide the routers.

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, then invoked a state law that allows any lawmaker to file a complaint with the attorney general if they believe a county, city or town has adopted a policy that violates state law. Brnovich made his decision in late August in response to Borrelli's request. 

Fann commended the response at the time, saying the supervisors should be held responsible.

County officials, including Republican County Attorney Allister Adel and Democratic Sheriff Paul Penzone, have said that handing over the routers would be a security risk, in part because they provide a road map to the county's internal network that could be useful to hackers trying to gain access.

It's unclear why the Senate wants the routers. The county transfers election results using hardwires and flash drives, within an air-gapped system in the county's election center. An independent audit of the voting machines in February showed they had not been connected to the internet.

Penzone has said he is prepared to go to court to protect the routers.

“The integrity of our technology infrastructure, the privacy of our citizens, the ability of a hacker to use that information to corrupt our system is devastating," Penzone said.

Republic reporter Mary Jo Pitzl contributed to this article.

Reach the reporter at jen.fifield@azcentral.com or at 602-444-8763. Follow her on Twitter @JenAFifield

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