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The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled against a bid by the state Republican-led Senate to keep private records pertaining to the chamber’s review of 2020 election results in Maricopa County that are now being held by contractors who conducted the audit and recount.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the state’s highest court turned down the appeal after a pair of lower courts also ruled that the documents are public records and as such should be released.
For months, the GOP Senate majority has attempted to keep confidential the manner in which the audit contractors are conducting the recount, but the state’s high court agreed with watchdog group American Oversight that they are public records and should be released.
“The high court without comment rejected the appeal filed after an appeals court and trial court both ruled the documents are public records that must be released. The court also dissolved a stay on the appeals court ruling it put in place on Aug. 24 so it could review the record and decide whether to accept the appeal,” the AP reported.
Republicans, however, “argued that because the records are maintained by Senate contractors, they were not subject to public records law and that legislative immunity applies. But the appeals court in its Aug. 19 ruling rejected that argument,” the newswire added.
The appeals ruled that the principal contractor, Florida-based Cyber Ninjas, had to comply with open records laws because it was engaged in a fundamental government activity that the Senate merely contracted out.
“Allowing the legislature to disregard the clear mandate of the (public records law) would undermine the integrity of the legislative process and discourage transparency, which contradicts the purpose of both the immunity doctrine and the (law),” acting presiding Judge Maria Elena Cruz wrote for the three-judge panel.
“The requested records are no less public records simply because they are in the possession of a third party, Cyber Ninjas,” Cruz noted further.
The AP said that it’s not clear when the records are actually going to be released, but a previously scheduled hearing before the original trial court judge is set for Thursday, the AP added.
“The appeals court ruling came in a case filed by American Oversight that is fighting for transparency in the election recount and upheld a Maricopa County Superior Court judge’s ruling,” notes the AP. “That judge also ordered the Senate to turn over audit records it held, and they were released on Aug. 31.”
Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, said in a statement: “Arizonans can look forward to much-needed transparency, even if it may reveal gross attacks on democracy itself.”
Majority Republicans in the state Senate were spurred to conduct the recount amid allegations of suspected voter fraud following former President Donald Trump’s loss in the state. Thus far, there has been no evidence presented publicly that validates those claims.
Thus far, the recount effort has focused solely on Maricopa County, the state’s most populous, encompassing the Phoenix metro region. Some 2.2 million ballots were cast in the 2020 election in the county.
“The materials were given to contractors with little to no election experience for what Senate President Karen Fann calls a ‘forensic audit.’ Election experts say the 2020 election was secure and well-run, and the contractors are using bizarre and unreliable procedures. Maricopa County has refused further participation,” the AP added.
Also Tuesday, the state high court turned down an appeal regarding another case involving public records pertaining to the election audit.
In that case, the Senate and Cyber Ninjas were sued by the company that owns the Arizona Republic newspaper for refusing to release records.
Cyber Ninjas asked for that case to be assigned to a different trial court judge but it was not granted under pandemic rules issued earlier by Chief Justice Rober Trutinel, who suspended the automatic right to seek a different judge in cases.