OP ED

I didn't expect needing police protection over 'no' vote on contempt against supervisors

Opinion: There was no way I could vote to possibly arrest and jail supervisors for abiding the law on locking up election ballots. I didn't anticipate the hate.

Paul Boyer
Opinion contributor
Republican state Sen. Paul Boyer, right, LD-20, talks to Republican state Sen. Rick Gray, LD-21, on the Senate floor at the Arizona state Capitol in Phoenix on Feb. 18, 2021.

Go to jail or break the law.

Those were the two options facing the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in the wake of the 2020 presidential election.

My colleagues in the state Senate issued a subpoena demanding an audit of the ballots and the machines from the Nov. 3 election. The supervisors objected to this based on the plain reading of the law, which led to my colleagues entertaining a vote of contempt.

Contempt per Arizona Revised Statutes §41-1153 is more than an expression of disapproval. It calls for arrest and a Class 2 misdemeanor, which carries a presumptive sentence of up to six months in jail.

After discussing the matter with both sides, I knew we had to take contempt charges off the table. If we were going to come to a civil resolution, we could not have possible jail time hanging over the heads of duly elected supervisors like the sword of Damocles.

The plain reading of state law says the ballots shall be locked up in a secure facility managed by the county treasurer, unopened and unaltered for two years following the election. No exceptions. This was the crux of the dispute between the order of the Senate subpoena and state statute.

As such, neither I nor the supervisors were the ones who stood in the way of an audit taking place. It was the law.

Thus, the choice before the supervisors was go to jail for not handing over the ballots or break the law by handing over the ballots. I knew I could not vote for contempt. I also expected some political fallout from the decision.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the thousands of text messages and phone calls that began to flood my personal cellphone as I was explaining my “no” vote. I also received 6,500 voicemails at my Capitol office. Nor did I expect our majority whip to be a regular guest on the alternative news circuit telling those who reject the outcome of the election that I have “betrayed the caucus.”

Further, as I said in my vote explanation, “No elected official should have to have a police presence outside their home due to a sincere policy disagreement.” Little did I know, my family and I would soon require a police presence outside of our home due to threats of violence.

After several groups and individuals publicly posted my home address, along with information about my wife and family, I hurriedly grabbed a few things from the house for my wife and son knowing we would have to spend at least one night, and perhaps more, at several undisclosed locations.

I have no idea how it got this far, but I am praying to serve as a bridge to get both sides to a place of certainty without the circus that would have ensued had we jailed fellow GOP elected officials for simply following the law. Moreover, given that the Senate has yet to decide how best to secure and re-audit the 2.1 million ballots, we clearly had more time to let the judicial process work.

I’ve come to learn after studying the Arizona Elections Manual that elections are far more complicated than meets the eye. It’s closer to neurosurgery than stitching up a wound. For example, to maintain the integrity of any recount, one must have the ballots in a secure facility with a 24/7 live video feed, a documented chain of custody, procedures to ensure the ballots aren’t tampered with, and the election machines are free from physical and electronic manipulation.

And the actions of any auditing firm must be observed by bipartisan teams from start to finish. Additionally, we have the responsibility of promulgating all of this for the public to promote confidence.

As President Reagan once said, “trust but verify.” 

So where do we go from here? To begin with, I believe as a culture we need to make politics less important. The fallout from this sends a chilling effect to the best and brightest from even considering running for office.  

Most importantly, we must demonstrate through our actions the significance of persuasion rather than force. It is fundamental to our patriotic endeavor for freedom over tyranny. 

Republican state senator Paul Boyer, a junior high Latin teacher, represents Legislative District 20 in Phoenix and Glendale. Reach him at pboyer@azleg.gov.