PHOENIX — Unable to get permission for a formal hearing, a group of “select’’ lawmakers are having their own off-campus event Monday to hear evidence from the Trump legal team on the just-completed election.
But odds are you can’t get in to what’s been billed as an “urgent public hearing.’’
Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, said attendance is limited because of restrictions placed by the Hyatt Regency in downtown Phoenix where the event will be held. Even some who got Eventbrite invitations found that it is listed as “sold out’’ — though technically there’s no cost — and were placed on a wait list.
The move comes after House Speaker Rusty Bowers has rebuffed his efforts to call a hearing of the House Federal Relations Committee, which Finchem chairs, to look at ways the 2020 election could have been tainted.
“My worst fears have come to light in the process, and so far the evidence has been blocked from an official public forum,’’ he said. So he decided to go ahead, on his own — and off campus because “time is of the essence to show proof that our election has been compromised.’’
“This process has been anything but transparent,’’ he told Capitol Media Services on Friday. Finchem promised that the testimony, which is expected to feature Trump campaign lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, “is going to reveal a great deal that I think the taxpayers, the voters, are going to be stunned.’’
The need for speed goes to Finchem’s belief that the U.S. Constitution empowers lawmakers to decide, on their own, whether the election was valid and, if not, to select the electors of their choice. And those, presumably, would be for Trump despite the official results of the popular vote which are expected to be certified Monday as accurate by the governor, the attorney general and the chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court.
Finchem represents Legislative District 11, which includes Maricopa, Arizona City and Oracle in Pinal County.
The hearing come as attorneys for Kelli Ward, the chair of the Arizona Republican Party, go to court Monday in their bid to get access to certain voting materials they say will help them prove their claim that the tally was incorrect, at least for the presidential race. But the issues are closely related, with the Trump campaign having raised some of the same allegations, particularly about the possibility of fraud with mail-in votes.
Monday’s off-campus hearing is likely to be a carbon copy of one held Wednesday by some Pennsylvania lawmakers — also off campus — where Guiliani detailed what he said were irregularities in not just that state but also in Arizona. And Trump, appearing by phone, repeated his claim that fraud in mail-in ballots altered the election returns.
“They cheated,’’ he said of Democrats.
“This was a fraudulent election,’’ the president continued. “That has to be turned around because we won Pennsylvania by a lot and we won all of these swing states by a lot.’’
He also complained about “all of the horrible things that happened to poll watchers.’’
That same theme has been repeated in Arizona — and even in the lawsuit — that poll watchers were kept too far from the process to see what was going on and whether the signatures scanned from ballot envelopes matched what the county recorder’s office already had on file.
So far, though, Trump and his allies have lost virtually every case they have brought alleging fraud or other improprieties. That, then, goes to the question of what state lawmakers can do.
“The legal theory is the legislature has plenary power to fulfill its obligation to send qualified Electoral College electors to engage in the vote,’’ Finchem said.
“This is a federal office,’’ he said. “And it is a federal obligation under the Constitution by the legislatures of the various states.’’
And what of the vote tally?
“We are not fettered, we are not tethered to anything other than our plenary power in the legislature to fulfill our duty,’’ Finchem said. And that, he argued, allows a special legislative session where lawmakers can make their own decision on the validity of the election and whether to try to block the state’s 11 electoral votes from being cast for Biden.
That, in turn, dovetails with the lawsuit filed by attorney Jack Wilenchik on behalf of the state GOP.
Under the system of mail-in voting, election workers compare signatures on the outside of the envelope with what they have on file from prior elections or other documents.
If there are questions, it is reviewed by members of both parties. And the law allows election worker to contact the voters to determine if they really sent in the ballot and whether there is a reason a signature looks different, like an illness or injury.
Wilenchik’s problem is what happens when the election worker says the signature match, as there is no further review by party officials. And, repeating the president’s claim, he said that legal observers were kept too far away from the process to be able to see what was going on.
So he wants Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah to allow a representative sample — perhaps 2% — to be reviewed by a handwriting expert to determine if the worker was correct or if the ballots never should have been tallied.
Even if Hannah grants the review and even if the expert says there are signatures that really do not match, that in itself is no help. That’s because the ballots were long ago separated from the envelopes and there is no way to tell for whom these people voted.
But Wilenchik hopes that a judge, confronted by evidence of a large number of invalid ballots, would void the results of the presidential race, prohibiting the state’s 11 electoral votes from going to Biden. That, in turn, could open the door to the legislature appointing electors.
But that presumes that Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann would consent to convening a special session. Monday’s off-campus hearing is designed to raise enough questions to put pressure on them and other lawmakers to agree.
Wilenchik has a second legal theory that damaged ballots were not properly duplicated for scanning. So he wants these reviewed, too, with the idea that if there were sufficient votes that should have gone to Trump that Hannah should order that he is the winner.