Legal battles over past and future elections heat up in Georgia and Arizona

Most states have already held their primary elections this year, but many are still dealing with the fallout of the 2020 presidential election. That includes investigations into efforts to overturn the 2020 results and challenges to new election laws. Stephen Fowler, a reporter for Georgia Public Broadcasting, and Andrew Oxford, a reporter at Arizona Public Media, join Lisa Desjardins to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Most states have, by now, held their party primaries for this year's elections, but many are still dealing with the fallout of the 2020 presidential election. That includes investigations into efforts to overturn the 2020 results and challenges to new election laws.

    Lisa Desjardins is here with an update.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This election year, just like in 2020, all eyes are on a handful of key battleground states. That's where we turn our focus with two reporters covering the story.

    Stephen Fowler is a political reporter for Georgia Public Broadcasting, and Andrew Oxford is a reporter at Arizona Public Media.

    Let's start in Georgia with you, Stephen Fowler.

    And let's look at the list of people subpoenaed just yesterday in the Fulton County grand jury investigation of the 2020 election. You see there top Trump officials, like attorney Rudy Giuliani, some allies like then-Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, others involved in a phone call to state officials from President Trump and others.

    Stephen Fowler, what do you think these subpoenas mean and what do they tell us about this case?

  • Stephen Fowler, Georgia Public Broadcasting:

    Well, it sends a pretty clear message about what the special grand jury and Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis are looking for as they continue to investigate efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia.

    Much of the figures that have been subpoenaed appeared at a December 2020 unofficial hearing of the Georgia state legislature, where nobody was under oath, nobody was compelled to tell the truth, and a lot of falsehoods were shared about Georgia's election, particularly vote counting in Fulton County's State Farm Arena.

    And there were several video clips that were played that turned out to be debunked, but the people in these subpoenas still pushed those claims. And that's some of what the investigators are looking at.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We already know Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, for example, has said he is not going to cooperate with the subpoena. He calls this politics.

    What do we know about what's ahead here in this fight and the timeline in this case?

  • Stephen Fowler:

    Well, it is moving relatively quickly. The special grand jury was impaneled in May. They have been hearing from testimony from everyone from Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to Democratic state lawmakers that were present in those hearings.

    And much like what we're seeing in Washington, D.C., with the January 6 Committee hearings, prosecutors and the grand jury are building things from the ground up, a very foundational level investigation into many of the claims made, many potential crimes that were committed. And we could see this accelerate rapidly.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    All right, let's move West, subpoenas also in Arizona just last week, where you are, Andrew Oxford. We have seen these Republican officials subpoenaed last week, this time by the FBI.

    We see two state senators, Karen Fann and Kelly Townsend, be subpoenaed. Tell us, who are these lawmakers and what is the FBI looking for here?

  • Andrew Oxford, Arizona Public Media:

    Karen Fann is the leader of the state Senate. She's a Republican from Prescott. And Kelly Townsend is a Republican from the Mesa area, from Apache Junction.

    And the — Kelly Townsend told 12 News here in Arizona that the subpoena she received was seeking communications between her and Trump's lawyers. We already know, of course, that Trump's attorneys like Rudy Giuliani were in touch with leading Arizona lawmakers after the 2020 election, as lawmakers either joined calls or faced mounting calls to overturn the results of the presidential election here.

    In fact, Senate President Karen Fann told a constituent in December 2020 in an e-mail that she'd had multiple conversations with Rudy Giuliani. So, I think it'll be interesting to see if these subpoenas reveal anything new about that sort of communication, about the pressure campaign that lawmakers were facing or participating in.

    President Fann has downplayed the significance of this subpoena, though. She said that it's seeking documents and communications that others have already requested through public records laws.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is all a lot to keep track of. We have just talked about different investigations about the election.

    But there at the same time is a lawsuit now in your state, in Arizona. The Department of Justice is suing the state over its new election law. And to remind viewers, the law isn't all that simple, but here are some of the points that the Justice Department is looking at, that the law would require voters to bring documents proving citizenship. They would have to check a citizenship box and fill in their place of birth.

    Andrew, help us out. What is the legal back-and-forth over this law?

  • Andrew Oxford:

    Right.

    So Arizona already requires voters to provide proof of citizenship when they register. If they don't, they still have a right, of course, to cast a ballot in federal elections, to vote for president, to vote for members of Congress. This new law passed on a party-line vote in the legislature earlier this year and signed by Governor Ducey requires election officials to verify the citizenship of those voters who haven't provided proof of citizenship.

    And it says that, if you don't provide proof of citizenship, you can't vote for president and you can't vote by mail. The Department of Justice says that this violates the national Voting Rights Act. The U.S. Supreme Court has actually already taken up a similar policy in Arizona about a decade ago in a case here.

    So, in fact, staff at the legislature have warned that the legislature would likely end up in this position of facing challenges to this law. In committee hearings as lawmakers were debating it, attorneys warned that this could violate federal law. As one lawmaker said, though, they believe this is a fight worth having.

    And I think it's perhaps worth looking at this whole back-and-forth as really an effort by some Republican lawmakers to challenge broader national voting rights laws.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Just to wrap this all up, I want to ask both of you. You're there on the ground. You have been watching and covering how your state votes and the controversy around how your states have voted.

    I want to start with you, Stephen, but ask both of you, where do things stand right now?

  • Stephen Fowler:

    Well, Georgia's election law has been challenged. Numerous different lawsuits have been filed for the different parts of the 98-page law that we had here.

    And, so far, it's been a slow moving process. We did just recently have a federal judge deny a preliminary injunction to block part of Georgia's law dealing with third-party absentee ballot applications. But, Lisa, we are running up close to a time when federal courts don't normally like to change election laws, because we have preparations happening very, very soon for the November race.

    So it's unlikely that Georgia's election laws will change anytime before voters head to the polls.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Andrew, what about in Arizona?

  • Andrew Oxford:

    I think we will get a good sense of that next month, when Republican primary voters have some really big choices to make about who they want to elevate to or nominate for election officials, the secretary of state's race, for example, a key role in setting election policy and running the state's elections.

    You have a candidate running on his endorsement from Donald Trump and candidates trying to strike a more moderate tone. Even at local levels, I think you will see Republican primary voters weighing in about the direction they want not just the state to go, but how they want elections to be run into the future here.

    Rusty Bowers, the House speaker who was testifying in front of the January 6 Committee, is running for state Senate and has a primary challenger who is touting his support for Donald Trump. So, you will see, I think, a pretty good indication of which way the base of the party wants to go here in the coming month.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Stephen Fowler and Andrew Oxford, our expert reporters on the ground, we thank both of you.

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