AP calls races for Kelly, Fontes; Hobbs, Mayes pad leads

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs speaks on the set of “Arizona Horizon” prior to a televised interview with host Ted Simons in Phoenix, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs and other Democrats got an unexpected boost from a batch of ballots counted in Maricopa County on Friday, widening their party’s lead in key races on a day that Republicans hoped would turn the tide in their favor. 

The Associated Press and major TV networks including NBC called the U.S. Senate race for Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly, whose lead over Republican candidate Blake Masters grew to 124,000 votes, or 5.7 percentage points, after the Friday update. 

The AP and networks also called the Secretary of State race for Democrat Adrian Fontes over Republican candidate Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley. Fontes led by 5.6 percentage points and 118,000 votes after the Friday update. 

Arizona Republican Gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake speaks as former President Donal Trump listens during a rally, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022, in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Hobbs earned 54% of the votes reported by Maricopa County on Friday, increasing her lead over Republican candidate Kari Lake to 31,000 votes, or 1.4 percentage points. And Democratic Attorney General candidate Kris Mayes finished the evening with a 19,000-vote, 0.8-percentage point lead over GOP nominee Abe Hamadeh, after taking 53.5% of the Friday vote dump. 

The closest statewide race after the Friday update was for Superintendent of Public Instruction. In that contest, Democrat Kathy Hoffman clung to a 6,700-vote lead over GOP candidate Tom Horne – a margin of less than one half of a percentage point. 

The Friday count from Maricopa County followed a 25,000-vote batch from Pima County that came in around 6:45 p.m. on Friday. Those votes favored statewide Democrats by two-to-one margins in most races, according to reporting by ABC15’s Garrett Archer. Other counties also submitted smaller vote batches throughout the day. 

Fontes, Finchem, election, Secretary of State, Democrats, Republicans, Trump, election deniers
Adrian Fontes, a Democratic candidate running for Secretary of State for Arizona, poses for a photograph July 29 in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Maricopa County Friday batch was widely expected to favor Republicans and it included some critical vote categories. Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates provided a rough breakdown of the ballots expected on Friday night at a news conference earlier in the day. 

The batch contained up to 17,000 ballots dropped into “Box 3” on ballot tabulation machines, he said. Those ballots weren’t tabulated on Election Day due to problems with voting equipment, but they seemed likely to skew Republican since they were cast by voters who voted in person on Nov. 8 – a category that has favored GOP candidates so far. 

Another several thousand (Gates said it was less than 10,000) ballots were early ballots. That’s a category that has favored Democrats so far. 

But the majority of the Friday batch, Gates explained, was made up of early ballots that voters deposited in drop boxes on Election Day. That category, Election Day drop-offs, represents a large share of the remaining votes and will be key to either party winning close races. And it’s a category that has favored different parties in the past. 

Kyrsten Sinema, the moderate Democratic Senator, won the category in her 2018 race. But former Republican President Donald Trump earned the majority of votes in that category in the 2020 presidential race in Arizona. 

Democrat Kris Mayes, candidate Arizona Attorney General, smiles prior to a televised debate against Republican Abraham Hamadeh, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Before the Friday update, Maricopa County officials said there were approximately 290,000 Election Day drop-off ballots left to be counted. On Friday afternoon, before the update, the county was reporting about 354,000 ballots left to be counted. That means that more than half of the ballots left to count around the whole state were Election Day drop-offs from Maricopa County. 

Throughout the day on Friday, GOP candidates talked confidently about an impending shift in momentum, saying they expected to earn significant majorities in coming batches including Friday’s drop from Maricopa County. 

“We’re very confident that these counts are going to start going heavily our way and we will win this,” Lake said in an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s show earlier on Friday night. Masters, Hamadeh and other GOP candidates also projected optimism leading up to Friday night. 

Paul Bentz, a veteran Arizona pollster, said GOP candidates in tight races, including Lake and Hamadeh, are looking vulnerable after Friday’s update, but their races aren’t over yet. 

Paul Bentz (Photo by Ellen O'Brien/Arizona Capitol Times)
Paul Bentz (Photo by Ellen O’Brien/Arizona Capitol Times)

“The window for Republicans narrowed but it’s not impossible. There is too much variance in where the ballots could be coming from,” he said in a text message. 

At the Friday afternoon news conference, Maricopa County officials said that election workers are currently counting votes from all around the county, but they didn’t provide granular information about whether any specific locations might be over or underrepresented in the Friday night vote batch. 

The Friday update came in the midst of saber-rattling by Republican figures, including Lake, who aren’t happy about the pace of vote-counting in Maricopa County, which is home to about 60% of the state’s population. Lake recently accused the county of “slow walking” its results, allegedly to extend Democrat leads before reaching Republican-friendly batches of ballots. 

The Republican National Committee and the Arizona GOP went further, demanding in a statement on Friday that ballots be counted 24 hours per day in Maricopa. Gates has previously said that county election workers are working 14 to 18-hour days. 

“The RNC and the Republican Party of Arizona demand that around-the-clock shifts of ballot processing be pressed into service until all votes have been counted, accompanied by complete transparency and regular, accurate public updates,” Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney for the RNC, said in an emailed statement. “We will not hesitate to take legal action if necessary to protect Arizona voters’ right to have their ballots counted.” 

Gates replied to that in an emailed statement on Friday night, calling the criticism “one more political stunt to try and distract us,” and noting that the county has averaged 12.5 days to post final election results in races since 2006. 

“Changing processes or adding untrained personnel would only slow the counting at this point and we will not deny the voters of Maricopa County an accurate tabulation of their votes,” he added. 


Board upholds Petersen’s suspension, will push for resignation

This undated photo provided by the Maricopa County Assessor's Office shows Assessor Paul Petersen. Petersen has been indicted in an adoption fraud case, accused of arranging for dozens of pregnant women from the Marshall Islands to come to the U.S. to give their children up for adoption. Utah also has charged him on multiple felony counts, including human smuggling, sale of a child and communications fraud. (Maricopa County Assessor's Office via AP)
This undated photo provided by the Maricopa County Assessor’s Office shows Assessor Paul Petersen. Petersen has been indicted in an adoption fraud case, accused of arranging for dozens of pregnant women from the Marshall Islands to come to the U.S. to give their children up for adoption. Utah also has charged him on multiple felony counts, including human smuggling, sale of a child and communications fraud. (Maricopa County Assessor’s Office via AP)

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Friday to uphold Maricopa County Assessor Paul Peterson’s 120-day suspension and directed the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office to pursue his removal from office.

The board based its decision on a final report submitted to them by investigators, who found on his county laptop hundreds of documents relating to an alleged adoption ring such as agreements related to adoption services, law office bank records, screenshots of threatening text messages between Petersen and Marshallese women who were paid to give their children up for adoption.  

According to the report, someone tried to wipe the county computer twice – once on October 30, a day after Petersen was released from federal custody and again on November 12, and the private attorneys who made up the investigative team suggested Petersen may have committed crimes such as tampering or destruction of public records and criminal damage for intentionally wiping the data from the computer.

County Supervisor Steve Gallardo said he was appalled at what investigators found. 

 “I’m outraged,” Gallardo said. “This is unconscionable. There’s a reason why we light this building every October purple… This is human trafficking at its best. You cannot describe it any more than human trafficking, and he did it while he was on the clock.”

Petersen stands accused in three states of paying women from the Marshall Islands to deliver their children in the U.S. and of organizing the adoptions of them to American families. He also faces charges of smuggling and adoption fraud in Arkansas and Utah and with defrauding the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

The board suspended Petersen Oct. 28. Although the board held an appeals hearing on Dec. 19, it did not decide on upholding the suspension until after the final report was completed and released. The delay came about because the investigative team didn’t have his laptop. 

The final report’s findings, Gates said, were enough to support a finding of willful misconduct of office.

“The assessor obviously did not fulfill his duties when he was in custody for 20 days and I also believe that he neglected his duties as well by having documents related to the adoption practice on his county computer,” Gates said. “But beyond that, Mr. Petersen has a duty to protect county property and he failed to fulfill that duty when he allowed that county computer to be used for that private adoption practice.”

Gates and the board are asking Mr. Petersen to resign from office to save the county from spending more public money. Supervisor Hickman said he will soon ask the Maricopa County and Arizona Republican Parties to call on Petersen to resign.

His attorney, Kory Langhofer, has said in the past that he is considering suing the board as an option and has not indicated his client will resign anytime soon. If the county attorney doesn’t take action before then, the suspension will end.

Jennifer Liewer, a spokeswoman for County Attorney Allister Adel, said Adel is reviewing the board’s motion and determining her next step.

Langhofer could not be immediately reached for comment in time for publication.

This comes a week after Petersen’s co-defendant, Lynwood Jennet agreed to testify against him in a plea agreement that dropped 45 charges against her. Jennet pleaded guilty to four charges in Maricopa County Superior Court on December 19: one count of conspiracy to commit fraudulent schemes and artifices, two counts of theft and a failure to file a tax return. She also agreed to pay $1 million in restitution.

Prosecutors said Jennet, a Marshallese woman who worked for Petersen for six years, was the intermediary between Petersen and the Marshallese women and helped them fraudulently apply for Medicaid benefits.

Boyer’s vote triggers threats of violence, retribution

In this April 16, 2016, photo, Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, attends a panel discussion hosted by the Center for Political Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/Flickr
In this April 16, 2016, photo, Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, attends a panel discussion hosted by the Center for Political Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/Flickr

The screen behind Senate President Karen Fann spelled defeat before she even started talking on February 8.

Fifteen names in red. Fourteen in green. And her own in yellow, waiting for her to cast a vote that wouldn’t make a difference unless she could convince the Republican senator sitting in front of her to change his vote.

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, had surprised Fann and the rest of the Republican caucus about an hour prior, when he announced his “no” vote on a resolution that would empower Fann to send the Senate’s sergeant at arms to arrest Maricopa County’s five supervisors for refusing to comply with a subpoena the supervisors said was unlawful. 

For the past hour, Senate Republicans had tried to cajole, coerce, threaten and persuade Boyer, through pointed on-mic speeches directed his way and fervent whispers from a rotating cast of lawmakers kneeled by his desk. Nothing had changed by the time Fann started speaking.

“Needless to say, I would not have put this on the board had I not been under the impression and was told that we had 16 solid votes,” Fann began in clipped tones, looking pointedly at Boyer. “Had I been told that there wasn’t, perhaps we would have talked about this before it went up on the board.”

For the next several minutes, Fann ran through her litany of reasons for taking the unprecedented step of holding Maricopa County’s elected supervisors in contempt, a vote that could lead to the Senate incarcerating the five men for the duration of this year’s legislative session.

Boyer stared at his cell phone, which was buzzing uncontrollably with texts and phone calls from unknown numbers. Within hours, he would be packing to move with his wife and toddler to an undisclosed safe location after some of the texters escalated to overt threats.

Arguments exhausted, Fann looked at Boyer.

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

“So I am hoping someone might change their vote and let this pass so that we can move forward,” she said. 

Silence lingered as everyone in the room watched Boyer, then scanning through text messages to save the most overt threats for police.

Boyer looked up and shook his head. The vote was over. His hellish week was just beginning.  

Time to think

The path that eventually led to half the Arizona Senate barreling ahead with a Wild West plan to lock up other officials started in November, when 1,672,143 Arizonans voted for Joe Biden and 1,661,686 voted for Donald Trump. 

It was the first time a Democrat won the state’s electoral votes since Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election. Prior to that, the last Democrat to win Arizona was Harry Truman in 1948. 

State Republicans, and their representatives in Congress and the Legislature, couldn’t believe it really happened. As ballots were still being counted, they began weaving complicated theories involving Sharpies, manipulated voting machines, undead voters, the deceased Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez and a vast conspiracy that somehow implicated Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, Democratic Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes and his Republican successor Stephen Richer, the four Republicans and one Democrat on the county Board of Supervisors, and hundreds of election officials of all political backgrounds.

Republican lawmakers, in particular, developed a new interest in constitutional law and a belief that they had plenary, or absolute, power to appoint electors – something previous Legislatures had delegated to voters with multiple laws requiring that presidential electors vote to reflect the state’s popular vote. 

Three days after the November 3 election, Fann asked legislative attorneys for a memo on the Legislature’s ability to change how electors are appointed. Even after attorneys told her it was impossible to retroactively change the state’s electors, the Arizona Republican Party convened its would-be electors and Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, first sent a letter to Congress asking that the Republican electors be appointed and then filed legislation to do the same.

Townsend used Boyer’s signature on her December letter to Congress, assuming he would support it because he had agreed to support a previous version of the message that simply asked to delay certifying electors until multiple lawsuits over election results were settled. 

 In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, supporters of President Donald Trump gather outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar)
In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, supporters of President Donald Trump gather outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar)

Distancing himself from Townsend’s letter resulted in Boyer being the first — and still one of a few — legislative Republicans to publicly acknowledge Biden’s victory. Doing so resulted in angry emailers from other states threatening his political career, he said, but his own Republican constituents didn’t seem to care.

In the House, Speaker Rusty Bowers shut down attempts to engage the Legislature in overturning election results. 

“Given the outcome of the presidential race in Arizona, an enormous amount of pressure is being directed at my office and my colleagues,” Bowers wrote in a November letter to House members. “I wish to respond by simply saying – I took an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution and laws of the State of Arizona.”

Kelly Townsend
Kelly Townsend

Bowers refused requests from Townsend, then in the House, to hold special hearings on election integrity. In the Senate, Fann set up a voter fraud hotline that was quickly flooded with jokes, crude photos and complaints about Republicans trying to undermine faith in the election system. She approved a hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and signed subpoenas demanding Maricopa County turn over access to ballots and election equipment for a still-unidentified Senate-hired auditor to analyze.

Maricopa County supervisors, who already planned to run another forensic audit, balked at the Senate’s demands. As far as they were concerned, handing over ballots would violate state law that requires ballots to be kept secret, so they went to court to block the legislative subpoenas.

As court arguments continued, and under mounting pressure from constituents and members of her caucus, Fann last week introduced a resolution to hold the county supervisors in contempt. All 16 Senate Republicans co-sponsored it and voted to waive their own rules, and it looked like a done deal. Then, lawmakers went home for the weekend and Boyer had time to think. 


Boyer told the Arizona Capitol Times he was comfortable with the initial information he received, but the longer he thought about it and the more he learned, the worse the measure seemed. He couldn’t imagine the thought of any of the county supervisors going to jail for striving to follow the law, he said. 

He called supervisors Bill Gates and Jack Sellers on February 7 and asked for a meeting with the two of them and Fann before the next day’s scheduled vote, with no attorneys or staff. During a February 10 board meeting, Gates said he promised Boyer he would try to bring the dispute to an end as quickly as possible. 

Bill Gates
Bill Gates

“He took the time to meet with us and he took the time to find it in his heart to trust us,” Gates said. “It’s something that is a rare commodity these days, but he trusted what we said to him.”

Boyer said he told Fann during that meeting that she needed to take contempt off the table, but she made it clear she would bring the resolution to the floor regardless.  

“I heard from the board directly, and it was meaningful because it was without filter or interpretation from anyone else,” Boyer said. “It became extremely clear to me that the severity of the resolution was actually halting progress toward obtaining what the Senate ultimately desires — an additional independent audit of election results.”

Even if Republicans succeeded in passing their contempt resolution, Fann’s caucus was torn on what to do about it. She has largely avoided questions about whether she would actually send the sergeant at arms to arrest supervisors. 

“Statute tells us we must pass the resolution to move forward,” she said. “We have a number of options once we do that.” 

Some, like Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, voted for the contempt resolution out of a conviction that legislative subpoenas must be respected, even though he doesn’t agree with the underlying reasons for these particular subpoenas. 

“I think we all know we’re not going to arrest anybody,” he said. “That’s over the top.”

But others are eager to see the county supervisors in cuffs. 

“The Maricopa Board of Supervisors need to be arrested for violating our subpoena. It is outrageous how they are behaving,” Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, tweeted. 


The threats that forced Boyer and his family from their home are new, but he’s familiar with political retribution. 

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, hands a copy of John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage” to Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, during a May 28 ceremonial signing of a bill that expands the statute of limitations for sexual abuse survivors to sue their assailants. Looking on are Bridie Farrell, a former competitive speed skater and sexual abuse survivor, and Gov. Doug Ducey. The senators leveraged their votes on the state budget to pass the bill and add spending to the budget. PHOTO BY DILLON ROSENBLATT/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES
Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, hands a copy of John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage” to Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, during a May 28 ceremonial signing of a bill that expands the statute of limitations for sexual abuse survivors to sue their assailants. Looking on are Bridie Farrell, a former competitive speed skater and sexual abuse survivor, and Gov. Doug Ducey. The senators leveraged their votes on the state budget to pass the bill and add spending to the budget. PHOTO BY DILLON ROSENBLATT/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Two years ago, Boyer and then-Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, stood together to block the passage of the state’s budget until the Legislature passed a law giving sexual abuse survivors more time to sue their abusers. In retribution, House Republicans blocked hearings on many of Boyer’s and Carter’s bills the following session, and Carter lost her seat to a primary challenge from the more conservative Nancy Barto.

Boyer avoided a primary last year, though he has had them in most prior election cycles and said he welcomes the challenge. After his vote on the contempt resolution, a former GOP spokesman predicted he would lose in 2022 to former Rep. Anthony Kern, who participated in the January 6 U.S. Capitol protest and breached at least one set of barriers.

And as Boyer and his wife packed their bags on the evening of February 8, precinct committeemen in his district voted on a resolution to censure him, claiming he “hides behind sanctimoniousness and the Democrat Party Media instead of representing ‘We the people’ who elected him in good faith.” Trump won the Glendale-based district by just 300 votes.

Some of the messages Boyer received, and comments one lawmaker made on the floor, blurred lines between politics and violence. Townsend later sought to clarify that she was speaking only about ongoing legal challenges and recall efforts, but several of her colleagues understood her speech on the Senate floor as an incitement of violence. 

“Right now the last place this needs to be is in a place where the public is so lathered up over all of this,” Townsend said. “We need to do this in a way that’s professional, legal and proper — not that the public’s not — but they shouldn’t have to do this on our behalf. So public, do what you gotta do.”

Kate Brophy McGee
Kate Brophy McGee

Former Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, a moderate Republican who spent most of her 10 years in office as a favorite target of both conservatives and Democrats, said she would urge Boyer and the county supervisors who are dealing with threats of their own to seek prosecution for the threats wherever possible. And lawmakers from both parties need to unequivocally reject the violent threats, she said. 

“We shouldn’t put it all on public safety to keep our elected officials safe,” she said. “We need to unite Democrats and Republicans and say this has all got to stop.” 

It may not be possible to avoid political consequences for unpopular stances, she said, but lawmakers can choose to set appropriate boundaries and hold onto their convictions. 

“Changing your mind or backing off doesn’t change the objectionable behavior of people who cannot appropriately express anger,” Brophy McGee said. “What I’m seeing across the political spectrum is people afraid to stand up for what you believe in. You need to set boundaries, you need to be consistent and you need to not feed into it.”

Boyer publicly addressed his vote on Twitter February 10, writing that he believed the Senate should have access to ballots and perform its own audit, and that he looks forward to the Senate making that argument in court.

He received 41 replies, from Democrats and Republicans, moderates and party loyalists. Every one was negative.

-Yellow Sheet editor Hank Stephenson contributed reporting



County board starts process to suspend Petersen from office

Paul Petersen
Paul Petersen

Maricopa County Assessor and alleged child trafficker Paul Petersen will find out if he is suspended without pay from his elected post when the county board of supervisors votes on October 28.

Petersen is facing felony charges in three states, including Arizona, for running an illegal adoption fraud scheme.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, who met in executive session for roughly two hours today, determined they have enough reason to vote on whether Petersen should face a 120-day suspension. Under Arizona law, Petersen must have fives days notice of the vote, including the weekend. He’s in federal custody awaiting arraignment in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Arkansas.

The board, by law, can seek Petersen’s removal, but Chairman Bill Gates, who is the only supervisor to talk to media after the meeting, did not say what would happen after the 120-day period is up.

“We will cross that bridge when we get to that,” Gates said.

The Board decided to call a vote for next week based on two accounts of Petersen’s “neglect of duty,” a clause in Arizona statute that would call for a county official to be suspended.

“He is currently detained so he is unable to perform the duties of the job,” Gates said. A partially done county internal audit also found that there is a “multitude of documents” related to Petersen’s adoption business on his county computer.

Gates said he would not draw any further conclusions from there, but county policy says all employees should not be doing private work on their county computers.

“We would hope elected officials would live up to that,” he said.

A county spokesman said the audit is not yet complete, but the plan is to release it publicly once it is.

Even while Petersen was not detained, he still did not spend much time in the county office, the Arizona Republic reported

According to parking records, Petersen only showed up to the Assessor’s Office 53 days this year. And on those days, he would apparently only stay for an average of four hours.

Petersen’s new attorney, Kurt Altman, said recently Petersen has no intention to resign from his office.

Under state law, a suspension will take effect immediately upon a unanimous vote of the board and a replacement will be appointed. Petersen will have a right to a hearing if the vote isn’t unanimous, but it will still be the board that makes the final decision.

The board can also ask the Maricopa County Attorney to seek Petersen’s removal during the 120-day suspension. The removal process requires the county attorney to get a grand jury to allege “willful or corrupt misconduct in office” and a jury could ultimately decide whether he’s removed.

County board votes to suspend Petersen


The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously today to suspend County Assessor Paul Petersen without pay on the grounds he’s in federal custody in Arkansas and can’t serve. 

Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates said they sent Petersen a letter before the vote asking him to provide any sort of proof that he could still do his job. They also asked why and how more than 1,000 documents relating to his adoption business came to be on his county computer. That information was provided to the Board through an internal audit that should be made available to the public later today.

Gates said Petersen did not respond to their letter.

Arizona authorities arrested Petersen in early October in connection with indictments in Arizona, Utah and Arkansas on allegations he ran an illegal adoption scheme.

The process to appoint an interim County Assessor has begun, but Gates did not say how long it would take before they name Petersen’s temporary replacement, just that it would not be done today.

Petersen’s lawyer, Kurt Altman, previously told 12 News that Petersen has no plans to resign even though Gov. Doug Ducey, the entire Board of Supervisors and others have called on him to do so. Altman did not immediately respond to a request for comment today.

Gates said Petersen or his lawyer can now opt to appeal the decision.

“We will address that if it happens,” Gates said.

The Board chairman did not say whether the county plans to change the locks or remove Petersen’s access to the garage in order to keep him off the premises.

According to the state statute used to suspend the county assessor or treasurer, the Board of Supervisors may ask the County Attorney to seek the person’s removal from office after suspension by way of a grand jury.

Fields Moseley, a county spokesman, told Arizona Capitol Times that the Board and newly-appointed County Attorney Allister Adel, who was in attendance at today’s vote, have discussed all legal options, including the possibility of removing Petersen via a grand jury, but that she has not yet been asked to do so.

A spokeswoman for Adel could not comment on if Adel was asked either.

County responds to AG questions on elections

Mohave County, Maricopa County, Cochise County, elections, ballots, tabulation, Lake, Hobbs, Hamadeh, Mayes,
An election worker gathers tabulated ballots to be boxed inside the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office on Nov. 10 in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Maricopa County is slapping back at allegations by the Attorney General’s Office that there were violations of state law in the handling of Election Day problems.

In a letter Sunday, Assistant County Attorney Tom Liddy rejected claims that the problems with printers at some polling places violated a constitutional requirement for elections to be “free and equal.” He said everyone who showed up at a vote center had an opportunity to vote – even if it wasn’t in the manner they preferred.

Liddy, in his response to Jennifer Wright, the head of the AG’s Elections Integrity Unit, acknowledged that state law requires “uniformity in the procedure for voting and tabulation of ballots.” But he said any suggestion that the problems with the equipment broke the law have no legal basis.

Bill Gates

“These laws … do not require every printer and tabulator work perfectly such that there can never be any unplanned and unanticipated equipment malfunctions,” Liddy wrote.

And he said the county followed all laws when dealing with people who left one vote center over problems and then tried to vote at a second site.

The response came less than 24 hours before the county was set to formally canvass the vote totals.

Kari Lake, the unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor, as well as some other losing GOP contenders, have said that cannot occur until there as been a “complete investigation” of issues raised by Wright. But a spokesman for the board of supervisors said there are no plans for a delay.

In a press release, Bill Gates who chairs the county board of supervisors, suggested that the response may not have answered all of Wright’s questions as the demand came only a week earlier. He promised “additional facts and transparency to the AG and other interested parties” in the coming days.

The response left Kelli Ward, chair of the Arizona Republican Party, unimpressed.

“Maricopa County basically tells AG’s office to pound sand,” she wrote Sunday afternoon in a Twitter post.

“They just don’t have time to address disenfranchised voters,” Ward continued. “These people are a disgrace.”

Ward also questioned whether Wright will accept the explanation or “demand more than excuses.”

At the heart of the dispute is the fact that Maricopa County uses “vote centers,” allowing eligible individuals to cast their ballots at any location. That, in turn, requires that individually tailored ballots be printed on site.

Liddy said printers at nearly a third of the more than 200 voting centers were turning out ballots that could not be read by on-site tabulators though the choices could be seen by a human eye.

In that case, voters were given the option of putting their ballots into “Door 3” on the printer to be tabulated at the end of the day at county election offices.

Only thing is, Ward sent out messages telling people not to use that option. That caused not only backups at vote centers as some people insisted on trying to have their ballots read multiple times but also resulted in some voters choosing to leave to try another location.

Liddy told Wright the problem was relatively minor, saying fewer than 1% of the more than 1.5 million ballots cast in the election were affected. That figure, though, includes people who voted early whose ballots were counted at a central location.

But the bigger issue, he said, is no one was disenfranchised despite claims to the contrary by some Republicans like Lake who lost their races.

“Every voter was provided a ballot by which he or she could record their votes,” he said. “And all such ballots cast by lawful voters were tabulated, whether in the vote center or at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center.”

Liddy also said there is no basis to claim that the inability of some voters to get their ballots tabulated immediately, on site, violated their rights.

In fact, he noted, eight of the state 15 counties do not have tabulators at their polling locations. What that means, he said, is every one of the voters in each of those counties essentially is putting ballots into Door 3 to be tabulated at a central location.

“It cannot be the case that the limited use of the Door 3 ballot box for some voters in Maricopa County violates the (Arizona) Constitution, while the required use of a ballot box by every voter in over half of the state’s counties does not,” Liddy said.

“All voters were still provided reasonable, lawful options for voting,” he said. “No Arizona law requires ballots to be tabulated in polling locations using precinct-based tabulators.”

Liddy also said the county followed the law in dealing with people who wanted to go vote somewhere else after checking in at a vote center.

He said anyone who wanted that option was allowed to “spoil” his or her ballot in the presence of poll workers and checked out of that location. Then, on arrival at the new site, poll workers issue a new ballot after determining the person had not voted at the first site.

What that also means, Liddy said, is someone who left the first site without checking out would be listed on electronic rolls as already having voted. At that point, he said, a voter is issued a “provisional ballot” which is set aside until the county can later determine if that person had actually voted earlier.

All this, he said, is “consistent with Arizona law.”





County supervisors defy Senate subpoenas

Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates answers questions Monday about the board's decision not to respond to the latest Senate subpoena. With him is Chairman Jack Sellers (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates answers questions Monday about the board’s decision not to respond to the latest Senate subpoena. With him is Chairman Jack Sellers (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Maricopa County won’t surrender the latest batch of documents and equipment the Senate demands.

At least, not most of what was subpoenaed.

County officials did not show up at the Senate at 1 p.m. on Monday as commanded by President Karen Fann with the items in tow. In fact, they didn’t show up at all.

Instead, board Chairman Jack Sellers sent a letter to Fann and the other senators blasting the “audit” — the quotes are as he stated it — and telling them to get on with it.

“The board has real work to do and little time to entertain this adventure in never-never land,” he wrote, saying that the 2020 election was run as required by state and federal law.

“There was no fraud, there wasn’t an injection of ballots from Asia nor was there a satellite that beamed votes into our election equipment,” Sellers said. “It’s time for all elected officials to tell the truth and stop encouraging conspiracies.”

And Sellers told the senators to release whatever report they’re going to produce “and be prepared to defend any accusations of misdeeds in court.”

At a separate press conference explaining the board’s decision, Sellers took a slap at the Senate — and Cyber Ninjas, the firm that Fann hired.

“A lot of the questions that have been raised in the current subpoena are because the unqualified, inexperienced people they hired to do this audit don’t know what they’re looking at,” he said. “So they keep asking us to verify things or explain things that if they knew what they were doing they would already know the answers.”

Senate President Karen Fann (Photo by Kyra Haas/Arizona Capitol Times)
Senate President Karen Fann (Photo by Kyra Haas/Arizona Capitol Times)

The Senate had no better luck with a separate subpoena — and that 1 p.m. Monday deadline — for Dominion Voting Systems to produce various passwords, tokens and other ways to get into the programming of the equipment it leased to the county for the election.

Attorney Eric Spencer, in a written response to the Senate, said the demand violates his client’s constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure. And he said while the Senate has the power to conduct investigations, there is no “valid legislative purpose” to what Fann wants.

Both denials now shift the burden to the Senate which has to decide whether to pursue the matter.

“We are weighing our options,” said Fann in a prepared statement. But she said that it is the fault of both that the audit of the November election is not yet complete.

“It is unfortunate the noncompliance by the county and Dominion continues to delay the results and breeds distrust,” Fann said. And she accused the county of doing a “slow walk” of a separate public records request for documents about a possible breach of the voter registration database.

Supervisor Bill Gates, a Republican like Sellers, said that a vote by the Republican-controlled Senate to hold board members or officials from Dominion in contempt and potentially jail them is unlikely.

“We all know from public statements now that they have even fewer than 15 senators who are in support of this operation,” he said, noting the earlier objection from Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale and the more recent conclusion by Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, that “the audit has been botched.” Anyway, Gates said, the Senate would have to be in session to even consider a contempt resolution.

Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas, answers questions Tuesday at a hearing of sorts to discuss the issues with the current Senate-ordered audit of Maricopa County election returns.
Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas, answers questions May 18, 2021, at a hearing of sorts to discuss the issues with the current Senate-ordered audit of Maricopa County election returns.

But it does not preclude Fann from seeking a court order as she did after the supervisors balked at earlier subpoenas.

In that case, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomasson said the lawmakers have a “valid legislative purpose” in seeking the 2.1 million ballots and the election equipment.

He pointed out that the Arizona Constitution gives legislators the power to enact “laws to secure the purity of elections and guard against abuses of the elective franchise.” And Thomasson accepted the Senate’s explanation that it needed the ballots and equipment to determine if changes are needed in state election laws.

County officials ended up complying at that time. In fact, the ballots and equipment that were produced now have all been returned to the county.

But it now appears the supervisors are ready for a new fight over what more the Senate and Cyber Ninjas insist they need.

In a separate letter to Fann, County Attorney Allister Adel ticked off objections she has to what the Senate requested.

For example, she said there is no need for the actual envelopes in which early ballots were mailed since the county provided images. Anyway, Adel said, the Senate has provided no assurance it could actually protect those items.

But beyond that, the county attorney said the latest subpoena is “an abuse of process or designed merely to harass.”

Still, Adel said the county might provide some information — and on its own schedule.

For example, she said that the county might provide details about a breach of a voter registration web site last year operated by the County Recorder’s Office even though she said it was never connected to election tabulation equipment and is irrelevant to the audit. But Adel said that county officials are busy and they will respond to a parallel public records request for the same information when they have the time.

But the supervisors called the whole investigation little more than “political theater.”

“They’re not acting seriously,” said Gates, saying that the Senate is not doing anything to make voters confident about the electoral system.

“They’re focused on tearing it down, he continued. “They’re focused on raising all sorts of doubts that are going to do nothing but erode at our democracy.”

And then there’s the timing of this, the third subpoena issued by the Senate in its self-proclaimed inquiry into whether the results of the 2020 election — the one that saw Joe Biden outpoll Donald Trump in both the county and the state — were accurate.

All that goes to Gates’ conclusion that this is a political versus a legal issue.

Exhibit No. 1 is the demand in that third subpoena for the county’s routers, essentially equipment that directs computer traffic between the county’s own computers as well as the internet.

Auditors have claimed, without any proof, that election computers were somehow hacked and the results altered. And they have not been convinced by two separate investigations conducted for the county which found the election system is air-gapped and was never connected to the internet.

Yet he said the conspiracy theories remain.

More to the point, Gates said, is the timing of this new subpoena and the demand for those routers.

“They waited for former President Trump to come to town, talk about routers 10 times, and then issue a third subpoena,” he said. “This isn’t serious.”

And Gates said the people behind the audit are “more interested in scoring political points and driving the conspiracy theories held by many of the members of the state Senate.”

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include comment from Senate President Karen Fann. 

County: Senate making ‘mockery’ of audit

Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates, surrounded by other county elected officials, explains why he believes the results of the 2020 election were correct and everything else pushes "the Big Lie." (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)
Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates, surrounded by other county elected officials, explains why he believes the results of the 2020 election were correct and everything else pushes “the Big Lie.” (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)

Maricopa County supervisors on Monday accused Senate President Karen Fann, of allowing a “mockery” to be made of the election process with her audit.

On one hand, the board and County Recorder Stephen Richer prepared a 14-page letter responding to specific questions — they called them accusations — about everything from handling of the ballots to whether a database had been deleted after the election but before files were delivered to Senate-hired auditors. In each case, they said either that the information is false or that they cannot or will not provide what she wants.

But, one by one, each official lashed out at Fann and the Senate for perpetuating what several said amounts to a hoax on the public. And they said she has effectively given over the Senate’s powers to Cyber Ninjas, an outside group that not only has no election audit experience but is now using it to raise money.

And if the message of Monday’s meeting is lost on Fann and other senators, board Chairman Jack Sellers put it succinctly.

“As chairman of this board, I want to make it clear: I will not be responding to any more requests from this sham process,” he said.

“Finish what you’re calling an ‘audit,’ ” Sellers continued. “Be ready to defend your report in a court of law.”

In doing so, Sellers and the Republican-dominated board confirmed what had pretty much been clear since last week; Board members will not show up at the Senate Tuesday, as requested by Fann, for a televised question-and-answer session with her, Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Ken Bennett, a former secretary of state who Fann tapped to be her liaison with the outside contractors.

In fact, Supervisor Bill Gates said there’s good reason to stay away.

“This board was going to be part of a political theater broadcast on livestream on OAN,” he said, a reference to One America News Network, a pro-Trump cable news outlet which not only has fueled the theories that somehow the former president did not lose the election but also is helping to raise money to fund what is supposed to be an official, government-conducted audit.

Monday’s response now leaves it up to Fann on how to respond.

The Senate has gone to court before to force the supervisors to surrender the 2.1 million ballots and the election equipment. But a maneuver to actually hold the supervisors in contempt — a move that could have allowed the Senate sergeant-at-arms to take supervisors into custody — failed when Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, refused to go along with his other 15 GOP colleagues.

Boyer in recent days has indicated even more hesitancy about pursuing the issue. And Richer, a Republican like Fann and the majority of the Senate, said he thinks the tide is turning.

“I guarantee you, there are Republicans in the state Senate … that do not believe a word of it,” he said.

And with Democrats firmly against the whole process, that could leave Fann with few options to force further compliance.

There was no immediate response from the Senate president as to what, if anything, she intends to do now.

Political charges aside, there was a response to what Fann asked.

For example, Fann — working with questions provided to her by Cyber Ninjas — said there are “a significant number of instances in which there is a disparity between the actual number of ballots contained in a batch and the total denoted on the pink report slip accompanying the batch.”

“They don’t know how to read transmission slips,” Richer said of the auditors.

For example, he said some ballots out of any batch of 200 might be pulled out because they can’t be read by the tabulators. And that, said Richer, creates a duplicate ballot.

As to claims of deleted databases, he said “that’s just fundamentally not true.”

“If they were professional, certified auditors they wouldn’t be asking those questions,” Sellers said.

Ditto, Richer said, about the demand for the county’s routers, the computer equipment that acts like traffic directors for data between computers.

“We do not know why Cyber Ninjas would need the routers, as they have no election information,” Richer said. Aside from the $6 million cost of pulling them out and putting in temporary replacements, he said Sheriff Paul Penzone is concerned that what is on them could provide a “blueprint” of computers used by law enforcement that could allow someone to compromise the system.

Richer also said that Cyber Ninjas has no need for internal passwords to get at the source code for the tallying machines. Anyway, he said, that information belongs to Dominion Voting Systems. And he said Dominion gave them directly to the two certified auditors the county hired — again, Cyber Ninjas is not — and does not share them with election officials.

Sellers said he sees a pattern in the requests.

“It’s become clear that some of these people are only going to be happy when they get the results they want,” he said — meaning a finding that somehow Trump won the election, regardless of whether there is actual evidence to back that up.

Gates said it is possible that the Senate at one time had a legitimate reason to review the ballots and equipment. He noted that Fann said the whole purpose was to review the process and determine whether changes are needed in state laws on how elections are run.

But Gates said that stopped being the driving force long ago now that “outside forces” have taken control. That, he said, has become obvious because everyone admits the audit can’t be completed for the $150,000 the Senate allocated.

“Tell us where the money is coming from,” Gates said. So far, though, neither Cyber Ninjas nor Bennett has provided details. And Fann, who is supposed to be in charge, said she doesn’t know.

Gates acknowledged that he and his GOP colleagues are in some ways bucking the partisan tide.

“We recognize … that a large percentage of Republicans believe that the election was stolen in 2020 and that Donald Trump actually won,” he said. But Gates said he does not share that belief.

“And the reason that I feel confident in saying that, particularly in Maricopa County, is that we overturned every stone,” he said. “We asked the difficult questions.”

Now, said Gates, is the time to say that enough is enough.

“It is time to push back on the Big Lie,” he said. “Otherwise we are not going to be able to move forward and have an election in 2022 that we can all believe the results, whatever they may be.”

Richer said there’s another reason people should believe his assurances that the 2020 results are accurate.

He pointed out that he wasn’t even running the office at that time. Richer took over in January after defeating Democrat Adrian Fontes who did run the election.

“Why would I stand here beside these gentlemen to say, ‘It was a good election’ if it wasn’t?” he asked.

“Why wouldn’t I just throw the guy that I spent the past 12 months criticizing, Adrian Fontes, under the bus and say, ‘Don’t worry, there’s a new sheriff in town’ ”? Richer continued. “So it’s just facially asinine.”

Cyber Ninjas skewered in Congress

Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan, center, Ben Cotton, right, founder of digital security firm CyFIR, and Randy Pullen, left, the former Chairman of the Arizona Republican Party and Arizona Senate Audit spokesperson, depart after announcing their findings to the Arizona Senate Republicans hearing review of the 2020 presidential election results in Maricopa County at the Arizona Capitol Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Phoenix. The final report of the election review in Arizona’s largest county found that President Joe Biden did indeed win the 2020 presidential contest. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Republican Maricopa County Supervisors Jack Sellers and Bill Gates testified to Congress October 7 that the county’s 2020 general election was secure and that the months-long review spearheaded by Arizona Senate Republicans undermined democracy. 

The Arizona Senate hired Florida-based contractor Cyber Ninjas to audit the county’s election results earlier this year. The contractors and its subcontractors presented its results September 24, finding no widespread fraud but insinuating impropriety on the part of the county. 

The Democrat-led U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform held the hearing to assess Cyber Ninjas’ review and “how this and similar audits undermine public confidence in elections and threaten our democracy.” 

Sellers and Gates spoke out strongly against the audit in their testimony and response to the committee’s questions. Gates told the committee that the 2020 general election was “the best election” ever run in Maricopa County because it was the most scrutinized. He called the efforts to delegitimize or decertify the election “the biggest threat to our democracy” in his lifetime and slammed Cyber Ninjas’ lack of experience and pursuit of conspiracy theories in its review. 

“I don’t have a problem with audits. I had concerns with this particular audit,” Gates said. 

Sellers said he was “naive” to think he could just sit down with Senate Republican leadership to answer their questions and address their accusations following the election.  

“It’s become clear there are those who don’t care what the facts are — they just want to gain political power and raise money by fostering mistrust of the greatest power an individual can exercise in the United States: their vote,” Sellers said. 

David Becker, with the Center for Election Innovation and Research, and Gowri Ramachandran, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, also testified. The two elections experts said the Cyber Ninjas’ election review has undermined democracy and led to laws that will make elections less secure. 

“Tens of millions of Americans, sincerely disappointed that their candidate lost, have been targeted in a scam to keep them angry, divided and donating,” Becker said. 

Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan, left, a Florida-based consultancy, and former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, right, talk about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix. The equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden and the 2.1 million ballots were moved to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden’s victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Rep. Cori Bush, D-Missouri, asked Ramachandran if the Cyber Ninjas review has paved the way for more “election subversion laws,” even though it found no widespread fraud. 

“Cyber Ninjas’ review has laid the groundwork for these laws because they’ve made insinuations of fraud,” Ramachandran said, noting that “a whole host of laws that make it harder to vote have been popping up all over the country.” 

Ramachandran gave the example of an Arizona bill from Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, that would have given the Legislature the power to pick electors for president that were not the ones voters selected. 

Former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, the audit’s liaison, testified as a minority witness, defending the months-long review. In responding to questions, Bennett said Joe Biden was legitimately elected and that alternative interpretations of the audit were incorrect. He said the hand-count results lends legitimacy to the review.  

“Despite months of warnings from the county, secretary of state, election experts and most of the media that the auditor’s procedures were imprecise and unreliable, the most significant finding of the audit is that the hand count of the physical ballots very closely matches the county’s official results in the president and U.S. Senate races,” Bennett said. 

Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan turned down the committee’s invitation two days before the hearing. Instead of testifying, Logan spoke October 7 on a program hosted by Joe Oltmann, the founder of far-right group FEC United. It was entitled “Cyber Ninjas CEO Tells Congress to Fork Off and Joins Us Instead.”  

“Mr. Logan’s refusal to answer questions under oath is just one more sign that the dark money-fueled audit he learned never should have happened in the first place,” Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, said. 

Maloney and Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Chair Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, first reached out to Logan in July, requesting all documents showing how the Arizona Senate hired Cyber Ninjas, the company’s financial interests and communications related to the audit, among other records. 

Cyber Ninjas repeatedly refused to turn over requested information, instead submitting about 330 pages of already public documents. The company’s attorney told Democratic committee leadership that the inquiries were vague and overbroad and carried a “patently partisan and prolix tone.”   

Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs
Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs

Arizona Republican Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs sit on the committee. They both used their time during the hearing to argue the review was warranted and to allege fraud in the 2020 election. Gosar and Biggs were among the 147 Republicans who voted to overturn the election results on Jan. 6. 

Raskin asked Biggs, “Who won the election in Arizona?” 

“We don’t know,” Biggs responded. 

Biggs repeated the statement later, claiming the audit raised “questions and anomalies” that haven’t been addressed. 

“I think there are legitimate concerns; I’m not sure that the audit revealed those,” Biggs said. “But I can tell you that both sides are further entrenched today than they were six, eight, 10 months ago in Arizona.” 

Elections experts and the county have refuted many of the Cyber Ninjas claims in their report. Bennett acknowledged in his testimony that the county has said it has “answers and explanations” to the contractors’ findings. 

“We welcome those answers,” Bennett said. 


Dems expand leads in key races, Election Day drop-offs could shift momentum

An election worker tabulates ballots inside the Maricopa County Recorders Office, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Democrats running for key statewide offices expanded narrow leads over their Republican opponents Thursday. But the 78,000 votes that Maricopa County tallied today were early ballots received on Saturday through Monday, not early ballots dropped off on Election Day, which could favor GOP candidates. 

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs speaks on the set of “Arizona Horizon” prior to a televised interview with host Ted Simons in Phoenix, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs earned 54.8% of the batch and added almost 7,500 votes to her lead over Republican nominee Kari Lake, bringing the margin to about 26,900 votes. Hobbs held 50.7% of the votes to Lake’s 49.3%. 

Maricopa County’s results were posted to the county website shortly after 8 p.m. and added to vote totals on the Secretary of State’s website around 8:45 p.m. 

Democratic Attorney General candidate Kris Mayes continues to strengthen her lead over Republican Abraham Hamadeh. Mayes is 16,414 votes ahead, but the margin remains thin at 50.4% to 49.6%. Yesterday, the lead in the Attorney General’s race flip-flopped, with Hamadeh briefly overtaking Mayes, before the Democrat regained her advantage later in the day. 

Lake, Hobbs, gubernatorial, election, ballots, Trump
Kari Lake, Republican candidate for Arizona governor, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas on Aug. 5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Another two Democrats padded larger leads. U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly increased his margin over Republican Blake Masters to 115,000 votes, more than five percentage points. Secretary of State candidate Adrian Fontes boosted his lead to more than five percentage points and 109,000 votes.  

Hobbs, Mayes, Kelly and Fontes all earned between 54% and 57% of the Thursday-night Maricopa ballot drop. 

And Kathy Hoffman, the Democratic incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction, flipped her race to take a narrow, 3,852-vote lead over GOP candidate Tom Horne. 

Incumbent Republican Treasurer Kim Yee held onto an 11-percentage point lead over Democrat Martin Quezada. 

Arizona Department of Education Superintendent Kathy Hoffman speaks during a news conference in Phoenix, July 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool, File)

Maricopa’s update followed updates throughout the day from other counties including Pima, Yavapai, Santa Cruz and Cochise. 

More than 2 million votes have now been counted across the state, which translates to almost 50% voter turnout. 

But there are still around half a million votes left to count, according to information from the Secretary of State. More than 300,000 of those are in Maricopa County and more than 100,000 in Pima County. Greenlee is the only county that’s already tabulated all votes and processed all provisional ballots. 

At a news conference on Thursday, Maricopa County officials said they expect to publish counts of about 60,000 to 80,000 ballots per night going through the weekend and into next week. 

Supervisor Bill Gates said that election workers have been putting in 14- to 18-hour days. He attributed the ongoing delay to 290,000 early ballots dropped off on election day, a figure that shot up 70% compared to the 2020 election.  

Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Bill Gates (Bill Clark/Pool via AP)

“The goal posts have changed,” Gates said.  

With tight margins in the Governor and Attorney General races, those 290,000 early Election Day ballots could determine the outcome, and analysts are speculating about whether they’ll skew towards Republicans or Democrats. 

Democrats were heavily favored in early voting, after Republican candidates told their voters not to put ballots in the mail, alleging that mail-in and early voting is more vulnerable to fraud. In person, Election Day voting broke strongly for Republican candidates up and down the ticket. 

The Election Day drop-offs are something of a third category – one that’s gone for different parties in the past. In 2018, U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a moderate Democrat, won that category in her race against Republican Martha McSally. But in 2020, former President Donald Trump won more votes from Election Day drop-offs than President Joe Biden. 

Paul Bentz, a pollster for the GOP firm Highground, said the additional mail-in ballots reported on Thursday might not provide much insight into where the races are headed. 

“It would be expected that they’d act like early voters and lean towards the Democratic candidates … I’m not if sure they will really tell us much more about the drop-offs,” he said in a text message on Thursday afternoon, before the most recent update. 

A smaller segment of ballots seems likely to favor Republicans. Due to Election Day equipment problems, about 17,000 voters deposited their ballots in “Box 3” after tabulating machines couldn’t read the ballots. Since those were cast in person on Election Day, they will likely aid GOP candidates. 

The county is processing ballots affected by printing errors on Election Day and they weren’t included in Thursday’s numbers. Today, election workers started running those ballots through the tabulators at Maricopa County Elections Department. 

Several Republicans have complained about the apparently slow pace of counting, which has left the fate of key races undecided more than 48 hours after the close of polls. Some have compared Arizona to Florida, where winners were declared more quickly 

“They count ballots real slow here in Arizona,” Lake said in an interview on Fox Business.  

Gates said that’s in part because of the changing political landscape in Arizona. 

“Here’s the issue, we have so many close races (that) everyone’s still paying attention,” he said on Thursday. “Those other states like Florida, those races were blowouts, nobody’s paying attention.” 

ESAs help families find best schools, education options


Alex Sikorski had to deal with bullying and taunts when he was in middle and elementary school.

He felt like an outcast.

Sikorski moved to Gateway Academy in Phoenix for his eighth-grade year. Now, he’s graduating as valedictorian of Gateway’s 2019 high school class. Sikorski joined the National Honor Society and excelled at community service while at Gateway Academy, which serves students with Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism.

Sikorski is headed to Grand Canyon University. All of Gateway Academy’s students go on to college! Some graduates attend Musicians Institute, Arizona Culinary Institute and Embry Riddle post-secondary programs after graduation.

Max McFadden
Max McFadden

Many of Gateway’s students might not be on their positive academic and personal paths without Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts.

Many Arizona families are not aware of ESAs and how they can help them find and afford the best educational options for their kids.

The Arizona program, which launched in 2011, creates options for families and students who might not otherwise be able to afford a private education.

ESAs cover 100 percent of education costs for students with autism. They are essential for many families to be able afford innovative and creative schools such as Gateway Academy.

Gateway’s annual tuition is $26,800 per year, which allows for the Phoenix school to offer smaller class sizes and experiential learning for their students.  The student-to-teacher ratio at Gateway Academy’s lower school is 6-to-1. It is 8-to-1 in middle school, and 10-to-1 in high school.

The average class size at larger Arizona public schools can be 25 or even 35 students for one teacher.

Gateway Academy also offers accelerated courses, music programs, a virtual reality lab, equine and speech therapy, a summer social camp, and a customized learning environment for their twice exceptional students.

They offer a year-around program, where every 10 weeks, there is a break.

Many public schools have cut back on such programs.

ESAs pay a percentage of annual education costs for K-12 and preschool students with disabilities. The Education Savings Accounts are also available for Native Americans, active-duty military families, foster kids, and students attending failing or under-performing schools.

This program can be a godsend to families and educational opportunities and options for their children.

Approximately 5,000 families currently use Empowerment Scholarship Accounts to find the best educational options for their kids.

Arizona voters nixed a wide expansion of ESAs in 2018, but the program helping children with disabilities, Native American, active-duty families, foster kids, and students living near failing schools has not gone away!

Students at Gateway are in great twice-exceptional company. They join the likes of Bill Gates, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, Dan Aykroyd, Abraham Lincoln, and Satoshi Tajiri (who created Pokémon), who all had Asperger’s syndrome.

Education Savings Accounts can be essential to families finding the best educational paths for their children.

Not everyone can afford a private school tuition, but thanks to Arizona law and ESAs anyone can.

Max McFadden is director of admissions and outreach at Gateway Academy in Phoenix.

Gates slams critics over voting machine issues

Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates gives an update about the ballot counting during a news conference at the Maricopa County Recorders Office in Phoenix, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A fight is brewing over Election Day voting equipment problems in Maricopa County and Supervisor Bill Gates took some shots at critics after days of withering criticism over the county’s election operations.

“This team, we have accepted our responsibility in this, but I’m not willing to accept responsibility for issues that were caused by others,” he said at a news conference November 14. Gates was talking about Republican figures who took to social media to tell voters not to drop their ballots into “Box 3,” an area on tabulation machines where voters can place ballots for later tabulation.

After elections officials discovered that tabulation machines at about 70 vote centers around the county weren’t reading some ballots, they told voters whose ballots were rejected that they could either drop their ballot into Box 3, or just leave and try again at a different polling place.

Lake, Hobbs, governor, Ask Me Anything, education, Chandler, vouchers
Kari Lake, Republican candidate for Arizona governor, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Aug. 5 in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

But some Republicans complained about the problems and posted messages saying that putting a ballot into Box 3 wasn’t a good idea.

Gates held up a printout of one such message. It read, in part: “Do not put your ballot in “Box 3” or “Drawer 3.” If you have checked in, stay in line. Do not leave without casting your vote.”

“This was literally the opposite of what (Maricopa County) Recorder (Stephen) Richer and I were telling people,” Gates said. “Scott Jarrett (the county’s elections director) has said people were … afraid to put their ballot in Box 3 because of what the leaders of their party had told them, which was the complete opposite of what we had told them.”

The November 15 conference was the last of the county’s daily elections briefings and it came as Kari Lake, the Republican gubernatorial candidate who lost to Democrat Katie Hobbs, indicated that she’s preparing to challenge the outcome of her race.

Shortly after the Associated Press and TV networks called the race for Hobbs on late November 15, Lake tweeted: “Arizonans know BS when they see it.”

On the morning of November 15, Floyd Brown, a national conservative strategist, tweeted: “Spent hours last night working with Lake team on a continuing war for Arizona. She will not go quietly into the night. She intends to stand and fight.”

The Western Journal, a conservative news site owned and operated by Brown, wrote on November 15 that “an inside source tells The Western Journal that Lake will not be conceding.”

Lawyers for Lake have said they’re collecting evidence of Election Day problems, and the voting equipment issues could play a part in any legal claims they eventually make. Attorneys representing Lake already filed one lawsuit relating to the issues on Election Day, but a judge didn’t grant the temporary injunction they requested.

Lake has claimed that the voting equipment problems disproportionately affected Republican precincts. A review of the data found that wasn’t the case, but it’s probably true that more Republicans ran into Election Day problems than Democrats. That’s because more Republicans voted in person, while more Democrats voted by mail, after GOP figures repeatedly claimed that mail-in voting is vulnerable to fraud.

While Lake and her team have been mum about future moves, others have made it clear that they want the county and the state to take drastic measures. In an episode of his “War Room” show earlier this week, Steve Bannon said that Arizona shouldn’t certify the 2022 election after the issues that cropped up on Election Day.

Conservative politicians also complained about long lines at polling locations, and that’s something Gates addressed on November 14.

“It is clear to me that those lines (at polling places) were longer because members, leaders in one political party were spreading misinformation,” he said as he held up the printout of the message telling voters to avoid Box 3.



Maricopa County quick to bat down election misinformation

Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates answers a question regarding the vote count during a news conference at the Maricopa County Recorders Office in Phoenix, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. Gates, a Republican, has taken the lead in the county’s efforts to battle misinformation about how the county ran its election and is tabulating its votes. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

When the Republican candidate for Arizona governor accused the state’s most populous county of “slow-rolling” the vote count to skew early election results, a local official fired back. 

“Quite frankly, it is offensive for Kari Lake to say that these people behind me are slow-rolling this, when they’re working 14 to 18 hours” every day, said Bill Gates, the Republican chairman of the Maricopa County board of supervisors. 

Gates and other election officials in Arizona’s most populous county have been aggressively batting down rumors and slanted false claims as vote counting comes under intense scrutiny in the battleground state. The accusations have come in all types and at all hours from former President Donald Trump and his supporters, Republican candidates and voters. 

Kari Lake, Arizona Republican candidate for governor, gets ready to answer questions from the media after voting on election day in Phoenix, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

“Sadly, there continues to be a lot of misinformation from all different sources that are out on social media right now,” Gates said. “So that’s why we have to continue to do this.” 

Election officials have had two years to hone their game. 

In 2020, Maricopa County landed in the national spotlight while certifying results amid false claims the election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. The following year, it underwent an “audit” pushed by Republicans in the state Senate, which ended with a report validating Biden’s win. 

“That was just a constant flow of misinformation that we became adept at responding to,” Gates said. “We began to understand the importance of responding to that misinformation.” 

This year, the county began holding press conferences months before the midterm election and has held daily briefings since. It now has a team that can quickly respond to new or renewed claims of fraud or mismanagement. 

One persistent claim started when Lake, who is trailing Democrat Katie Hobbs by a percentage point with less than 200,000 votes left to count, accused the county of “slow-rolling” the count. 

Lake and other Republicans say the county has timed vote releases so Democratic areas of the metro Phoenix area are released first. Gates has spent days explaining how that’s not happening and is not possible. In truth, the county processes ballots using a first-in, first out system. 

That means mail-in ballots that are dropped off at the polls on Election Day are processed in the order they are received at the county’s election headquarters. 

“That’s how we do this,” Gates said Saturday. “We’re not picking them from certain parts of town. In fact, we can’t do that, because we have a vote center model.” 

abortion, partial birth abortions, debate, PBS, Masters, U.S. Senate, Kelly, abortion, election, Lake, Trump, Hobbs,
Blake Masters, a Republican candidate running for U.S. Senate in Arizona, speaks at a Save America rally July 22 in Prescott. Masters accused his opponent, Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly, of supporting “partial birth” abortions in May. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Vote centers mean any voter can walk into any polling place across the metro area to cast a ballot in-person or drop off their early ballots. And because ballots dropped off at vote centers are kept together for processing, the votes could be from anywhere. He called the allegations “irrelevant” and an “incredible distraction.” 

“So let’s say we have someone who lives in Gilbert, but they work in Surprise,” Gates explained on Saturday. “They go to the vote center in Surprise on their lunch hour. Where’s that from?” 

A record 290,000 of those ballots were dropped off at the county’s 223 vote centers and are now being processed. As of Monday morning the county had between 185,000 and 195,000 ballots to count, while nearly 1.4 million in-person and early ballots had been tabulated. 

Gates said the audit taught the board and other county leaders the importance of battling misinformation quickly and accurately. 

He and county Recorder Stephen Richer have taken the lead, with Democratic Sheriff Paul Penzone also taking the podium at times. Gates is a lawyer who for years represented the GOP during county elections. Penzone said that the constant unfounded claims have forced Gates and Richer to spend an inordinate amount of time batting them down. 

“You know, what’s the saying, a lie travels around the world … 10,000 times before the truth even gets started?” Penzone said at Saturday’s media briefing. “That’s what we’re seeing here. We’re seeing people empowered by saying things that make them feel good and they’re not accountable for it and they lie.” 

Not every claim is a lie, but the accusations have answers that make sense. On Friday night, losing Republican U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters accused the county of mixing up counted and uncounted ballots on at least two occasions. He demanded that the more than 1.4 million ballots that had already been tabulated be recounted, calling it “a giant disaster.” 

That actually happened, but the mix-up did not lead to double-counted or uncounted ballots. That’s because the county plans for such issues. 

The spokeswoman for the county elections department responded to the statements just over an hour after being contacted by The Associated Press. 

Megan Gilbertson said at two vote centers, election workers combined voted ballots with a batch that could not be read by the on-site tabulators. Such mistakes happen in elections, and Gilbertson said the department was ready because of systems in place to deal with such occurrences. 

“Because ballots are tabulated by batch, we are able to isolate the results from those specific locations and reconcile the total ballots against check-ins to ensure it matches,” she wrote less than two hours after Masters made the statement. “This is done with political party observers present and is a practice that has been in place for decades.” 



Maricopa County supervisors hire additional elections director

An elections worker examines a ballot before inserting it into a counting machine at Pima County Elections in Tucson, Ariz., Monday, Nov. 12, 2018. (Rick Wiley/Arizona Daily Star via AP)
An elections worker examines a ballot before inserting it into a counting machine at Pima County Elections in Tucson, Ariz., Monday, Nov. 12, 2018. (Rick Wiley/Arizona Daily Star via AP)

After two election cycles marred by long lines and unfounded accusations of partisan bias, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors approved changes on June 26 to the way the county hosts elections.

Chief among the changes is the creation of a new director of Election Day and emergency voting procedures, who reports directly to the county’s five elected supervisors.

The vote throws the Board of Supervisors, with its four Republicans and one Democrat, back into the mix when it comes to election operations, a role that for decades the board had delegated to the county recorder, now Democrat Adrian Fontes.

Fontes said he had plenty of input on the changes, prompted by meetings with Republican Supervisor Bill Gates, Democratic Supervisor Steve Gallardo, and a working group formed in January 2019 to study the county’s election infrastructure.

That working group identified staffing and technology as two key areas of need, but they also recommended the new director to better reflect the supervisors’ role in administering elections. The board voted to hire Scott Jarrett, a manager with Maricopa County’s internal audit department, for the new position.

While Jarrett will report to the board, he’ll also be responsible for coordinating with Elections Director Ray Valenzuela of the county Elections Department. The dual roles will help better coordinate election operations, board spokesman Fields Mosley wrote in an email, “because early voting, Election Day, emergency voting, voter registration and tabulation are all connected via technology and personnel.”

The supervisors’ vote comes on the heels of a legislative session in which Republican lawmakers adopted changes to election law that make county supervisors across Arizona responsible for setting the location and hours that emergency voting centers may operate the weekend before Election Day. That law was passed following uproar from state Republican Party leaders over the decision by Fontes to open five emergency voting centers throughout the county prior to the 2018 General Election.

Multiple supervisors noted June 26 that the changes they approved were in the works well before the 2018 election was even held, let alone new laws were passed.

“This effort from the beginning has not been about pointing fingers or placing blame,” Gates said. “It is so important that people from across the political spectrum believe there is integrity in our elections.”

Fontes said he wants voters to have confidence in the system, and when one partisan elected official runs the show, it’s easy for partisan barbs – Fontes called them myths – to fly.

“It’s easy to create those myths. So this is a confidence builder for the voters,” Fontes said.

Gates also highlighted the history of elections in Maricopa County, which have historically been run by the county recorder since 1955, when the board outsourced its election-operation authority.

The hiring of a new director signals that it’s time for “the Board of Supervisors [to] step up so we get directly involved in the elections alongside the county recorder,” Gates said.

Gallardo, who noted he worked for the county Elections Department back in 1992, was supportive of the changes, which didn’t just include a new director. Supervisors voted to spend roughly $3.2 million for new staffers for the Elections Department – an appropriation that also covers Jarrett’s salary, which can’t exceed roughly $150,000.

The board agreed to spend another $6.1 million on a contract with Dominion Voting Systems, which will provide leased equipment to upgrade the county’s voting tabulation hardware on a three-year contract. That includes precinct-based voting systems, to be used at polling centers on Election Day, and central tabulation systems that will help count early ballots. Supervisors also authorized $1.1 million for IT and infrastructure upgrades at the Elections Department.

There’s no new funding specifically for the Recorder’s Office, but that doesn’t mean Fontes won’t benefit from more than two dozen new employees to be hired by the Elections Department. Fontes said his own staff was covering for some responsibilities within the Elections Department, but new hires should free up their time.

As for the new ballot tabulation machines, Fontes called it “a massive step up in technology, and it will have implications across the board, from the way we can report results to the speed with which we can report results.”

The new tabulation machines will be tested in select jurisdictions this fall in preparation for the presidential preference election in 2020.

Petersen’s suspension in limbo after appeals hearing

Russell Pearce (left) gives his testimony about the suspension of Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen to Kory Langhofer, Petersen's attorney, during a suspension appeal hearing in front of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors on Dec. 11, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Maricopa County).
Russell Pearce (left) gives his testimony about the suspension of Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen to Kory Langhofer, Petersen’s attorney, during a suspension appeal hearing in front of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors on Dec. 11, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Maricopa County).

Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen’s suspension remains in limbo after roughly two hours of testimony Wednesday afternoon.

Petersen, who was not present at today’s hearing, is appealing his 120-day suspension. 

Kory Langhofer, who is representing the County Assessor, explained his client’s absence by saying he is saving his testimony for his criminal proceedings, which are ongoing in three states. 

Petersen is accused of paying women from the Marshall Islands to deliver their babies in the U.S. and of organizing the children’s adoption to American families. He is charged with smuggling and adoption fraud in Arkansas and Utah, and with defrauding the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System in Arizona.

Langhofer had planned to call several witnesses, but only had Chief Deputy Assessor Tim Boncoskey and Russell Pearce testify. Pearce currently works under County Treasurer Royce Flora. Flora and others from his office attended the hearing, but no other elected officials from Maricopa County did. 

The county’s supervisors, who unanimously voted to suspend Petersen on Oct. 29, said they won’t rule on his appeal until they see the final investigative report. The county had released its preliminary findings on December 6.

Both the Board and Langhofer gave opening remarks at the hearing. Supervisor Chairman Bill Gates said the statute cited to suspend the County Assessor is only used for that position or the County Treasurer, and therefore anything relating to other elected county officials is “irrelevant to today’s proceeding.”

Gates said Langhofer had been speculating his client was not suspended for “neglect of duty,” but because he was being charged with a crime. Gates insisted they suspended Peterson only on the grounds that he could conduct his official duties while in federal custody for 20 days and for using county resources for non-county business. 

The preliminary report, and testimony from Boncoskey, stated that even while Petersen was detained in Arkansas for nearly three weeks, the office ran smoothly and no deadlines were missed. Petersen and his Chief Deputy also spoke on the phone twice about office business during this span of time.

Things started to get testy when the Board’s attorney, John Doran, questioned Langhofer about why Petersen was not present. Langhofer said “there is no need for him to be here today,” adding that he would rely on the preliminary report and witness testimony. 

“Only Mr. Petersen knows what he could have or should have done in terms of his day-to-day routine as County Assessor that he didn’t do because he was too busy preparing legal pleadings,” Doran said. “And he’s not here to tell us what he didn’t do.” 

Langhofer argued that it should not be up to Petersen to prove his innocence. He cited how nothing in the preliminary report shows he neglected his duties, and added he had not seen anything outside of the report to the contrary. 

During his testimony, Boncoskey said the Assessor’s Office is not one person. “I believe every statutory duty of the assessor has been adhered to because that is our job,” he said. 

Boncoskey reiterated what the preliminary report concluded, saying the office was able to keep up with deadlines without missing a beat even during Petersen’s “time away.” He said Petersen treats all staff well, attends all necessary meetings, and, when able, he reached out to his office while in custody. 

Doran pressed if Boncoskey thinks Petersen had led by example “while he was incarcerated” and for having other people’s personal medical documents and photos on his county computer. 

Langhofer objected to both questions.

Pearce testified for two minutes before things wrapped up. 

Pearce said the Treasurer’s Office works closely with the Assessor’s Office and said his office has never had a problem working with the other one. 

“The only time we had any problem was after the suspension,” Pearce said. But, he said, once he got in touch with the chief deputy assessor, everything was fine. 

“It was short lived,” he said of the problem. 

Pearce said he thought the Board had probable cause to suspend Petersen while he was incarcerated, but contended that, once released, Petersen has a right to perform the duties of the office he was elected to.

Petersen’s 120-day suspension is set to expire at the end of February unless the Board opts to reverse its October decision.

Senate, Maricopa County reach deal on audit dispute

Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates said Friday he believes that settling the dispute with the state Senate was preferable to the potential loss of nearly $700 million in state funds should the case wind up in court. With him is supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Maricopa County will avoid losing nearly $700 million in state-shared revenue and the Arizona Senate will be able to pose the questions it has about previously withheld materials that it subpoenaed for its review of the 2020 election results in the county. 

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and the Arizona Senate came to an agreement Friday to resolve the state attorney general’s finding that the county violated state law by not turning over routers, splunk logs and certain administrative passwords subpoenaed by the Senate in January and July. 

The settlement, signed by Senate President Karen Fann, board Chairman Jack Sellers and their legal counsel, states that the county and the senate selected a special master to handle the process of answering the Senate’s questions about the routers and splunk logs. That’s in lieu of turning the materials over to the Senate and its contractor, Cyber Ninjas. 

The whole purpose behind obtaining the routers was to see if the election equipment had been connected to the internet at any time during the tabulation, a situation that could have resulted in vote tallies being altered. Fann said the routers, which direct computer traffic, would show if that had occurred. 

Fann and the county each claimed victory. 

Fann said it is no longer necessary to give the routers to Cyber Ninjas, the private firm she hired to audit the 2020 returns in Maricopa County. 

The supervisors, in turn, believe it is a victory because it ensures that the routers won’t wind up in the hands of Cyber Ninjas, a firm headed by Doug Logan who said even before the audit began that he believes the election results were fraudulent. More to the point, the supervisors said giving that access to an outside firm could result in sensitive private and law enforcement information being compromised. 

“It’s very important for people to understand that the Cyber Ninjas will not have access to the routers,” board Vice Chairman Bill Gates said during the supervisors special meeting, which started at 4:45 p.m. Friday. 

Gates said that the settlement avoided costly litigation while also keeping data on the county’s routers safe. The county has repeatedly withheld the routers over security concerns. 

In exchange, Fann, R-Prescott, will inform Attorney General Mark Brnovich that the county has fully complied with the Senate’s subpoenas and no further action is needed from him. 

They chose former U.S. Rep. John Shadegg, a Republican, to serve as the special master. He will hire a team of one to three computer technology experts to help answer the Senate’s questions, according to the agreement. Those team members will have to sign a confidentiality and nondisclosure agreement.  

The county will pay all costs for Shadegg and his team’s employment. The board also agreed that the county would drop its efforts to have the Senate reimburse $2.8 million the county spent to replace voting equipment that may have been compromised during the Senate’s audit. 

The final report from the Senate contractor Cyber Ninjas is set to be released on September 24. 

“We’re certainly not giving up the rights to take action once the audit report is released next week. We will always protect the rights of our voters,” Sellers said. 

Fann painted the agreement as a victory for the Senate, saying it gave them the data needed to complete its review. 

“We got everything we need and more,” she wrote on Twitter. “Maricopa County goes home with its tail between its legs.” 

Supervisor Steve Gallardo, the lone Democrat on the board, was the only supervisor to vote against the settlement. He said he didn’t think this was the end of the dispute between the county and the Senate and that the board was “dealing with unhinged people” who couldn’t be trusted. 

“The folks that are trying to find a smoking gun — if it’s not in the routers, they’re going to go somewhere else,” he said. “But this whole issue of trying to challenge the election will not stop.” 

The supervisors faced a September 27 deadline to resolve the subpoena issue or face loss of state-shared revenue, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said in an August decision. Their options were to either turn over the requested materials or negotiate a settlement with the Senate or through the courts. 

Brnovich’s involvement was spurred by a request from Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, to investigate the county’s noncompliance. Borrelli’s request took the form of a 1487 complaint, the mechanism lawmakers have to seek investigations of local governments when lawmakers believe the latter’s actions contradict state laws. 

Capitol Media Services contributed to this report. 

Stephen Richer prefers boring, takes on Trump

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer speaks at a press conference May 17 to defend his staff against “defamatory lies” spread as the Arizona Senate conducts its audit of the 2020 election. PHOTO SCREENSHOT
Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer speaks at a press conference May 17 to defend his staff against “defamatory lies” spread as the Arizona Senate conducts its audit of the 2020 election. PHOTO SCREENSHOT

There’s a lot of unintentional irony surrounding Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer.  

He first became known in political circles for auditing the office he now controls when it was occupied by his predecessor and political opponent Adrian Fontes in 2019. Now he’s becoming a national figure as he speaks out about the Senate audit of the 2020 election, which Maricopa County Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers calls “a grift disguised as an audit.” 

Richer, who was a corporate transactional lawyer before seeking his first political office in 2020, made sure to point out that what he did and what the Arizona Senate is doing could not be more different.  

“I think you would find that the ‘F’ word is not mentioned once in the (audit) report,” he said referring to accusations of “fraud” from the election where he won by 4,599 votes. “Mine was entirely based on news reports, statutes and interviews. I did not jump to a single conclusion, and where conclusions could not be drawn, I acknowledge as such.” 

After nearly five months in public office, Richer, a conservative Republican who identifies as a “hardcore libertarian,” is still relatively unknown outside of a handful of tweets and recent media appearances. 

He’s a nerd at heart who has found a great obsession with his face buried in a book, usually in the fantasy fiction genre. He said he reads a lot and it became a big part of his life growing up. 

That’s when all he wanted to do was “play StarCraft or sports,” until Harry Potter came into his life. Back then his mom essentially forced him to read the first book of the series. 

“She said, ‘I’m gonna read these first two chapters to you and you have to sit and listen to this’ and she did and then I just took it upstairs that night and I just kept reading and that was the first time in my life that I enjoyed reading and I started reading just for fun,” he said.   

As his Twitter presence and occasional quotes in stories have shown, he also has a keen appreciation of Star Wars and is ready to go toe-to-toe with anybody on pop culture references. Whether it’s related to fantasy, or a rom-com or even a Channing Tatum dance movie from the mid-2000s.  

“I hosted a birthday party by renting out the theater for a new Step Up movie one time,” he told Arizona Capitol Times during a phone interview after a 12-hour day at his office in downtown Phoenix.  

Richer’s political life has gone the way he didn’t really anticipate. During his campaign for office against the incumbent Fontes, he was hoping for more media attention, but didn’t really get it. Now, he wants nothing more than to “make the Recorder’s Office boring again” and stay out of the spotlight, but the world had other plans.  

He ran for office because he said he likes “being a part of society.”  

“I always found this world to be fascinating,” he said. “I was certainly a consumer of politics. The only thing I’m not really is, ironically by nature, a very confrontational person. 

He said he chose to run for the Recorder’s Office because he heard unflattering stories about the way Fontes ran it and he wanted to change that. 

“That was exciting to me and it was a nice blend between the world of politics and the world of management, which are the two things I really enjoy.” 

He won the race and spent several months learning how to operate the office, spending between nine and 12 hours a day there. Then, it took weeks and months of intense scrutiny of the office followed by an onslaught of defamatory statements and accusations that he broke the law for him to start fighting back and defending his office and other county officials.  

What put him in the national spotlight was saying on Twitter on May 16 that President Trump’s allegation that the Maricopa County voter database had been deleted was “unhinged.”   

But the next day at a press conference he said he would rather make his office boring again and normally tries his best to hide from an Arizona Republic reporter. He prefers exchanging memes with the Capitol Times than giving quotes.  

He then launched into a full-throated defense of the people in his office and called for an end to the “defamatory lies.”  

“This isn’t a game. These are real humans. These are people who work in the county. … they work hard, they’re good people, they’re normal people who go home and they root for the Suns or they watch Netflix,” he said. “They are not monsters and stop treating them as such.”  

In 2019, after authoring the audit into the Recorder’s Office on behalf of the Arizona Republican Party under former Chairman Jonathan Lines, Richer joked to a crowd of party members that he was the only speaker to have his name on-screen behind him because he was relatively unknown compared to the other speakers, most of whom were elected officials. He still acts like that’s his current reality. 

“Who would want to read that?” he asked Capitol Times before agreeing to an interview for this story.  

It’s sometimes hard to tell when he’s being overly sarcastic and when he’s not. But when he wants to come off as serious, he will do so without leaving it open for interpretation. 

The serious attitude came across without question in a letter he presented to the county Board of Supervisors on May 17, responding to accusations Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, and her team of hired contractors lobbed against him. 

He reiterated those points and defended his frustrations, saying he gets “exasperated” when people are trying to argue that the election is fraudulent, but will still run for higher office anyway and act like there’s nothing bizarre about that.  

“It is so illogical, it makes my skin crawl,” he said.  

Richer would much rather talk about Harry Potter, or the Phoenix Suns, a Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan flick or “Emma Stone, our local Arizona girl, with Ryan Gosling.” 

“That’s a pretty darn good combo right there,” he said.   

During a recent phone conversation, Richer made several references to the 1999 movie You’ve Got Mail starring Hanks and Ryan and would have continued on even longer if the topic of the conversation did not change.  

He may avoid interviews when he is able to, but when he starts talking, he always has something to say.  

Ultimately, he said, he isn’t a normal person. 

He struggled to describe what he meant because he honestly had no idea what “normal people will do.”  

His wife is also a lawyer and works all the time like he does. They don’t have children, which is what launched into the topic about being “normal.” 

“I don’t eat dinner,” he said as his only example of what he thinks normal people do.  

And to be fair, he’s not wrong. 


Supervisor Chucri resigns after secret recording released


Steve Chucri, who represents the eastern portion of Maricopa County on the Board of Supervisors, resigned Sept. 21, 2021, after a recording emerged of him criticizing his GOP colleagues for opposing a review of the 2020 election. (Photo from Steve Chucri’s election website)

A Republican official in Arizona resigned Tuesday from the board overseeing Maricopa County after a recording emerged of him criticizing his GOP colleagues for opposing a review of the 2020 election.  

During the meeting recorded surreptitiously in March, Supervisor Steve Chucri suggested two fellow Republican county supervisors opposed the review by Senate Republicans because they nearly lost their own 2020 races.  

Chucri apologized in a statement announcing his resignation and said he shouldn’t have made the comments, adding “the political landscape has changed for the worst this year.”  

“The environment is wrought with toxicity — and all civility and decorum no longer seem to have a place,” Chucri said. “The fixation with the 2020 election results and aftermath have gotten out of control.” 

Maricopa County has become Ground Zero in the effort by supporters of former President Donald Trump to use accusations of fraud to cast doubt on the 2020 election results. Chucri’s resignation comes as Trump supporters hired by the state Senate Republicans prepare to release their findings from an unprecedented partisan review of the 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County, the machines that counted them and a variety of other data obtained through a legislative subpoena.  

Chucri said his comments about his colleagues are being wrongly used to paint a picture “about a cover-up, scam and other nonsense,” and he vouched for the accuracy of the results.  

“There was no cover-up, the election was not stolen,” Churci said. “Biden won.” 

He said he’s disagreed with his colleagues, but he’s known them to be “good, honorable and ethical men.”  

Chucri’s resignation is effective Nov. 5. He is in his third term representing the eastern portion of Maricopa County, the nation’s fourth largest and home to the Phoenix metropolitan area. While in office, Chucri has remained the head of the Arizona Restaurant Association, an influential lobbying group. 

The secret recordings were published Tuesday on the conservative website Gateway Pundit, which said they were recorded during a meeting on March 22 with leaders from a group called We the People AZ Alliance as well as a Jan. 22 phone call.  

All five members of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, including Chucri, have been highly critical of the Senate’s election review, led by consultants with no experience in election work and who have promoted theories that the 2020 election was marred by fraud.  

But in the March meeting, Chucri said Supervisors Jack Sellers and Bill Gates were scared by the idea of an election review because their own races were close.  

“What would happen in those two races?” Chucri said. “And that is way too self-serving.” 

He said Supervisor Clint Hickman “just didn’t have the guts” for an election audit. Hickman, Sellers and Gates are all Republicans.