Arizona election laws work – don’t try to suppress voters

Voters deliver their ballot to a polling station, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Voters deliver their ballot to a polling station, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Something insidious is happening in the Arizona Legislature. After an election that saw a record high turnout, exemplary election administration in Arizona, and no instances of voter or election fraud, Republican legislators would like to change the election laws. These changes would not increase funding for local officials or provide assistance to those with disabilities in Arizona. No, coincidentally these changes would simply just make it harder for Arizonans to cast their ballots.

During the first legislative session of 2021, Republican legislators introduced multiple bills that would place unnecessary restrictions on voters. There are bills requiring that voters get their mail ballots notarized, something that has never occurred in Arizona before. Another bill wants to kick voters off of the permanent voting list. The most disgusting among the proposals is that the Legislature has the ability to overturn the popular vote of Arizonans if they want, with no justification. Many of these bills have been proposed under the guise of “voter fraud.” This justification is blatantly wrong.Time and time again during the 2020 election, those instigating and perpetuating myths of vote fraud were routinely disproven. When Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward challenged Joe Biden’s victory in Arizona, the Arizona Supreme Court found that she failed to present “any evidence of misconduct, illegal votes,” or “establish any degree of fraud or sufficient error rate that would undermine the certainty of the election results.” Indeed, none of the allegations of voter fraud made by those in Arizona have had any evidence or been substantiated. These serious allegations cannot just be thrown around. 

Sonny Waknin
Sonni Waknin

Even though every time someone has alleged voter fraud they have been unable to show any evidence in a court of law of widespread fraud, Republican legislators charge on, using voter fraud or election integrity as a justification to pass cumbersome laws meant to suppress voting. The fallacy of voter fraud goes hand in hand with voter suppression. Extensive research reveals that voter fraud is rare. Nonetheless, even if voter fraud claims are false, the allegation is already out into the world. No amount of correcting can reverse the damage – those lies will persist. Aggravatingly, these legislators are using the lie that they are perpetuating, that they know is untrue based on the Arizona Supreme Court’s findings, to continue to try to pass bad laws. As such, the integrity of elections is now repeatedly questioned as a means to obtain political power and institute even more oppressive and discriminatory voting bill proposals.

What is so outrageous about any of these proposals is that these legislators will be harming not only people they think don’t vote for them, but also their own voters. Arizona instituted no-excuse mail voting in 1991 and expanded mail voting in 1997 and 2007. In 2018, 79% of Arizona voters used a mail ballot. In the 2020 primary election, about 88% of Arizonans voted by mail. It is clear that no-excuse mail ballots that require signature matching in Arizona works. Almost all Arizonans utilize this system to vote. Arizonans right now understand the system. It is clear that Arizonan voters don’t believe that there should be a change. The root of the problem with these possible election laws is that politicians are not only trying to hand pick their voters, but if they don’t like the results of an election, keep themselves in power by overturning the will of the people of this state.

There is a proverbial saying – “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Arizona’s election system is not broken. It does not need these convoluted and complicated “fixes,” which are just attempts to make voting harder. During the pandemic, our voting system has been a source of pride and example for other states to use to expand voting in their states. Our voting system not only keeps people safe from public health emergencies because it is accessible, but enables all Arizonans who are eligible to vote with the ability to cast a ballot. These voting proposals are betrayals of Arizonan values, American values, and cannot be enacted.

Sonni Waknin is the managing attorney and voting rights counsel at the UCLA Voting Rights Project and lives in Prescott with her family.


Court reinstates ‘dark money’ contributions


The state Court of Appeals has reinstated a 2017 law that opens the door to “dark money” contributions to political races.

In a unanimous decision Tuesday the judges said the Republican-controlled legislature was within its rights to decide that any group the Internal Revenue Service has classified as non-profit does not have to disclose its donors, even if it uses the money to finance independent expenditures to elect or defeat candidates.

That change overturned the ability of the voter-created Citizens Clean Elections Commission to determine whether the group was really a charity or only a thinly disguised political action committee. PACs have to disclose donors.

Tuesday’s ruling also allows political parties to spend unlimited dollars on behalf of their candidates without disclosure. And it also means that individuals and special interests can pay the legal fees of candidates without it counting against the legal limit of how much financial help they can provide.

But there was a key victory in the ruling for the Arizona Advocacy Network, which had challenged the law.

The appellate judges said lawmakers had no right to limit Clean Elections Commission to policing only independent expenditures made on behalf of candidates who are accepting public financing. This preserves the right of the five-member commission to require disclosure of all money spent on all candidates — publicly financed or not — even if they can no longer force reporting of the original source of those dollars.

David Gass
David Gass

Appellate Judge David Gass, a Gov. Doug Ducey appointed Democrat, writing for the unanimous appellate court, said voters were well within their authority in giving that broad right to the commission to police independent expenditures. And having been approved by voters, lawmakers were powerless to change it.

Tuesday’s ruling is a reversal of fate for the challengers who had succeeded in convincing a trial judge to void the entire 2017 law. Attorney Jim Barton who represents them said no decision has been made on whether to appeal.

The commission was created by voters in 1998 as part of what proponents said was a bid to limit the influence of money on politics.

It allows — but does not require — candidates for statewide and legislative office to qualify for public financing if they agree not to take outside cash. The amount is determined by the office sought.

It also empowers the commission to enforce campaign finance laws.

When business groups which have traditionally funded many candidates could not kill it at the ballot box they sued to have it voided. Most of the provisions were upheld in a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The latest fight stems from efforts in 2017 by then-Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, to curb both the commission’s powers and campaign finance restrictions.

He argued that existing laws requiring disclosure of donors interfered with the rights of free speech and people to participate in the political process with their dollars without giving up their right or privacy. And his measure paid special attention to the ability of people to contribute anonymously for independent expenditures, money spent directly by organizations in commercials, direct mailers or other campaign materials urging voters to support or defeat specific candidates

Mesnard’s measure was approved on a largely party-line vote and signed into law by Ducey.

Key is the carve-out from disclosure requirements for nonprofits.

J.D. Mesnard
J.D. Mesnard

There always has been an exception for nonprofits to avoid disclosing donors.

But the commission has taken the position that designation by the IRS, by itself, is insufficient to prove an organization is a true charity. Instead, it adopted rules to allow it to demand records from a group to determine whether it actually is organized for the primary purpose of influencing an election.

The 2017 law — and now, the appellate court ruling — overturns all that. Now, once the IRS grants nonprofit status, the commission is powerless to investigate the validity of the charity, and the names of donors are kept secret.

What now also is legal is the ability of political parties to spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of their candidates without disclosure.

In the 2018 election, for example, the Arizona Republican Party ran TV commercials on behalf of the re-election efforts of Ducey and Attorney General Mark Brnovich. But the actual amount they spent on behalf of each was never reported because of the exemption created in the 2017 law.

This became particularly significant because Ducey raised money not only directly for his own campaign but also took corporate and large-dollar contributions — money he could not legally accept personally — and funneled it into a separate Ducey Victory Fund committee. And any dollars Ducey could not keep himself then were given to the Arizona Republican Party which, in turn, was free to use it to help the governor’s re-election, all without detailing how much was spent on his behalf.

This has not just been a practice of one party.

The Arizona Democratic Party also put $3.3 million into the successful effort to elect Katie Hobbs as secretary of state.

But that figure became public not through campaign finance laws. It was only because iVote, which promotes the election of Democrat secretaries of state, put out a press release detailing the expenditure.



D.C. pundit has it wrong, Arizona Republicans ready for 2020


The Washington, D.C., pundit class has focused its sights on one of the fastest growing counties in the nation with the prediction that its voters could thwart the President’s re-election and jeopardize the chances of Republicans holding onto the U.S. Senate. Stuart Rothenberg penned an “analysis” for Roll Call, claiming that the Republicans’ chances in November look grim because of Maricopa County. Let me be unequivocally clear for the D.C. punditocracy: Arizona is Trump country and our Republican activists will keep it that way.

Maricopa County is one of the fastest growing counties because of opportunity. Despite the setback caused by the Coronavirus crisis that is impacting the entire country’s economy, the long-term outlook for both Arizona and Maricopa County is bright. We have a pro-business and pro-job growth environment. We are also considered to have among the strongest pro-life and Second Amendment laws in the nation. Going back to Barry Goldwater, Arizonans are known for passionately supporting individual liberties and limited government. This culture of freedom, combined with the historic accomplishments of President Trump and Republican leadership in our state, makes Arizona attractive to virtually all Americans.

Kelli Ward (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Kelli Ward (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

In his piece, Rothenberg attempts to juxtapose data from the 2016 and 2018 electoral cycles to make dire predictions for Republicans in 2020 but neglects to point out on-the-ground realities. In 2016, Donald Trump was still a political newcomer and was mostly known for his luxury hotels, reality TV shows, and candid demeanor. Some Republicans and conservative independents were uncertain of how a President Trump would govern if elected.

Now they know and are convinced. They have seen a president who promotes and delivers on tax cuts; continues to appoint judges who interpret the Constitution instead of trying to rewrite it; firmly supports religious freedom and pro-life policies; cuts red tape that strangles business; and, when facing challenges from China and other foreign threats, always places America first. Most importantly, they see a president who has kept his promises.

This is compared to a Democratic Party that has prioritized endless investigations and an utterly failed attempted impeachment, embraces socialism and government-run healthcare, scolds Americans for their patriotism, divides our nation into the favored “special interest” groups of their intersectional identity politics, and incessantly proposes economy crushing regulations and spending.

With that said, Republicans in Arizona are still expecting a serious challenge. That’s why there are already 60 field staff strategically placed across Arizona working hard at training grassroots volunteers. In the past 10 months, Republicans have held more than 670 MAGA Meet Ups. We have also switched to an online format of campaigning in response to the stay at home order and, since March 13, have successfully organized 325 digital meet ups with Arizonans. In addition, this week, we passed the milestone of 1 million phone calls made to Arizona voters, fueled by the Republican grassroots activists who signed up and attended one of our nearly 1,000 Trump Victory Leadership Initiative trainings that have been held this cycle to date.

In 2020, unlike 2016, the Trump campaign is bolstered by a Republican Party that is united and has an established grassroots infrastructure. The reality on the ground – and this is something the Beltway class fails to understand – is that we are more ready than we have ever been before.

While Arizona Republicans do not take the challenge presented to us in a Maricopa County and across the state lightly, we certainly take Rothenberg’s predictions with a grain of salt. After all, in April of 2009 he forecasted the Republican’s chances of recapturing the U.S. House in 2010 as “zero” and as late as October of 2016, he placed Donald Trump’s chances of a victory as “non-existent,” ridiculously declaring that Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin were never in play. With that sort of track record, perhaps we should be encouraged by his analysis.

Dr. Kelli Ward is a family physician, two-term Arizona state senator, and the chairwoman of the Republican Party or Arizona. On Twitter: @KelliWardAZ

Dems pour money into ousting incumbents in red-hued LD11

Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, speak with former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, at the Arizona Capitol on March 8, 2017. Democrats are spending heavily to oust Finchem and Leach in Legislative District 11, an area with a nearly 10-percentage point GOP voter advantage. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR
Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, speak with former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, at the Arizona Capitol on March 8, 2017. Democrats are spending heavily to oust Finchem and Leach in Legislative District 11, an area with a nearly 10-percentage point GOP voter advantage. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR

The path to a Democratic majority in the Arizona Legislature goes through a few key swing districts that by now have received no shortage of newspaper ink. But an emboldened party, kept afloat by gargantuan amounts of money, is setting its sights beyond the usual suspects, toward districts like the conservative southern Arizona bastion of Legislative District 11.

Democrats are running a single-shot campaign in that district’s House race in the form of Dr. Felipe Perez, a family physician. In the Senate, they’re championing JoAnna Mendoza, a military veteran. Both face long odds – but, as Mendoza has said, in 2020, anything can happen.

“2020 is causing people to pay attention,” Mendoza said. “In another election period, we might not have gotten that same attention.”

Few paid attention to the district before the primaries. But since, national and state Democrats have made LD11 a top target, at least on paper.

Outside spenders have taken note, especially after both Democrats outperformed expectations in the primaries – Perez, for example, received more votes than Rep. Brett Roberts, R-Maricopa. Several PACs, including the Arizona affiliate of Forward Majority, a leading national group in the Democratic quest to flip statehouses, have heavily invested in the district, mostly in the form of attacks against two of the LD11’s three incumbent Republicans – Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, both among the most conservative members of the GOP caucus.

Ben Wexler-Waite, Forward Majority’s communications director, said previously that pursuing LD11 is part of an “aggressive portfolio strategy” – investing in deep-red districts where single-shot candidates are working to unseat incumbents. In this case, Republicans have a roughly 14,000-voter registration advantage in the southern Arizona district, a roughly 8-percentage point advantage.

JoAnna Mendoza
JoAnna Mendoza

Outside groups spent in September around $38,000 and $37,000 against Finchem and Leach, respectively. Roberts remains mostly unscathed. Perez and Mendoza, meanwhile, have benefited from around $33,000 and $52,000 spent in their favor during that period, respectively.

The theory for Democrats is that Finchem, Roberts and Leach haven’t faced serious challengers from the left, and that voters might be more amenable to a Democratic candidate if they get a fuller picture of their current representation – particularly in the case of Finchem’s ties to organizations like the Oath Keepers, a right-wing group of current and former military and police officers founded by a one-time staffer of then-Rep. Ron Paul in 2009.

“We have a high number of independents in this district who just want to vote for a candidate who shows up for them,” Mendoza said.

Showing up is important. Democrats say that the district’s current Republicans, who all fall into the party’s most conservative wing – Finchem is even making a bid for House speaker to elevate the platform of that cadre – have lost sight of the need to govern.

Those conservatives have lost sight of the desires of voters in the district who may have once supported southern-Arizona moderates like former Congressman Jim Kolbe, a centrist Republican who represented the area during his tenure, said Joshua Polacheck, the newly anointed executive director of the Pima County Democratic Party.

“We believe that a lot of the people that would have been considered Republican-leaning independents are becoming truly independent,”  Polacheck said. “The Tea Party movement a decade ago, the current administration in Washington, the Q-Anon movement, the takeover of the (state GOP by Chairwoman Kelli Ward), we believe has alienated people.”

Felipe Perez
Felipe Perez

Finchem isn’t worried about increased spending by progressives in his district, saying voters in the heavily Republican LD11 share his pro-business and conservative leanings.

“At the end of the day, we’re engaged in action, action, action,” he said.

He’s also not concerned, he said, about criticism over his affiliation with a hard-right organization.

“They will make the fatal mistake that they always make,” Finchem said. “When they go negative, it turns voters in my district off. They don’t have any solutions. All they have is complaints.”

He said that anyone who’s taken an oath to support and defend the U,S, Constitution is “by definition” an Oath Keeper, and that he certainly wouldn’t be denouncing his organization if the Democrats don’t denounce Antifa and Black Lives Matter, which Finchem claims has deep ties with the Chinese Communist Party, a theory that has since been debunked. “If they want to play the socialist games of gaslighting people, fine. My constituents are smarter than that,” Finchem said.

Republican groups have marshaled around the district’s incumbents, especially Leach. Arizonans for Strong Leadership, a PAC affiliated with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, has spent $37,261 to support Leach, while the Arizona Association of REALTORS has spent heavily to support both Finchem and Leach.

Last election, Democrats saw LD11 as unwinnable, but strong returns for Dems in the primaries drew eyeballs and changed the calculus, Perez said. He hopes that a strong year for Democrats and his medical credentials might propel him to victory. What might help is between 2018 and 2020, the Democratic Party added nearly 10,000 voters in LD11, more than the roughly 7,000 new voters that the GOP registered

Perez said he’s surprised to see the volume of outside money materializing in the conservative district.

“A lot of folks are energized by electing new leadership,” Perez said. “There’s a realization that people know how directly their state government can impact them.”

Democrats have “the momentum and the resources” to play in more districts, said national Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee President Jessica Post in a statement. The organization has elevated the race to one of its top priorities in the state, adding it to a list of top races in swing districts like Legislative District 6 and Legislative District 20, which each present clearer paths to victory for Democrats – this means more campaign resources and staff for Perez and Mendoza.

Of course, the party has other priorities. Democrats only need to win two House seats to flip that chamber, and LD11 is hardly the most likely place for that to happen. But with all the money that’s flooding into the state, Charlie Fisher, the director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee’s Arizona chapter, said he’s not worried about misplaced priorities.

“On my side of the wall, that’s not a concern,” he said. In regards to outside groups, Fisher said he hopes “that they would make these expansion investments after these widely known core districts are fully funded.”

Dissension in AZGOP as Trump dumps Ducey

President Donald Trump listens as Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey speaks at a campaign rally at Prescott Regional Airport, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Prescott, Ariz. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Donald Trump listens as Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey speaks at a campaign rally at Prescott Regional Airport, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in Prescott, Ariz. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Gov. Doug Ducey got a phone call as he rustled through papers to find where to put his signature to certify the 2020 election results on November 30. 

He removed his cell phone from inside his suit jacket, scowled slightly, and silenced the “Hail to the Chief” ringtone to continue his duty as an elected official.

He may not have realized it at the moment, but ignoring that call may have ended a close relationship with the most powerful man in the world and escalated dissension in the Arizona Republican Party. 

On the other end of the line was the White House – likely President Trump himself. 

Ducey would not say that it was the president who gave him a ring, but did allow that Trump was on the other end when he called the White House back after the certification signing. 

Supporters of President Donald Trump protest in front of a local hotel where Arizona Republicans have scheduled a meeting as a "fact-finding hearing" to discuss the election, featuring members of Trump's legal team and Arizona legislators, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Supporters of President Donald Trump protest in front of a local hotel where Arizona Republicans have scheduled a meeting as a “fact-finding hearing” to discuss the election, featuring members of Trump’s legal team and Arizona legislators, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

What exactly Trump told him, Ducey wouldn’t say. But it’s clear that Trump wasn’t pleased with Ducey for certifying the results of an election the president continues to dispute – results that give president-elect Joe Biden Arizona’s 11 electoral votes.

Trump lambasted his former ally on Twitter a few hours after Ducey ignored his call. 

“Why is he rushing to put a Democrat in office, especially when so many horrible things concerning voter fraud are being revealed at the hearing going on right now. @OANN What is going on with @dougducey? Republicans will long remember!” Trump posted on November 30, following up with a retweet saying Ducey “has betrayed the people of Arizona” plus other attacks.

The hearing Trump referred to was happening two miles from the Executive Tower, where Ducey and other top officials did the certification. Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and eight other legislative Republicans were at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix, hosting Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis at an unofficial election fraud hearing that they couldn’t get permission to hold at the Capitol. 

Giuliani and Ellis were ostensibly there to share evidence of fraud, with testimony from a line of witnesses that included an army colonel who said that the United States is facing “an unconventional warfare scenario” and a single poll observer from Tucson. 

The tide began to turn on Ducey as Trump and his followers at the Legislature and Arizona Republican Party launched a sustained attack on the governor, who until November 30, did everything in his power to appease the president.

Ducey came into the governorship as a straight-laced businessman, but had grown to accept Trump’s favor, if out of respect for the president’s many fans in Arizona politics as much as anything else. He became so accustomed to hearing from the White House that he disclosed making “Hail to the Chief” his ringtone for when Trump or Vice President Mike Pence called. 

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey hands over his signed election documents to certify the election results for federal, statewide, and legislative offices and statewide ballot measures at the official canvass at the Arizona Capitol, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey hands over his signed election documents to certify the election results for federal, statewide, and legislative offices and statewide ballot measures at the official canvass at the Arizona Capitol, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

“We’ve had so much outreach personally both from the president and vice president that I had to change the ringtone on my phone and it rings ‘Hail to the Chief’ because I didn’t want to miss another phone call directly from the White House,” Ducey said at the time. 

Minutes after Ducey ignored the first call and had turned off the ringtone, his phone vibrated audibly against the desk. The governor grimaced – and ignored it again.  

Ducey kept Trump at arm’s length from the 2016 campaign trail until Ducey was re-elected in 2018. But Ducey swiftly jumped on the Trump bandwagon in 2019, handing the president an early endorsement and attending multiple rallies during the pandemic that health officials viewed as super-spreader events. Ducey defended the rallies and his attendance as falling under the First Amendment. 

Ducey also patted Trump on the back at every opportunity for the handling of the pandemic, taking multiple trips to the White House while COVID-19 continued to ravage Arizona. 

But the 10-hour hearing at the Hyatt served moreover as an opportunity for the nine Republican lawmakers to rail against their party’s top officials – with of course the exception of state GOP Chair Kelli Ward, an enemy of the governor who populates her social media feeds with daily video screeds about the stolen election.

Dr. Kelli Ward, chairperson of the Republican Party of Arizona, speaks to a gathering inside the Yuma GOP Headquarters, Monday Aug. 17, 2020, before introducing U.S. Congressman Paul A. Gosar. (Randy Hoeft/Yuma Sun via AP)
Dr. Kelli Ward, chairperson of the Republican Party of Arizona, speaks to a gathering inside the Yuma GOP Headquarters, Monday Aug. 17, 2020. (Randy Hoeft/Yuma Sun via AP)

To Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley,  and other like-minded Republicans, Ducey’s refusal to call the Legislature into a special session to audit the election, and the refusal of House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann to assemble committees with subpoena power to do the same, constitutes an abdication of responsibility. 

At the hearing, they readily embraced the legal theory that they have the right to withhold Arizona’s 11 presidential electors, disregarding Arizona’s “faithless elector” law, which requires the state’s Electoral College votes to go to the candidate who received the most votes in the state. 

I’m appalled by the inept actions and the rudeness . . . (of) leaders of our own party and the body,” said Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, at the Hyatt event, his voice raised. At one point, he apologized to Giuliani on behalf of the governor for ignoring his calls.

Senator-elect Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, a persistent agitator against legislative leadership, called the government despotic and tyrannical, and added that it was “the right of the people and their duty to throw off such government, to throw off those leaders who are saying no.”

That some Republicans would take Trump’s side in his political divorce with Ducey isn’t a shock. 

Even before the November 3 election, complaints abounded that Ducey was too distant or uncaring about the priorities of Republican lawmakers outside leadership. He didn’t have the kind of back-slapping relationship that previous Republican governors had with the Legislature, and his eventual willingness to issue a stay-at-home order to combat COVID-19 – combined with his reticence to convene a special session – further alienated him from lawmakers who promised their constituents that they would get back to work. 

Proposals for legislation to rein in his executive authority soon followed, another sticking point between lawmakers like Finchem and Bowers. 

Those lawmakers who publicly criticized the governor may end up paying for it if their bills reach his desk, as Ducey has been known to use his veto power to keep the Legislature in line, like he did in 2018 when he went on a veto frenzy of 10 Republican-sponsored House bills in an attempt to force the Legislature to finish the state budget and pass his teacher pay raise plan. 

Ducey still has his allies in the Legislature, though they haven’t done much to back him up publicly. Bowers has put out internal statements to lawmakers explaining that they are effectively powerless to change the results of the election, but has not made any effort to censure them publicly. 

“(Ducey) ended up in hot water for saying everything right,” said Senator-elect T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, one of the governor’s staunchest supporters at the Capitol. “At a time when we should be celebrating the victories we had, it’s crazy to be doing this.” 

Ducey and his staff have been mum on those lawmakers directly, deferring Capitol Times to his Twitter thread defending the integrity of Arizona’s elections, as his response to Trump and others.

But he took a more direct approach to Ward — one of the most loyal Trump supporters — who shared the thread and told the governor to “shut the hell up.”

“The feeling is mutual to her,” Ducey said Dec. 2. “And practice what you preach.”

Doug Ducey easily defeats Bennett, wins GOP nomination

Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Gov. Doug Ducey easily brushed off an intraparty challenge from former Secretary of State Ken Bennett Tuesday.

Early voting totals shows the governor — an Arizona GOP darling who is seeking a second, four-year term — ran away with the Republican nomination.

Leading up to the primary, Ducey largely ignored his primary opponent as Bennett desperately tried to wage an uphill battle against the incumbent governor with a massive war chest.

Approximately 20 minutes after the first election results posted, Ducey put out a statement claiming victory and thanking voters for their continued support, but also looking ahead to the general election.

“Now we must come together again to ensure we build on the significant gains of the last three years to secure Arizona’s future,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to the campaign ahead in the weeks and months to come.

Ducey will face Democrat David Garcia in the general election

In what was either a testament to the non competitive nature of Ducey’s primary challenge or the strength of Ducey as a candidate, Vice President Mike Pence congratulated the governor on his primary win Tuesday — before any election results were released. He later deleted his tweet, likely upon realizing his congratulations were premature.

Bennett called Ducey to concede shortly after the race was called, said Christine Bauserman, Bennett’s campaign manager.

He, like Ducey, said it was time to present a united Republican front going into the general election, Bauserman said.

“Now is the time to come together to keep the state Republican,” she said.

Bennett angered establishment Republicans when he jumped into the race this spring, fresh off the heels of the “Red for Ed” teachers’ strike. Bennett repeatedly criticized Ducey for “caving” to the teachers and denounced the governor’s proposed school safety plan to prevent gun violence in schools.

But Ducey kept Bennett at arm’s length by refusing to debate him and often glossing over his primary opponent in interviews and at campaign events. 

Bennett failed to qualify for Clean Elections funding before the primary, which would have given him the resources to speak to a broader swath of Republican voters ahead of the primary.

However, Bennett did get one small victory on Tuesday as he turned in his $5 Clean Elections contributions to the secretary of state’s office. He turned in his Clean Elections contributions after a Maricopa County Superior Court judge compelled the secretary of state’s office to reopen the online contribution portal after Bennett was shorted about four hours of contribution time.

Bennett invoked the ire of Ducey and many high-ranking Arizona Republicans in June when he vowed not to appoint Cindy McCain to her husband’s U.S. Senate seat, implying months before John McCain died, that Ducey would appoint Cindy McCain to the seat.

In his gubernatorial bid, Bennett cast himself as an anti-establishment Republican in the mold of President Donald Trump — an odd choice for a longtime politician who served in the state Senate before being elected secretary of state.

He unsuccessfully sought the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2014. He came in fourth in the six-way primary race that Ducey won.

Ducey clinched Trump’s endorsement Monday.

Now, all that stands between Ducey and a second term is the winner of a three-way Democratic primary for governor. But in the wake of McCain’s death, Ducey has temporarily put off campaigning as the state and the nation honors Arizona’s senior senator.

The Democratic Governors Association came out swinging against Ducey after he clinched the GOP nomination.

Ducey spent his first term undermining Arizona’s future by poorly allocating K-12 education funding, supporting plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and cozying up to special interest groups that pour millions into his campaign, said DGA Executive Director Elisabeth Pearson.

The Republican Governors Association is planning to spend at least $9.2 million to propel Ducey to a second term. The RGA is trying to bail Ducey out, Pearson said.

“Doug Ducey is in electoral trouble — and he knows it,” she said in a statement.

Republican Gubernatorial Primary

By The Numbers

Votes cast: 510,322

Doug Ducey: 70.5 percent

Ken Bennett: 29.5 percent

Ducey says impeachment effort puts Dems in ‘Catch 22’

Gov. Doug Ducey

Gov. Doug Ducey said Monday evening that President Trump is putting the Democrats into what he called a “Catch 22” situation by refusing to cooperate in an impeachment probe.

The governor, in an interview on KTAR, said the Democrats who control the House should gather all the facts before deciding whether to pursue the issue. But Ducey told Capitol Media Services afterwards that the president, by his actions, has been making it difficult for members of Congress to do just that.

And the governor’s statements came even before the White House raised the bar on Tuesday, announcing the president wouldn’t let any administration staff “participate in this partisan inquiry under these circumstances.”

Ducey, who has been a defender of the president, told KTAR on Monday that he believes calls for impeachment investigation are premature.

He said they are based on what the governor said was “the report of one person,” specifically the whistle blower who called attention to Trump’s phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. And the governor brushed aside reports that a second whistle blower had emerged, one with first-hand knowledge of the phone call.

Ducey also said no one has seen the transcript of the conversation in which Trump asks for a favor and offered to have Attorney General William Barr and Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, call to discuss Joe Biden’s son. What was provided, the governor said, was a “summary.”

“So shouldn’t we be gathering all the facts before we make a declaration on whether something was improper or whether it was in pursuit of corruption or something that predated this administration?” Ducey said.

“So what I’m saying is, let’s get all the facts,” the governor said.

“And we shouldn’t be in a rush to judgment,” he continued. “This just strikes me as highly partisan.”

Only thing is, the president and his administration have been blocking that fact-finding mission.

Ducey’s comments came after the White House said it would not cooperate with the House absent a formal vote to begin impeachment proceedings.

“I think it very well may be a Catch 22,” the governor told Capitol Media Services after his radio interview when questioned about Trump’s actions. And Ducey still supports the president.

“If Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi wants to play these games, she’s entitled to,” Ducey said. “She does have oversight responsibility.”

But he said that “impeachment is a vote, it’s not an investigation.”

So how is the House supposed to exercise that oversight?

“You can have it figured out in court,” the governor said. “This wouldn’t be the first chief executive who has refused to comply with a congressional mandate.”

On Tuesday the administration raised the bar even higher, with Pat Cipollone, the president’s counsel, making formal his refusal to cooperate.

“Given that your inquiry lacks any legitimate constitutional foundation, any pretense of fairness, or even the most elementary due process protections, the Executive Branch cannot be expected to participate in it,” Cipollone wrote to key House Democrats.

That theme was echoed by White House press aide Stephanie Grisham who called the impeachment inquiry “partisan political theater.”

In that interview with KTAR, Ducey took his own slap at Pelosi and Democrat leaders.

“Part of leadership sometimes is holding things together rather than tearing them apart and asunder,” the governor said. “I just don’t think you rush to overturn a national election that was decided through our electoral process through a bitterly partisan Congress.”

Separately, Ducey said he did not intend to participate in anti-impeachment rallies being planned by the  Arizona Republican Party.

“Thankfully, I have a day job and that keeps me busy and I can focus my time on that,” he said. Anyway, the governor said, “the parties are going to do what the parties are going to do.”

“I imagine the Democrats are having a pro-impeachment rally and they’re going to bring people out,” Ducey said.

“That’s how people organize,” he said. “But I’m going to stay focused on my day job.”

Clarification and correction: Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday criticized House Democrats for proceeding with an investigation of the president without first “gathering all the facts.” He acknowledged the president is refusing to cooperate and that created a “Catch 22” situation for the House but did not specifically say that he agreed with what Trump was doing. The headline was revised to reflect that, and sentence that said the governor said that was also revised.  On Wednesday, gubernatorial press aide Patrick Ptak would not respond to questions about whether the governor does or does not agree with the president’s refusal to cooperate. 

Ducey vetoes tax conformity bill

Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed a legislative plan Friday that would have cut individual income tax rates by $150 million to offset higher taxes Arizonans would have to pay the state due to changes to federal tax laws.

A clearly angry Ducey lashed out at lawmakers from his own Republican Party for refusing to go along with his plan to have the state collect extra cash from Arizona taxpayers by conforming state tax laws and allowable deductions with the changes made in the Internal Revenue Code as part of the federal Tax Cut and Jobs Act signed by President Trump in late 2017.

GOP lawmakers liked the conformity part, a move that simplifies filing for Arizona taxpayers. But unwilling to accept the commensurate boost in state tax collections, they sought to balance that out by cutting income tax rates across the board by 0.11 percentage point.

Ducey, in vetoing the plan, said that creates an “irresponsible measure that hastily changes Arizona’s tax laws without any reliable data to back it up.”

On one hand, Ducey said there’s “plenty of time” to consider the issue and find ways to simplify the state tax code — for 2019 and beyond.

But he also said that he’s determined to get his way on the 2018 taxes that are due April 15.

The governor pointed out that the state Department of Revenue already has prepared tax forms for 2018. Those forms conform with changes in federal law, providing the state with what some lawmakers say is that improper $150 million “windfall.”

“Let me be VERY CLEAR on this point: I will veto any budget that doesn’t align with these tax forms,” he said.

Ducey said he’s “open to negotiation” on taxes for 2019, the one that will be due in April 2020.

“But last year is settled,” he said.

But Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, told Capitol Media Services if the governor is sadly mistaken if he thinks GOP lawmakers who control both the House and Senate intend to approve any plan to hike taxes.

“I’m not going to vote for that, nor will I hear it in Ways and Means,” he said.

That’s also the position of Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee and crafted the idea of the offset to ensure the state is not collecting more money.

“He wants what would amount to, on the individual income tax side of things, the largest tax increase in modern history, as far as I can tell,” Mesnard said of the governor.

And there’s something else.

Toma pointed out that those tax forms to which Ducey referred — the ones that are currently being distributed and Arizonans are asked to fill out — are based on state tax laws as the governor wishes them to be, but not as they actually read.

“DoR is going to be collecting taxes that they’re not allowed to collect, that they won’t have any statutory authority to collect,” he said.

“What is happening now is outside the scope of the law,” echoed Mesnard.

No one from the governor’s office would comment about the forms being distributed not reflecting the law.

What’s causing the problem is that, in general, Arizona allows its taxpayers the same deductions as permitted in federal law. So if interest paid in home mortgages can be deducted from someone’s federal taxable income — the amount against which taxes are computed — the same deduction is available when computing state taxable income.

Only thing is the new federal law eliminated or curbed many deductions. The trade-off, however, was a sharp increase in the federal standard deduction available to those who choose not to itemize.

But in Arizona, where the standard deduction remains unchanged, following suit as Ducey proposed means fewer deductions and, by extension, higher taxes owed.

Legislative budget staffers looked at the changes, including a $10,000 cap on deduction for state and local taxes paid and a repeal of a miscellaneous expenses deduction. All totaled they figured conforming with federal law would mean Arizonans, without the deductions, would end up paying $157 million in additional taxes.

So GOP lawmakers voted to conform to the changes in federal law, keeping tax filing simple for Arizonans as Ducey suggested, but offset those additional revenues by reducing tax rates across the board by 0.11 percentage points.

By definition, the highest dollar cuts would go to those who owe the most.

Projections by the Arizona Center for Economic Progress put the effect of a 0.11 percentage point reduction in state tax rates at $1,174 for the top 1 percent of Arizona wage earners, meaning those with income averaging $1.45 million. By contrast, it says the lowest 20 percent, those earning less than $23,688, would see their income taxes go down by about $9.

It is that offset sought by GOP lawmakers that made the legislation unacceptable to the governor as he wanted the extra cash to be deposited into the state’s “rainy-day” fund.

Bypassing Ducey appears to be off the table.

It takes a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate for an override. But the legislation Ducey vetoed passed the House on a 31-29 party-line veto; in the Senate, only Republican Kate Brophy McGee of Phoenix was in opposition as it was approved there by a 16-14 margin.

“It really puts everybody between a rock and a hard place,” Toma said.

One option, he said, would be for Ducey to “buy votes” from the Democrats, all of whom want the state to collect the extra dollars. That likely would involve putting spending items in the budget attractive to the minority party.

But even then, Ducey would still need more Republicans than Brophy McGee to get his way. And Toma said that will throw a monkey wrench into other legislative priorities — and to finishing the session on schedule in late April.

“I think we should all be ready to be here through June,” he said.

Mesnard pointed out there’s another option, one that Ducey can’t veto: do nothing. That would maintain all the same deductions for 2018 that Arizonans were able to take in 2017, meaning no net increase in what Arizonans owe the state based on the latest changes in federal law.

But it could prove an administrative nightmare.

“If we end the session without conforming it won’t matter that the Department of Revenue has printed forms that assumed we did,” Mesnard said, and Arizonans used them to file their taxes by April 15. He said the agency will have to not just re-do the forms but issue notices to everyone who used the original form that they now either owe more money or perhaps are in line for a bigger refund than they originally thought.

There was no response from Ducey or his staffers to that possibility.

Ducey’s claim that it’s too late now to consider how best to conform the 2018 state tax code to federal changes is undermined by the fact that he has known about this for more than a year. In fact, Mesnard first broached the subject in January 2018 and the governor’s spokesman at the time declined to comment on what his boss wants to do.

During debate on the measure Thursday, Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, chided Ducey for wanting to boost tax collections by another $150 million,

“We are faced today with an almost $1 billion government surplus,” he said. “We are looking at a bill here to say, out of that, $200 million of it should go back to hard-working Arizona families for the real investment that makes our economy go.”

Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, said it’s not right for the state to benefit from a tax cut at the federal level.

“We’ve got the opportunity now to make sure that we are not taking what the federal tax code put back into the pocket of taxpayers,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated since publication on Feb. 1 to include statements from lawmakers and more comprehensive background information. 

Ducey: Threats against Hobbs ‘unacceptable’

Doug Ducey
Doug Ducey

Gov. Doug Ducey said Wednesday he has seen no evidence of “widespread fraud or irregularity” in the conduct of the Arizona election.

But he said he has no interest in using his voice to shut down those claims that are being spread by supporters of President Trump who continue to argue that the election was illegally stolen by the Democrats.

What Ducey was willing to do is condemn Trump supporters who have been making threats against Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and even have picketed her house and yelled at her.

“That’s unacceptable, completely unacceptable,” he said. “And I denounce any threats of violence against anyone in elective office, or any Arizonan or American.”

And the governor said the Department of Public Safety has offered additional security for Hobbs and her staffers.

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

“But that’s different than a court challenge,” he said, pointing out that there is still litigation over the vote tallies.

“We are going to allow whatever legal challenges that come to be swiftly adjudicated inside the state of Arizona,” he said. “And I will respect the election.”

But that lone remaining case goes solely to the question of whether the decision of the method to decide which batches of ballots to set aside for a hand count in Maricopa County complies with state law.

At a hearing Wednesday, attorneys for the county argued that the legal challenge by the Arizona Republican Party comes too late. But the judge postponed a request by attorneys for the party to bar the supervisors from formally certifying the vote, something set now for Friday

None of that, however, has kept Trump supporters from making even more charges and raising other questions.

That continued Wednesday as  Kelli Ward, chair of the state Republican Party, demanded that even more ballots be pulled out for a hand count than required by law. And she resurrected charges from a now-dismissed lawsuit that thousands of people who cast their ballots at polling places were disenfranchised by being told to push “the green button” which would override mistakes they made in voting for more candidates for an office than allowed.

Ducey, for his part, said he will not use his voice, either as governor or the highest elected Republican in the state, to quell that talk even if it could undermine public confidence in the electoral process. Instead, he retreated to a generic defense of how voting occurs here.

“I’ve said and I’ve bragged on Arizona’s election process that we’re good at elections,” he said.

The governor pointed out that Arizona was one of the earliest states to allow all residents to vote by mail, a process that Trump repeatedly criticized as leading to widespread fraud.

In fact, more than 88% of the votes in the presidential race were in early ballots.

But Ducey balked at making any comment about how this most recent election was conducted.

“You want me to make a declaration before the legal process plays out,” he said.

And the governor said it’s not for him to decide that the process was fair when his name was not on the ballot. That, he said, is up to the candidates.

“In the Senate race, the sitting senator was satisfied with the vote count, saw no legal irregularity that needed to go to the court, and conceded,” Ducey said, referring to Martha McSally whom the governor appointed to the seat formerly held by John McCain. “I followed up with a congratulatory call to Senator-elect Mark Kelly.”

There will be no such call to Biden, the governor said until “the legal challenges play out.”

The entire controversy is mired in politics.

Aside from the challenge to the Maricopa County hand-count procedure, supervisors in Mohave County voted 4-1 to delay the legally required formal certification of the vote tally there.

Board members conceded they do not question the accuracy of the count performed in their county but instead said they wanted to see how things played out elsewehere.

And two Pima County supervisors, both Republicans, also refused to vote for the formal tally. But that didn’t stop the process as the other three board members gave their approval.


GOP divide spurs call to arms, doxing

In this file photo, Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers speaks on a video-chat with a handful of members who planned to vote remotely before the start of an unusual session devoid of members of the public on March 19, 2020. On December 8, 2020, protesters gathered at his Mesa home after people unhappy with his decisions related to the 2020 election posted his home address on social media. (AP Photo/Bob Christie)
In this file photo, Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers speaks on a video-chat with a handful of members who planned to vote remotely before the start of an unusual session devoid of members of the public on March 19, 2020. On December 8, 2020, protesters gathered at his Mesa home after people unhappy with his decisions related to the 2020 election posted his home address on social media. (AP Photo/Bob Christie)

Protesters rallied outside House Speaker Rusty Bowers’ home December 8 and a self-declared candidate for Arizona governor threatened to remove Gov. Doug Ducey through non-legal means this week as intraparty Republican conflict reached new heights of intimidation and innuendo.

The branch of the party that cannot and will not accept the results of the presidential election, led by state party chair Kelli Ward and a small group of GOP lawmakers has grown increasingly desperate as the number of available legal options to reverse Joe Biden’s victory continues to shrink. 

Arizona Republicans and the Trump campaign have brought eight lawsuits in state and federal court and lost seven so far, though Ward vowed to appeal one to the U.S. Supreme Court. Legislative attorneys shut down theories that lawmakers could appoint their own presidential electors, and Ducey, Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann have stonewalled requests to reopen the Legislature for a special session — though Fann authorized a special committee hearing on election fraud for December 11.

With slightly more than a month to go until Biden’s inauguration, elements of the Republican Party turned this week to suggesting that it was time for violence. On December 7, the state Republican Party fired off a pair of tweets advocating violence and encouraging supporters to die for President Donald Trump’s false conspiracy that the election was stolen from him. 

Throughout the week, the party’s official Twitter account continued its onslaught on Ducey and Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. In one of its less aggressive tweets, the party shared a picture of the state’s top two officials from March with the caption “betrayed.” 

Kelly Townsend
Kelly Townsend

On December 5, a male nurse who previously accosted a female state senator and Department of Health Services Director Cara Christ appeared to threaten Ducey’s life during a rally at the Capitol. Bryan Masche, flanked on either side by men carrying rifles, said he put out a call to militia groups after he forced his way into the state House the previous week and was arrested on his way home. 

“Doug Ducey will be removed from office,” Masche said. “He will be gone, either through legal means, or, beyond that, it might come down to ‘Plan B.’ We know what it means. I don’t have to tell you what Plan B means. There are people here that know exactly what Plan B means.”

And Rep. Kelly Townsend, the Mesa Republican leading many of the calls to overturn election results, earned national attention for tweeting at Ducey a phrase from the Old Testament that was written by a mysterious hand on a Babylonian king’s wall to inform him that God found him wanting and his kingdom would fall. The biblical king was killed the night he saw that message, leading some to interpret Townsend’s message as a death threat against Ducey.


Townsend did not return phone calls for comment, but tweeted that her use of a biblical message was just intended to show that Ducey has not acted sufficiently by not calling the Legislature back into session. 

Other Republican lawmakers have privately condemned calls to arms, but largely stayed mum publicly. Ducey declined to call out his own party in a tweet he posted December 8, ostensibly responding to the calls to arms.

“The Republican Party is the party of the Constitution and the rule of law,” he tweeted. “We prioritize public safety, law & order, and we respect the law enforcement officers who keep us safe. We don’t burn stuff down. We build things up.” 

One exception to the anti-Ducey gang was Rep. T.J. Shope, the House speaker pro tem from Coolidge. He said he used up his monthly quota of curse words in responding to tweets from the state party.

Shope has been the only outspoken member of the Republican legislative caucus to repeatedly condemn the behavior coming from his peers. In separate tweets, he publicly called the doxing and protests of the House speaker “gross” and “crappy.” 

He told Arizona Capitol Times it’s “not acceptable” to do this to anyone, including to Hobbs, who faced her own doxing and home protests last month, or U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“You shouldn’t have to fear for your safety at your own home,” he said.

Protesters showed up outside Bowers’ Mesa home the evening of December 8, and they were rowdy enough that Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputies responded. A Twitter user shared his address and a Republican Phoenix City Council candidate facing a run-off election shared his personal number encouraging people to call and text him. 

Ben Toma
Ben Toma

Incoming House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, was on the phone with Bowers during part of the demonstration outside the speaker’s home. He could hear cars honking in the background, he said. 

That level of protest crosses the line and is “un-American,” Toma said. 

“We don’t do this as Republicans,” he said. “It’s one thing to make your displeasure known to someone in their official capacity – showing up at the Capitol and protesting and whatnot. It’s quite another to try to terrorize their family at their home.”

Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, has been among the vocal lawmakers calling to overturn election results. He insists that Donald Trump won the election in Arizona, based on unproven anecdotes about voting machines changing Trump votes to Biden votes and residents who aren’t registered voters receiving multiple ballots. 

But Blackman said the protests outside Bowers’ house and the state party asking if people were willing to die to overturn election results went too far for him. Before being elected to the House in 2018, he served in the army for 21 years, including tours of duty in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. 

“Being a soldier that’s deployed several times to real places where people die, I don’t use that word lightly,” Blackman said. “When people use that word like that, are they using it for showmanship or are they actually prepared to do that?” 

Walt Blackman
Walt Blackman

Bowers and Ducey are far from the first high-profile Arizona elected officials to receive threats and targeted harassment from people angry about the results of the presidential election. Protesters showed up outside Hobbs’ home in mid-November, after a user on Parler posted her home address and contact information for family members.

Ducey and lawmakers denounced threats made against Hobbs and her family, but argued that there was no connection between the people harassing her and the various unfounded election fraud theories trumpeted by many elected Republicans.

That week, Townsend had resurfaced a 2017 tweet in which Hobbs — then a Democratic state senator — complained about Trump’s refusal to condemn a neo-Nazi who struck and killed a woman with his car during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Separately, more than a dozen lawmakers signed an open letter demanding that Maricopa County redo its hand count audit of ballots because of “growing concerns expressed by voters about the integrity of the ballot counting process.”  

Sen. Paul Boyer, a Glendale Republican who signed that letter, said he doubted the letter had anything to do with harassment of Hobbs. 

“I mean, don’t you think that someone like that is going to do it regardless of whether or not we as a legislative body are asking for an interpretation of the statute that says 2% of precincts rather than voting centers?” he asked. “Someone like that who’s willing to be disgusting, and atrocious, and dox a public official, do they really need an excuse to do that?”

GOP files lawsuits against Maricopa County over elections

Leach, lawsuit, primary

The Republican Party of Arizona and the Republican National Committee filed a lawsuit on October 4, alleging Maricopa County elections officials violated the Arizona Public Records Act for failure to share information on political party makeup of election staff.

The lawsuit – one of two filed recently – marks a continued trend of mistrust, scrutiny and demand for transparency from elections officials stemming from the 2020 election.

The filings name Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, as well as Directors of Elections Rey Valenzuela and Scott Jarett and members of the Board of Supervisors Bill Gates, chairman; Clint Hickman, vice chairman; and Jack Sellers, Thomas Galvin and Steve Gallardo.

In a press conference on October 4, Jarett addressed the then-potential litigation and said it would be, “unsuccessful.” And in a joint statement, Jarett and Richer called the lawsuit, “a political stunt.”

The key complaint in the first lawsuit stems from a letter sent by attorney Eric Spencer on behalf of the RNC to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office on September 9.

Spencer requested an explanation as to why there were more Democratic than Republican poll workers hired in the primary election and proof of efforts to recruit Republican poll workers to 11 polling stations where none were present.

On September 29, Kory Langhofer on behalf of RNC, wrote an additional letter with further records requests pertaining to recruitment. He set a deadline of October 3.

Tom Liddy, chief of the CivilDivision of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, responded the next day, agreeing to fulfill the request but noted the timeframe given was too short for any complaint to be held up by law.

Richer also spoke to Spencer’s letter and Republican involvement in the election and said he believed they had “more Republicans participate as temporary workers than ever before.”

The RNC and AZ GOP filed a second lawsuit on October 5. The second lawsuit retreads the same issues with party disparities across polling locations and four of the five election boards. It specifically complains about hour requirements and “inhospitable” working conditions, which the plaintiffs point to as the cause for lack of Republican participation.

Maricopa County has staffed 61% of elections personnel for the general election as of October 3, according to elections officials.

The lawsuits from the GOP continue to put the communications side of elections under scrutiny. The 2020 election upended communications across the Maricopa County Elections Department, the Records Office and the Board of Supervisors, prompting major reorganization among communications personnel in the aftermath.

“This is an incident much like the pandemic was an incident,” Fields Mosely, communications director for Maricopa County, said.

The department shifted from having a single full-time communications person in 2019 to a total of seven full-time communications personnel by 2022, according to Megan Gilbertson, communications director for the Elections department.

Heightened public demand for information also prompted new campaigns and programs to make the 2022 general election “the most transparent” yet, according to Richer.

One of the many is the creation of the Election Command Center, a group of six election officials and additional communications staff, to address misinformation ahead of the general election.

The Election Command Center held its first press conference of this election season on October 4 to a small group of vetted journalists to address misinformation as key election dates loom on the horizon. It is the first of many, according to officials.

GOP outpaces Dems during extended registration


The voter registration period in Arizona has come to a close after a pressurized 10 days in which the deadline was challenged, extended and cut short. 

The Arizona Secretary of State Office said over 35,000 people registered to vote after the original cutoff date of Oct. 5, based on a preliminary count Friday morning. Although the numbers aren’t final, the Republican Party can now welcome nearly 11,000 new voters in their ranks — several thousand more than the 8,300 gained by the Democratic Party. About 15,000 newly registered voters didn’t identify a party label.

Arizona Coalition for Change and Mi Familia Vota had challenged the original deadline in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court. Ruling in their favor, Judge Steven Logan extended the deadline till Oct. 23rd. That window lasted until Tuesday, when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals curtailed the extension and made Thursday the final deadline to register.

Sena Mohammed, civic engagement director for Arizona Coalition for Change, didn’t expect the extension to be granted and said the last 10 days were “like a dream.” Despite the appeals court ruling, it was a win to be able to register even one more voter, she said.

Her canvassers lean on face to face conversations to help people understand the voter registration process, especially in communities where fewer people have state-issued IDs or face language barriers or other hurdles to registering. The coronavirus pandemic and the governor’s stay-at-home order interfered with that process, Arizona Coalition for Change and Mi Familia Vota said in their lawsuit.

It wasn’t about politics, Mohammed said. Arizona Coalition for Change is a nonpartisan nonprofit.

“No matter what side you’re on — an affiliated Democrat, Republican — doesn’t matter,” Mohammed said. “We’re happy to register everyone so that they can be able to exercise their rights as citizens.”

The extension still drew criticism from some lawmakers, including state Rep. Travis Grantham, R-LD12, who tweeted that the extension was slanted to help Democrats. In an interview, Grantham said he was still in opposition, even if it spurred more Republicans than Democrats to register to vote.

“There’s a reason we have deadlines,” Grantham said. “We have deadlines so that registration can stop, and if there’s challenges to registration or if there’s issues with registrations, we have time to work those out before a national election happens.”

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, also opposed the extension to avoid creating confusion among voters, according to a court filing during the appeals court deliberation. 

Despite the tug-of-war over deadlines, the new registrations barely shifted the party share of voters statewide. As of Friday morning, Democrats made up 32% and Republicans 34% of the 4.7 million Arizonans registered to vote this election. Another 34% were registered as Libertarians, independents or non party affiliates.

GOP takes another bite at early ballot lawsuit losses

The Trump re-election committee is making a last-ditch effort to keep a new deadline for people to sign their mail-in ballots from taking effect this year.

In new legal filings Wednesday, attorneys for the Donald J. Trump for President organization are asking U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Rayes to stay the order he granted last week giving people who forgot to sign their ballots up to five days after the election to “cure” the problem and guarantee their votes will be counted. They contend Rayes’ ruling was legally incorrect.

More to the point, they want it reviewed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. But there is virtually no way for the appellate judges to fully consider the issue before the Nov. 3 general election, which is why they want Rayes to put his order on the shelf, at least for the time being.

It’s not just the president’s allies who want to stop the change. The same attorneys also represent the Arizona Republican Party and the Republican National Committee.

But Democrat Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who technically was the one sued, is making no such request. In fact, Hobbs took no position in the complaint by the Arizona Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee who charged that voters were being illegally disenfranchised.

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

Separately Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow rebuffed efforts by the Trump re-election committee and other GOP interests to intercede in another case on early ballots, this one dealing with how quickly they need to be received.

This involves a bid by members of the Navajo Nation to get a court order saying any ballots mailed from reservation addresses should be counted if they are postmarked by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Attorneys for the tribal members say slow mail service on reservations can result in people getting their ballots in the mail on time but not arriving at county by the deadline. The result, they argue, is they are being illegally disenfranchised.

Challengers say they are simply seeking to provide reservation residents the same amount of time as those living elsewhere. But attorneys for Republican interests, including the president’s campaign, are openly suggesting that giving reservation residents additional time to get their votes in and counted “would unquestionably affect the share of votes that candidates in the state of Arizona receive,” effectively suggesting it would affect the outcome of elections — to the detriment of GOP candidates.

Snow’s ruling does not mean challengers win by default when he hears arguments this coming week. The law and the deadline for receipt of ballots is being defended by Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.

Central to the fight in the other case, the one before Rayes, is that Arizona law says the envelopes with early ballots have to be signed if the votes are to be counted.

Election officials already provide an opportunity — right up until 7 p.m. on Election Day — for those who forgot to sign their ballot envelopes to come to county offices. But every year there are several thousands ballots that are not “cured” by the deadline, leaving those envelopes unopened.

Rayes said last week he saw no reason for the hard-and-fast deadline.

“The state has not shown that continuing to implement these existing cure procedures for an additional five business days after an election is likely to impose meaningful administrative burdens on election officials given the relatively small number of ballots at issue,” the judge wrote.

He also noted that the state does allow five days after Election Day to “cure” situations where the signature on the envelope does not match what is on file in county records. Extending that to unsigned envelopes, the judge suggested, is hardly a stretch.

But attorney Patrick Strawbridge who represents the GOP interests, told the judge on Wednesday that the issue is not as clear as he has suggested. He said Rayes’ ruling “raises serious and difficult questions of law in an area where the law is somewhat unclear.”

Beyond that, Strawbridge said while there is a constitutional right to vote, there is no right to vote in any particular way. And he said that requiring early ballots be signed by Election Day imposes no actual burden on voting rights.

“It couldn’t, since in-person voting always remains available,” Strawbridge said.

Potentially more problematic, he argued, is the timing. He said the judge is requiring a last-minute change in election procedures

“This very much has the potential to confuse voters,” Strawbridge wrote. “And as an election draws closer, that risk will increase.”

Assistant Attorney General Michael Catlett raises similar concerns in his own arguments to Rayes asking him to set aside his order, at least for the time being. And he told the judge to ignore arguments that some people whose votes would not be counted this year might be harmed.

Catlett pointed out that Arizona has had an Election Day deadline since 1919.

It is true, he acknowledged, that state lawmakers last year did provide a five-day “cure” period in cases where the signature on the envelope doesn’t match county records.

But Catlett said it was made clear to the Arizona Democratic Party that did not extend to unsigned envelopes. And he said party officials were told last December that Election Day signatures would still be required.

Yet he said challengers waited for another six months to sue.

“Thus, any potential hardship that plaintiffs may suffer from a stay pending appeal is largely self-inflicted,” Catlett wrote.”Little harm, if any, will result from a stay of a deadline that has been in place for decades.”

Rayes gave no indication when he will rule.




Green candidate drops out of U.S. Senate race, throws support to Sinema

Voters wait in line at dawn to cast their ballot in Arizona's presidential primary election, Tuesday, March 22, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
 (AP Photo/Matt York)

A last-minute decision by the Green Party candidate to drop out of the race for U.S. Senate could provide Democrat Kyrsten Sinema a needed bump.

Angela Green told KPNX-TV on Thursday she wants people to vote for “a better Arizona.”

“And that would be for Kyrsten Sinema,” she said.

Angela Green
Angela Green
U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. speaks prior to delivering her signatures to the Arizona Secretary of State's office Tuesday, May 29, 2018 at the Capitol in Phoenix. Sinema is officially running as a Democrat for U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Jeff Flake. Women running for office have crossed another threshold with a record number of candidates for the U.S. Senate. Actually winning those seats and changing the face of the chamber are a different matter. Many of the women jumping into Senate races face uphill campaigns. (AP Photo/Matt York)
U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (AP Photo/Matt York)

Green, whose polling has never gotten above single digits, said she struggled with the decision.

“But that’s what it is,” she said.

Green said she could not support Republican Martha McSally who, depending on which poll is cited, is in a neck-and-neck race with Sinema. That decision, Green said, had to do with Sinema’s views.

“They are more in line with what my political, my agenda is, what I’m looking to do to help Arizona become more green again,” she said. That conclusion, Green said, came following watching the debate between the two contenders.

“Sinema’s stance on a lot of things are close to mine,” she said.

Whether that moves the needle remains to be seen.

A survey by OH Predictive Insights released Wednesday put McSally at 52 percent versus 45 percent for Sinema. Green was polling at 1 percent, with 2 percent undecided. That survey was taken between Oct. 22 and 23.

But a CNN poll covering Oct. 24 through 29 had Sinema up 4 points, the poll’s margin of error.

And one done by NBC and Marist in the Oct. 23 to 27 had Sinema with a 6-point lead in a head-to-head race, though Sinema’s lead shrunk to 3 points when polled as a three-way race including Green.

Then there’s the question of whether there are enough Green supporters out there who have not already mailed in their early ballots.

Figures Thursday from the Secretary of State show about 1.35 million ballots already have been turned in.

U.S Rep. Martha McSally

There are about 3.7 million registered voters. But that still leaves the question of how many will actually cast a vote.

The last midterm election in 2014 had a turnout of just 47.2 percent of those registered.

There have been some predictions that voter interest is stronger this year than it was at that time, especially with the fight over the Senate seat that became open when Republican Jeff Flake decided not to seek reelection.

By comparison, turnout two years ago, with a presidential election, was 74.2 percent.

“Sixteen years later and Kyrsten Sinema’s still the Green Party’s candidate,” said McSally spokeswoman Torunn Sinclair. That is a reference to the fact that Sinema had aligned herself with the Green Party in her first bid for the Legislature in 2002; she did not get elected until two years later under the Democratic Party banner.

Green could not be reached for comment.

At least one area where Green’s views likely come closer to that of Sinema is on the issue of immigration.

“I, too, am an immigrant,” she wrote on the information submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office. “That is why I support programs like DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and laws that make it easier and more efficient for immigrants coming here to become valuable citizens in our society.”

McSally, by contrast, has hewed close to the positions of President Trump, promoting the fact that she supported legislation that includes building a wall. She also has come out in support of the president’s decision to send troops to the border.

Jury award shows discrimination crosses party lines


America has a black women problem. The president of the United States told two congresswomen to go back to Africa. And not one elected Arizona Republican has denounced him. They have not even mustered a half-hearted and insincere rebuke of the head of their party within the first 48-hours of this racist screed.

The Republican black woman problem is overt, hostile, and intentional. When the former chief of staff of the president lies to the nation about a black congresswoman and Arizona’s elected officials do not correct him, that is by design. When another black congresswoman’s hair is mocked, ridiculed and derided and once again all of Arizona’s elected Republican officials fail to condemn this bullying.

Eric Brock Jr.
Eric Brock Jr.

To paraphrase Kanye West, the Arizona Republican Party does not care about black women.

However, we write about the Democratic Party and its black woman problem – and it does not arise from the party’s default strategy to sell the most milquetoast Democratic candidate to black women. This problem is far more pernicious; and it only reveals itself when a black woman demands respect.

On July 12, 2019, a jury delivered a verdict that would declare Talonya Adams, a former black staffer of the Arizona Senate, the survivor of racial discrimination.

In fact, Ms. Adams would be discriminated against in the office of a party that we believed its mission was to defend her, and others, from the violence of discrimination. With the face of said injustice being the then-Democratic Senate minority leader and now secretary of state, Katie Hobbs.

Seven white men and women and one Latino comprised the jury, and they deliberated over the evidence: pertinent documents, emails, data, and testimony — including from Secretary Hobbs. Ultimately, the jury determined that the only way to redress the injury that the Democrats had inflicted upon Ms. Adams was to compensate her $1 million.

This jury repudiated the party that we belong to. The party that black people in Arizona support 91 percent of the time at the ballot box. The party that we knocked on tens of thousands of doors for. The party that we tweeted for, posted for, phone-banked for.

Garrick McFadden
Garrick McFadden

We raised the black voter turnout in this state from approximately 26 percent in 2014 to 44 percent in 2018. It was done with no money, no support, no resources, and it was all powered by the collective industry or our minds and sweat of our brows.

Realize, black voters were the margin that elected Secretary Hobbs, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, and U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema.

We can count on our fingers the number of black persons who staff the offices we decisively elected.

To date, Arizona’s federal delegation only has one black staffer. To date, only one Democrat has signed on to HR 40. To date, the Secretary of State’s Office has zero black staffers.

How are black people, who are the most loyal members of the Democratic Party, going to get experience when we cannot even get a call-back? And if we do get the job, we have to suffer the violent indignity of racial discrimination.

When we look at who controls the levers of power, we fail to locate any black people. If anything, we have systematically been rendered invisible, invaluable and inconsequential.

This verdict is a stain on our party: the physical manifestation of a racial slur or epithet. The living, breathing incarnation of the N-word hurled at the black community.

Here’s our default strategy: black people voted Democrats into office. And, if Democrats’ actions do not change, our labor and votes will go elsewhere.

This jury’s verdict demonstrates that discrimination crosses party lines.

Garrick McFadden is a Phoenix-based attorney and Eric Brock Jr. is with the Black Voter Initiative.

Maria, Mark Syms claim in suit AZGOP chair defamed them

From left, Jonathan Lines, chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, and attorney Kory Langhofer addressed reporters ahead of their 2 p.m. hearing in Maricopa County Superior Court for less than three minutes. Though they had called the press conference, they took just two questions regarding claims that "Democrats are stealing this election." (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Jonathan Lines, chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, and attorney Kory Langhofer.  (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

On the eve of Arizona GOP Chairman Jonathan Lines’ re-election bid, two failed GOP candidates sued him for defamation.

Former Rep. Maria Syms and her husband Mark Syms allege Lines, in speaking at a GOP meeting, wrongfully accused them of committing fraud when he discussed Maria Syms’ failed re-election bid in Legislative District 28 and her husband’s failed attempt to run as an independent against Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee.

The lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court Wednesday alleges Lines said at a Jan. 9 Legislative District 26 meeting that the Syms’ “committed fraud” in trying to unseat a fellow Republican and that Maria Syms was “convicted and she was … ordered to pay over $70,000 of restitution to Sen. Kate Brophy McGee.”

Lines went on to say he and Gov. Doug Ducey sat down with Syms and tried to convince her against her husband running against an incumbent Republican, which could put Republicans at risk of losing the Senate in the 2018 elections, according to the lawsuit.

A brief recording obtained by the Arizona Capitol Times confirms Lines made the statements detailed in the lawsuit.

A 2018 court battle involving the Syms’ was more nuanced than Lines’ comments made it out to be.

Mark and Maria Syms were never convicted of fraud in a lengthy civil court battle that started after Mark Syms turned in his signatures to get on the Nov. 6 ballot. The lawsuit also alleges Maria Syms, Lines and Ducey never discussed the LD28 race.

Mark Syms was barred from the ballot when a trial court, in a ruling that was later upheld by the Arizona Supreme Court, invalidated the bulk of signatures he gathered to get on the ballot. Attorneys for Brophy McGee’s husband — who challenged Mark Syms’ nominating petitions — argued he should be thrown from the ballot because the signatures he turned included forgeries and were an example of widespread fraud.

While a portion of Mark Syms’ signatures appeared to be fraudulent, judges throughout the court ordeal specified there was no evidence that the candidate — who employed paid signature gatherers — was involved in or aware of fraud in gathering the signatures.

In September, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ordered Mark Syms to pay more than $50,000 in attorneys fees. He did not have to pay restitution to Brophy McGee as Lines claimed at the meeting.

The Syms’ allege Lines’ statements on the convictions were made deliberately in order to “publicly shame” them.

AZGOP attorney Kory Langhofer said Lines corrected his statements at the same LD26 meeting referenced in the lawsuit.

“He accurately stated the facts in the end,” Langhofer said.

Lines cannot be heard correcting himself on the one-minute, 15-second audio clip obtained by the Capitol Times.

In the audio clip, Lines is asked about why Maria Syms was left off AZGOP mailers during the campaign. The man then follows up with, “was she convicted or was she accused?” to which Lines responded that Syms was convicted.

Langhofer also said the suit is a blatant attempt by the Syms’ to derail Lines’ re-election bid.

“The lawsuit is fundamentally a stunt that’s designed to affect the chairman’s re-election in two days,” he said.

Lines faces a contested race to retain the AZGOP chairmanship and is opposed most notably, by former U.S. Senate candidate Kelli Ward. Arizona Republicans will meet Saturday in Phoenix to vote.

The Syms’ are seeking damages, but do not specify an amount in the lawsuit.

Maria and Mark Syms did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

The Syms’ incited a Republican civil war when Mark Syms jumped into the race against Brophy McGee, who already faced a Democratic opponent. In the general election, some establishment Republicans shied away from supporting Maria Syms, even after her husband was kicked off the ballot, because they felt her actions left the Senate vulnerable to a Democratic takeover.

Maria Syms lost her re-election bid to incumbent Rep. Kelli Butler and Democrat Aaron Lieberman.

Navajo Nation suit could delay final vote count


The Navajo Nation is claiming that the state and several counties illegally discriminated against tribal members and kept them from having their votes counted.

Legal papers filed Tuesday in federal court cite a litany of problems that lawyers for the tribe say make it difficult, if not impossible, for reservation members to cast early ballots. That includes the failure to provide instructions in the native language on how to fill them out and the requirement to sign and date the envelope.

But the lawsuit says the problem was complicated this year by the fact that some counties refused to give residents time after the election to “cure” early ballots where the envelope was not signed or a signature did not match.

In pure numbers, that issue is highly unlikely to affect any of the races for statewide or legislative offices. Attorney Patty Ferguson-Bohnee said there are more than 100 ballots that were not counted.

But the lawsuit does not simply ask Judge Dominic Lanza to declare the voting practices illegal and prohibit them from occurring again. It also seeks a court order giving those whose ballots were not counted five days to remedy the problem.

More to the point, those five days would run from whatever date the judge would issue an order from whenever that order is issued. And there is no date at this point for even a hearing.

That, in turn, could prevent the state from certifying the election results as scheduled on Dec. 3.

Central to the legal fight is that Arizona allows people to vote early. They can cast ballots by mail or drop them off ahead of time at early voting sites.

According to the lawsuit, the Navajo Nation requested Coconino, Apache and Navajo counties, the three counties within its borders, to establish additional voter registration and early voting sites on the reservation to assist tribal members.

“For various and unsubstantiated reasons, the counties denied the nation’s request,” the legal papers say.

“The inadequate voting sites resulted in tribal members making mistakes on their ballots,” the claim continues. “Workers at an early voting site could have identified and corrected the signature issue.”

Complicating matters, the lawsuit states, is that ballot translations in the Navajo language are only provided orally, as are instructions on how to complete an early ballot.

But that was no help for those who received early ballots by mail.

“And there were no radio announcements or other communications in the Navajo language explaining the requirements of completing the ballot affidavit for Navajo language speakers,” Ferguson-Bohnee said. “Navajo language speakers did not have an equal opportunity to participate in early voting opportunities.”

And there’s something else.

A settlement of the lawsuit filed by the Arizona Republican Party directed each county to allow residents to correct ballot deficiencies after Election Day.

But that deal said each county could use the same procedures that had been in place before Election Day, rather than require a uniform procedure statewide. And the lawsuit says the practices of counties on the reservation which limit “curing” opportunities means citizens of the Navajo Nation have less opportunity to participate in the political process and elect candidates of their choice.

“The state has no legitimate interest in enforcing an agreement between political parties that allows early voters to correct some deficiencies and not others,” Ferguson-Bohnee wrote.

The Apache County Recorder’s Office declined to comment on the lawsuit; messages left for the recorders in Coconino and Navajo counties were not immediately returned.


Ninth Circuit Court to hear case on Arizona ballot harvest ban


A federal appeals court is going to give Democrats a new chance to argue that an Arizona law banning “ballot harvesting” is illegal.

In a brief order, the majority of the judges on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said they want to review and reconsider a 2-1 ruling by one of their panels last year that upheld the 2016 law that bars Arizonans from collecting and delivering the ballots of others.

In that ruling, the majority brushed aside complaints from the state and national Democratic parties that the Republican-controlled Legislature had no evidence of fraud from the practice. Nor were they persuaded by arguments that the restriction has a harsher effect on the voting rights of minorities than Arizona residents in general.

Judge Sandra Ikuta, writing for the majority in that decision, did say there was reason to believe that the change was approved, at least in part, by “partisan considerations.” But Ikuta said that fact does not make the law unconstitutional.

The order does not mean that a full panel of 11 judges intends to override what Ikuta wrote for herself and Judge Carlos Bea. But it is relatively rare for the full court to grant such review.

No date has been set for a hearing.

In a prepared statement, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Mark Brnovich said her boss is unconcerned with the court reviewing the earlier ruling.

“The state of Arizona has successfully defended this important common-sense law for nearly three years and will continue to defend the rule of law,” said Katie Conner.

What’s behind “ballot harvesting” is the fact that most Arizonans receive early ballots. They can be filled out and mailed back or delivered to polling places on Election Day.

But the law requires mailed ballots to be delivered by 7 p.m. on Election Day. So anything dropped in a mailbox within a week or so may not get counted.

Political and civic groups have in recent years gone into neighborhoods, asking people if they have returned their ballots and, if not, offered to take it to polling places on their behalf.

But Republicans, in approving HB 2023 to ban the practice in 2016, argued that presents too many opportunities for mischief.

The law does have exceptions for family members, those living in the same household, and caregivers for those in nursing homes and similar facilities.

During the debate, however, supporters of the ban did not cite a single confirmed incident where a ballot was altered or did not get delivered. In fact, Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, argued it’s irrelevant whether there is fraud or not.

“What is indisputable is that many people believe it’s happening,” he said. “And I think that matters.”

The challengers to the law already have one important voice on their side: Chief Judge Sidney Thomas.

In his dissent on the original ruling, Thomas said his colleagues ignored evidence presented.

“Arizona’s policy of wholly discarding – rather than partially counting – votes cast out-of-precinct has a disproportionate effect on racial and ethnic minority groups,” he wrote, unconstitutionally burdening the right to vote. And Thomas said the data produced by Democrats on the ban on ballot harvesting, complete with penalties of a year in prison and a $150,000 fine, “serves no purpose aside from making voting more difficult, and keeping more African American, Hispanic, and Native American voters from the polls than white voters.”

And Thomas derided the evidence cited by some lawmakers in supporting the ban.

He specifically mentioned claims by Don Shooter, then a Republican state senator from Yuma, that ballot collectors steam open sealed envelopes and decide whether to submit them based on what was inside. Even U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Rayes, who first reviewed the complaint, found that “demonstrably false,” with the trial judge saying Shooter’s views were “implicitly informed by racial biases.”

“And if Sen. Shooter was insincere, he purposely distorted facts in order to prevent Hispanics — who generally preferred his opponent – from voting,” Thomas said.

Thomas was no more impressed by a soundless video produced by A.J. LaFaro, who was chairman of the Maricopa County Republican Party. The judge said it showed nothing illegal but was accompanied by a voice-over from LaFaro claiming the man was acting to stuff the ballot box.

The new legal development in the Arizona comes as the practice of ballot harvesting has drawn national attention with the results of a North Carolina congressional race being delayed by an investigation into whether Republicans there illegally collected the ballots of minority voters and then purposely failed to turn them in.

But attorney Spencer Scharff who represents Democratic interests in a separate challenge to the ballot harvesting law, said whatever mischief that took place in North Carolina is irrelevant and should not be used as an excuse to allow Arizona lawmakers to ban the practice here.

“There are numerous laws currently on the books, both state and federal, that properly regulate criminal behavior as it relates to elections,” he said. And Scharff said that’s not just true in North Carolina.

“Before they passed HB 2023 it was already a crime to tamper with someone’s ballot, to steal someone’s ballot,” he said. “It was already a crime to collect someone’s ballot and then fail to deliver it, effectively stealing that ballot.”

What that leaves, Scharff said, are simply the additional hurdles that a ban on ballot harvesting creates for voters.

Scharff is representing Democratic activist Rivko Knox in a separate challenge to the ballot harvesting law. She argues it interferes with her First Amendment rights and contends that the Arizona law illegally infringes on the exclusive right of the federal government to regulate who can deliver mail.

That argument fared no better before the same three-judge panel, with even Thomas rejecting those arguments. Scharff is filing his own separate bid to have the full 9th Circuit review the ruling.

SCOTUS rejects Ward’s bid to keep phone records private

Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward speaks with supporters of former President Donald Trump at a “Keep America Great” rally at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr).

Members of a congressional panel are going to find out who was communicating with Kelli Ward around the time of the 2020 election and the insurrection attempt that followed.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected the bid by Ward, who chairs the Arizona Republican Party, to shield the record of her calls and texts from the committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot. The justices gave no reason for their decision.

Monday’s order leaves Ward with no recourse.

But Alexander Kolodin, her attorney, said there is something to be said about the fact that Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented from the order. They said they would have granted her request to delay the order of U.S. District Court Judge Diane Humetewa directing T-Mobile, the company that has the records, to surrender them to Congress and let the full court debate the issue.

Alex Kolodin

“We are heartened by the fact that two Supreme Court justices considered the issue important enough to have wanted to order a stay,” he told Capitol Media Services. “This sends a message for the next time someone seeks to interfere with the First Amendment right of association.”

That “right of association” was at the heart of the argument that Kolodin could not get Humetewa, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals – and now the Supreme Court to accept.

The special panel studying the causes of the insurrection bid subpoenaed the records of the texts and calls to and from Ward from November 2020 through January 2021. Douglas Letter, legal counsel to the House, said the committee needs to know how Ward’s activities played into all that.

That would include with whom she was in contact at the time.  But the materials sought would include only phone numbers, with no content of either the calls or the text messages.

That is similar to records the panel already has from other political actors and the White House as it seeks to draw a picture of who was talking to — and possibly conspiring with — whom. And Letter made it clear in his legal filings that Ward was part of some larger effort to overturn the election and prevent Joe Biden from being sworn in.

Douglas Letter

“Dr. Ward aided a coup attempt,” he told the justices, participating in “multiple aspects of these attempts to interfere with the electoral count in Jan. 6,”

“She told officials in Maricopa County to stop counting ballots and promoted inaccurate allegations of election interference by Dominion Voting Systems,” Letter said, and tried to arrange contact between President Trump and a top county official. He also said that Ward, in sending a set of unauthorized electoral votes to Congress – a list that included her and her husband, Michael – “mischaracterized (them) as representing the legal votes of Arizona.”

And that’s not all.

“While Congress was recessed due to the mob’s violence and attack on the Capitol, Dr. Ward continued to advocate for overturning the results of the election,” Letter said, citing a Jan. 6 Twitter post.

All of that, Letter said, “helped lay the groundwork for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.”

In asking the Supreme Court to stay the subpoena, Kolodin did not get into a discussion of Ward’s activities.

Instead, he said courts justices should recognize that forcing disclosure of that information would interfere with the constitutional rights of not just Ward to associate with others but also the rights of those who were in contact with her. And all that, Kolodin said, would “chill” the interest of members of the Arizona Republican Party in communicating with his client.

“If the subpoena is not quashed, members of the AZGOP will be made to feel that every time they communicate with party leadership, they risk those communications disclosed to law enforcement followed by a knock on the door (or worse) from federal investigators,” he argued. “A stronger risk of associational chilling can scarcely be imagined.”

Kolodin also argued that because the House panel is controlled by Democrats that it would use the information in the phone records “to harass or persecute political rivals by inquiring into the dealings with the party chair.”

But Humetewa, in refusing to dissolve the subpoena, called those contentions “highly speculative,” saying that Ward presented no evidence to support their claims. At best, the judge said, those claims “constitute a subjective fear of future reprisal,” something that federal appellate judges have said is insufficient to show any infringement on associational rights.

Legal issues aside, what also may have been working against Ward is the calendar.

Letter pointed out to the high court that the committee – and its ability to study the issues behind the Jan. 6 riot and prepare a report – expires after Jan. 3 when a new Congress is sworn in. Any delay in ordering T-Mobile to turn over the phone records would have undermined the panel’s ability to finish on time.

That possibility became more of a reality after it became clear that Republicans would take over control of the House in January. And it is virtually certain that whoever is the new speaker, unlike Democrat Nancy Pelosi, will not want to pursue the matter.

While Monday’s Supreme Court order ends the debate about congressional access to Ward’s records, there may yet be future litigation.

That could come if the panel turns over its findings to the Department of Justice for a possible criminal investigation. That would raise a separate set of legal questions about whether documents obtained by a congressional panel, even with the blessing of the courts, can then be used in a criminal probe which has its own set of rules about gathering evidence.



Sinema takes lead in U.S. Senate race as ballots are counted


Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., talks to campaign volunteers at a Democratic campaign office on primary election day Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Phoenix. Sinema is seeking the current U.S. Senate seat occupied by outgoing Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, and will face the Republican primary winner of the race between Rep. Martha McSally, former state Sen. Kelli Ward, and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, if Sinema wins the Democratic primary. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., talks to campaign volunteers at a Democratic campaign office on primary election day Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Phoenix. Sinema is seeking the current U.S. Senate seat occupied by outgoing Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, and will face the Republican primary winner of the race between Rep. Martha McSally, former state Sen. Kelli Ward, and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, if Sinema wins the Democratic primary. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The latest returns from the state’s two largest counties has given Kyrsten Sinema the lead in her bid for U.S. Senate — barely.

New figures late Thursday from the Secretary of State’s Office find the Democrat has opened up a 9,610-vote edge over Republican Martha McSally out of about 1.9 million votes already counted, or about half a percentage point. That is a sharp reversal from just 24 hours earlier when Sinema trailed her GOP foe by about 15,000.

Those newly counted ballots also have given Democrat Kathy Hoffman the lead in her race for state superintendent of public instruction. She is now up by 20,348 over Republican Frank Riggs; a day ago he had 7,200 more votes than she did.

The change in fortune comes as the Arizona Republican Party and four of its county affiliates are trying to get a judge to block election officials in Maricopa, Pima, Coconino and Apache counties from counting some late-cast early ballots. Voters in those four counties all were breaking for the Democrat contenders.

At the same time, the Arizona Democratic Party filed its own lawsuit against Maricopa County in a bid to boost the Democrat edge there even more by helping to “rehabilitate” some ballots that were set aside for a variety of reasons, like lack of identification.

Sinema’s big surge comes as Maricopa County elections officials processed an additional approximately 127,000 ballots on Thursday.

As of Wednesday, Sinema had just an 8,000-vote edge in the county. But by the end of the day that had tripled, giving her more cushion to offset the lead that McSally has in 10 of the state’s 15 counties.

Sinema, who currently represents a congressional district that takes in portions of Phoenix, Tempe and Chandler, also boosted her lead over McSally in Pima County by about 7,000, up to more than 44,000.

The McSally camp indicated late Thursday it was not worried, saying they believe the latest batch of ballots to be counted arrived at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office on days when Republican early voting turnout was low. They contend the trend will change when the county gets to the approximately 200,000 early ballots dropped off on Election Day based on their belief that many Republicans who had requested early ballots had not turned them in before.

The change of fate for Hoffman also got a boost from Maricopa County, where she opened up a lead of more than 22,000, along with her now having a 55,000-vote edge in Pima County. Here, too, those strong numbers from the two largest counties helped offset the fact that Riggs outpolled her in 10 counties.

But Democrat Katie Hobbs, running for secretary of state, still remains more than 19,000 votes behind Republican Steve Gaynor.

That big dump of heavily Democratic votes in Maricopa County also breathed some new life into the hopes of the party to win a new seat in the state Senate.

Incumbent Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, now has a lead of just 808 votes over Democratic challenger Christine Marsh; that’s close to half of just a day ago.

What makes that significant is that Maricopa County Recorder said late Thursday he still has about 345,000 ballots left to be processed, with another 61,000 in Pima County. If the trend continues, that will boost the lead of Sinema and Hoffman.

The Maricopa numbers might even provide enough votes for Marsh to oust McGee. And if that happens, the Republican margin in the state Senate will be reduced to just 16-14.

The new ballots also have increased the chances that Democrat Jennifer Pawlik has of getting elected to the state House. On Wednesday she was up over her nearest Republican challenger by fewer than 500; that figure has now tripled.

They also represent bad news for incumbent Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, who seeks to hold onto her seat. Democrat Aaron Lieberman now has doubled his lead over her, with about 1,500 more votes.

In Pima County, the latest count also puts incumbent Rep. Todd Clodfelter, R-Tucson, further behind in his bid for reelection. He now trails Democrat Domingo DeGrazia by about 2,700 votes.



Slow vote count spurs talk of changes in election laws

A worker carries ballots to be verified at the Maricopa County Recorder's Office Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in Phoenix. There are several races too close to call in Arizona, especially the Senate race between Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema and Republican candidate Martha McSally. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
A worker carries ballots to be verified at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in Phoenix.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Arizona’s prolonged vote count has borne a batch of proposed law changes designed to speed up the process and instill more confidence in the system.

It took a week in Arizona for a victor to be declared in the U.S. Senate race, which garnered national attention both for its competitiveness and the ensuing frustration of being unable to determine a winner for nearly seven days. And Arizona’s final legislative race wasn’t declared for a full 13 days after the election.

That slow count is at the core of voters’ frustration with Arizona elections, since the lengthy process naturally invites skepticism about results, Republican lawmakers say. But GOP concerns extend to questions about the use of emergency voting centers and ballot curing, a process by which voters can assure their mail-in ballots count toward the final tally.

Democrats have accused their colleagues across the aisle of playing a key role in fanning suspicion in the election process – chiefly by accusing Democrats of “stealing the election,” in the words of top officials with the state Republican Party.

Dual Systems

Where there is common ground to be found, it’s at an understanding that election results should be ready sooner than later.

In Arizona, later is a period of time that grows longer by the election cycle.

Election officials attribute that in part to historic turnout, but also to the system itself. Arizona essentially operates two elections in one, according to Eric Spencer, state elections director. There’s a mail-in voting system that more than 70 percent of Arizona voters utilize, but there’s also a robust day-of voting system that’s launched on Election Day.

“In Arizona, we want both,” Spencer said. “And so that is a strain on resources and you almost have to stop … early voting ballot tabulations and signature verification, and instead just pause all of that and go run a polling place election.”

And given that Maricopa County is the fourth most populous county in the country, that is an incredible logistical challenge to pull off successfully, Spencer said.

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale)
Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale)

Blaming resources isn’t good enough for GOP Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita and House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, who are both considering bills they say could provide some incentive for voters who choose to vote by mail to actually do so. Both will be in the Senate next year.

So-called “late-earlies,” ballots mailed to voters that don’t get turned in until Election Day, are the primary cause of the nearly-two week vote counting operation in Maricopa County. Signatures on the sealed, prepaid envelopes voters use to turn in those ballots must be verified.

Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, and Mesnard, R-Chandler, propose to deal with “procrastinators” by requiring those voters to provide ID to poll workers when dropping off late-early ballots and feeding those ballots into voting machines on site.

“Take it to the poll and put it in the machine – because otherwise we’re counting these things forever,” Mesnard said. “And I think we’ve gone beyond what most people think is reasonable or tolerable.”


That may be one of the few areas where Republicans and Democrats can find some agreement. Sen Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, said he would support the idea if county elections officials back it.

But even then, progressive groups are wary of anything that’s perceived as making it harder to vote.

Joel Edman, executive director of Arizona Advocacy Network, said he understands the frustration about slow election result. But he said the idea of feeding early ballots dropped off on Election Day directly in the machine would just burden citizens by requiring them to wait in line and go to their own polling place, rather than one on their way to work, for example.

Other GOP proposals could err toward solutions that Democrats argue restrict access to voting.

Some Republicans are livid that Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes opened five emergency early voting sites the weekend before the election. Fontes has said the voting centers were made available to those with any “unforeseen circumstance,” per state law, that would prevent them from voting on Election Day. Fontes also clearly stated that he’s not in the business of judging what constitutes an emergency.

Fontes, a Democrat, was the first Maricopa County recorder to utilize emergency early voting centers – a staple of Pima County elections.

Ugenti-Rita commented: “Why? The fourth largest county in the country has never experienced an emergency with its voters until now? That’s odd. That doesn’t sit well with me.”

Ugenti-Rita said she wants to clarify in state law what constitutes an emergency, while top Democrats like newly-elected Secretary of State Katie Hobbs have another solution: Ensure all counties have in-person early voting centers.

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes talks about the progress of the ballot count at the Maricopa County Recorder's Office Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in Phoenix. There are several races too close to call in Arizona, especially the Senate race between Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema and Republican candidate Martha McSally. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Early Voting Centers

State law allows for early voting centers beginning 27 days before the election through the Friday before Election Day. Hobbs said she wants to extend the deadline to the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Election Day. That’s the same period of time that Fontes chose to open emergency voting centers.

Hobbs stressed the need for consistency among counties when it comes to operating early voting centers and elections, an argument that was hashed out in court on a related issue thanks to a GOP legal challenge over ballot curing.

Arizona’s elections operation manual, which hasn’t been updated since 2014, states that “the County Recorder, if time permits, may attempt to contact the voter to ascertain whether the voter actually voted the early ballot and any reason why the signature may not match.”  Spencer said that until the most recent election, most counties interpreted “if time permits” to mean ballots won’t be proactively cured after 7 p.m. election night.

For years, Pima County was the only place in Arizona where election officials reached out to voters for verification after that deadline. However, it’s a move in which Maricopa and a few other counties mirrored their neighbors to the south this election cycle.


Arizona Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Lines initially threatened to sue to stop counties from curing ballots after the election, though the party then switched legal strategies and reached a settlement that required all counties to allow voters to rectify their ballots until November 14.

Requiring voters who drop off mail-in ballots at the polls to feed those ballots into voting machines would negate some of the concerns with ballot curing, Mesnard said, though there would likely still be some ballots that were mailed in that need attention, even after election night. Maricopa County officials only got around to counting some 78,000 mailed-in ballots in the days after the election, a delay they attributed to high turnout.

Mesnard said he would err on the side of curing ballots up to 7 p.m. on Election Day, but not after the polls close.

Edman said there are simpler ways to cut down on the wait time for results, and that lawmakers should look to the experts for guidance. He noted that former Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell suggested changing laws that prohibit recorders from county early ballots until one week before the election, a move that could scale back the sheer volume of ballots still being counted following Election Day.

“She obviously knows what she’s talking about, having done this process for like 20 years,” Edman said. “And I guess that is the broader point, before legislators start coming up with these half-baked ideas that might not solve the problem or would create other problems … they should be asking professionals who run these elections.”

Sen. Karen Fann, a Prescott Republican who will serve as Senate president in 2019, said she’s planning to meet with officials from the Secretary of State’s Office and county elections officials prior to the next legislative session for feedback.

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. 


Stringer’s comeback bid looks dim

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk is on track to defeat embattled former lawmaker David Stringer, fending off her first challenger since 2000 and remaining as the top prosecutor in that county for another four years. She currently has 69% of the vote. 

Stringer could not overcome his child molestation charges to unseat Polk.

Stringer resigned from his House seat representing Legislative District 1 a year after the Phoenix New Times dug up records from his time in Maryland that showed he sexually molested children in Baltimore in 1983. Stringer’s time in the legislature also surrounded multiple instances of racially-charged comments and several members of the Republican Party calling for him to resign up to a year before he eventually did.

Stringer ran a self-funded campaign and raised more than Polk, but Polk had more left in the bank by the primary. Stringer raised $232,000 overall, though all but $1,000 came from his own pocket. Polk has raised roughly $200,000 overall and is left with $25,000 on hand compared to Stringer’s $20,000.

No Democrat has run for the Yavapai County Attorney since at least 2000, so Polk is a lock to remain as the chief prosecutor in her county. 

Trump allies tied to election audit, records show

FILE - In this Nov. 13, 2020, file photo President Donald Trump listens during an event on Operation Warp Speed in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. .Trump is making unsupported claims of massive voting fraud, demanding recounts and calling for audits. All of this an effort to discredit the outcome and, in the process, put democracy itself on trial. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
In this Nov. 13, 2020, file photo President Donald Trump listens during an event on Operation Warp Speed in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington.  (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Senate President Karen Fann regularly insists the Senate’s audit of Maricopa County’s 2020 election has nothing to do with former President Trump, but recently released court-ordered records paint a different picture. 

Connections to Trump and his allies are found throughout more than 20,000 documents that became available on August 31 as part of a lawsuit to reveal Senate records of the audit. 

Trump campaign official and former Arizona state Treasurer Jeff DeWit texted audit liaison Randy Pullen about a nonprofit that had reportedly given the audit $3.2 million through undisclosed donors. That group, Fund The Audit by The America Project, is run by former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, who made a documentary about the audit starring Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan. 

“So they are ok to donate to? Trump asking,” DeWit texted Pullen on April 28. 

After initially not wanting to comment, DeWit said he was referring to Trump’s circle and not the former president himself.  

Randy Pullen (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)
Randy Pullen (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Connections to Trump have been widely reported from several prominent individuals pushing the claim that the election was stolen from the former president, to several of his election attorneys having direct links to the audit itself. 

The records show it goes even further.  

His right hand 

Pullen, who previously served as the Republican Party of Arizona chairman from 2007 to 2011, spoke with Trump’s first chief of staff Reince Priebus about who the state should hire to audit the election. That conversation began as early as December 2020, nearly four months before Senate President Karen Fann announced the hiring of Cyber Ninjas.  

“Any selection on audit firms?” Pullen asked the former White House chief of staff on March 2.  

“Let me check,” Priebus replied.  

Priebus followed up a few days later to say he asked some people, but did not get any good recommendations and that he would try one more person. He also said Jim Troupis, a Trump attorney who represented the president in Wisconsin election cases, didn’t have auditor suggestions either.  

Pullen did not return a call for comment for this article.  

Would-be electors 

Jeff DeWit
Jeff DeWit

AZGOP chair Kelli Ward, former state lawmaker Anthony Kern and U.S. Senate candidate Jim Lamon all were on the ballot underneath Trump’s name as electors. They would have been among the state’s 11 electors to officially vote for Trump for president had he received the most votes in the state and won Arizona. He did not, so 11 electoral votes went to President Biden. 

Ward, as the party chair, has been one of Trump’s closest allies in Arizona. She has fundraised off the audit, but not to give it money, rather to pad the state party’s coffers and has acted as her own liaison of sorts setting up interviews for pro-Trump networks and outlets willing to talk positively of the audit without asking tough questions.  

Kern, who notably traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in the protest-turned-riot on January 6, lost his re-election bid along with Trump, but was also listed as an elector. He became a paid audit worker checking the ballots before reporters spotted him and he was promptly fired.  

Lamon also offered financial support for the audit, according to a text exchange with Ken Bennett, the audit liaison. After initially asking about venues for all the election materials on behalf of Ward, he offered to pay court expenses for seeking a temporary restraining order when the audit began.  

“Call when you can on what you need to close the TRO … I’ll front the cost last resort if required,” he wrote.  

It’s unclear if it ever came to that. The conversation took place before Lamon launched his Senate bid in May, but while the AZGOP was paying him as a consultant. DeWit was also Lamon’s Senate campaign chair.  

Special access 

Christina Bobb
Christina Bobb

Throughout the audit, right-wing network One America News and host Christina Bobb, who joined the network after leaving her post at the Trump Department of Homeland Security, have enjoyed special access to the audit premises, auditors and GOP senators.  

Fann’s text messages released as part of the records request show even more evidence of that close relationship.  

In late November, Fann sent Bobb and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani contact information for Josh Kredit, an attorney in the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, as well as Senate GOP general counsel Greg Jernigan and House GOP counsel Andrew Pappas. She sent the group a copy of her audit announcement in late March. 

“Yes Ma’am! I saw! Congratulations!! I’m so so happy for you guys and can’t wait to see how it goes,” Bobb replied. 

In mid-July, Bobb expressed frustration with Fann for telling KTAR host Mike Broomhead that Cyber Ninjas reached a different number of ballots than Maricopa County’s official count. Local journalists didn’t know this before Fann joined Broomhead’s morning radio show – but Bobb apparently did.  

“I’ve been waiting to report that the numbers don’t match,” Bobb texted. “I have kept every piece of information I’ve received confidential, and then the results are broken on another show. It’s a bit frustrating,” Bobb wrote.  

Two days later, Fann held a livestreamed meeting with her audit team in a Senate hearing room. After the event, she walked away from local and national reporters who had questions to ask and met Bobb in her office for an interview, according to their text records.  

Fann insisted that the records show One America News had no special access.  

“Contrary to those that attack OANN, this actually shows that OANN did not get any advance information,” she tweeted in response to a Reuters reporter.  

Lawyers and money 

Outside of The America Project’s sizable contributions, other nonprofits with ties to Trump also paid into the months-long activities at the state fairgrounds. America’s Future contributed nearly $1 million. The nonprofit’s board is chaired by Michael Flynn, Trump’s initial national security adviser who has become a central figure in the QAnon conspiracy theory.  

Bobb’s Voices and Votes was another major contributor, as was Trump attorney Sidney Powell’s group, Defending the Republic, and to a lesser extent the Election Defense Fund for the American Republic, headed by Matthew DePerno, a Michigan lawyer who filed the now-tossed election fraud lawsuit in Antrim County alleging Dominion Voting Systems was corrupt. It was the so-called “Kraken” case.  

Dominion has since filed defamation suits against OAN’s parent company, Bobb and anchor Chanel Rion; Newsmax; and Byrne, seeking more than $1.6 billion in damages. The company is also suing Powell and Giuliani. 



Voting – if you can – in the 21st Century


It’s been quite a century for America so far, don’t you think?

We greeted the long awaited 21st century anticipating a digital meltdown (Y2K) that didn’t happen. We did not anticipate the horrific attack by four of our own airliners, controlled by terrorists. We then began our longest running war based on false assertions and charged the astronomical bill mainly on our grandchildren’s credit cards. We elected our first black American president. Twice! Then we elected to that same position a man who had never in his life held public office. You could almost say we were on a roll. As – on a rollercoaster.

Al Bell
Al Bell

Now, over a hundred years after World War I ended and set the stage for an even more catastrophic World War II, we are in the midst of a vicious political war to decide where we head next. Certainty is delusional, though you would never know that by listening to the candidates and their hired guns. That was also true four years ago.

The two dominant political parties have understandably disagreed on much over the last 150 years. Now they seem to agree only that the other one is misguided, stupid, un-American, evil, or all of the above. It is a prescription for…for what? They don’t know. Nor do we.

We do know this, however. The parties are suffering from a massive vote of “no confidence” by millions of Americans. It isn’t just reflected in the abysmal, consistently low ratings of Congress in the low double digits. It is demonstrated by the fact that 45% of qualified American voters are leaving or never joining the parties. The percentage of unaffiliated voters appears to be heading towards half of American voters!

I’ll refer to this portion of “We the People” by their most common label, independent Voters. These Americans, by Constitutional standards, are qualified to vote. They choose not to affiliate with a political party. That costs many of them of their voting privileges because parties and many states impose discriminatory restrictions on these Americans in primary elections, including the Presidential Preference Election. Though the Republican maneuvers are especially corrosive, neither party is by any means pure. They seek to neutralize potential opposing voters by arbitrary means long before any election.

Oh, those pesky independent Voters! To vote in the upcoming presidential preference election, I had to change my registration to Democrat or not vote at all. After the election, I will return to my true identity as an independent Voter. Republicans don’t even have a presidential preference election here this year. Being forced into this subterfuge is a breathtaking form of foolishness if the parties believe it is going to gain them anything but disrespect and resentment.

Political pundits routinely miss the mark in trying to explain who independent Voters really are. I have been labeled as: a leaner, closet party member, idealist, dreamer, malcontent, clueless, unable to distinguish between party ideologies, unpatriotic, irresponsible, and others not printable. It took me decades to acquire these qualities! Nevertheless, I join with millions of Americans who urge the parties to collaborate in assembling the necessary participants around the table, framing the right questions, and crafting workable answers. Then check the results.

The independent Voters I know expect our elected leaders to do the admittedly extremely hard work of resolving workable approaches to the serious issues we confront, rather than devoting endless energy and vast treasure demeaning each other. Independents typically accept the fact of imperfection and believe that “better” is achievable, while “perfection,” no matter by whose definition, is not. Vehement disagreement is and will remain unavoidable in a nation as diverse as ours. That does not excuse failure to decide. As has been persuasively argued many times, the richness of different perspectives and opinions actually defines the Great American Experiment. It is who we are. What that requires is wisdom, patience, and humility, not exclusion.

Inspired by the exceptional leadership of Adrian Fontes, our Maricopa County Recorder, independent Voters got serious consideration of our case by the Arizona Democratic Party (the only option available this election cycle) and were rejected, though by a substantially split vote. The party leadership believed money could be more profitably spent on campaigning rather than welcoming more voters. Another opportunity to right the wrongs of voter suppression by arbitrary restriction was lost.

Independent Voters are not going to go away. Our Nation needs all the positive voices it can get and the parties don’t own all of them by any means. At some point this will become so broadly clear that it can no longer be ignored. We – and the parties – have a lot of work to do.

Let’s not waste any more of the 21st Century getting it done.

Al Bell is a resident of Peoria.