New 'terrifying' GOP proposal in Arizona would allow lawmakers to reject election results

Lawmakers would have the power to reject election results under a sweeping piece of legislation that would make seismic changes to the way elections are conducted in Arizona.

Rep. John Fillmore’s House Bill 2596 would eliminate no-excuse early voting, which is used by the overwhelming majority of Arizona voters, and would require that all ballots not only be counted by hand, but that those tallies be completed within 24 hours of the polls closing on Election Day, among other changes.

Perhaps the biggest change, however, is that the legislature would be empowered to accept or reject election results in legislative, congressional and statewide races. Under the proposed law, the legislature would be required to call itself into session after an election to “review the ballot tabulating process.” Once that review is completed, lawmakers would decide whether to accept or reject the results. If the legislature rejects the results, any qualified voter can go to court to ask a judge to order a new election.

Election experts found that provision to be highly problematic.

“It’s terrifying,” said Jennifer Morrell, a former deputy of elections in Arapahoe County, Colo., who is now a partner at The Elections Group, a consulting outfit.

Fillmore, a Republican from Apache Junction, said the proposal is simply a matter of oversight. It’s not the legislature that would overturn an election, he said. If the legislature found “obvious fraud” and rejected the election’s results, the courts would have to overturn them. And if a judge refused to order a new election, “then we’re just going to have to shut up and deal with it.”

But that’s not what the language of Fillmore’s bill says. The measure doesn’t require the legislature to have a specific reason to reject an election’s results. And it doesn’t explicitly say what happens if the legislature rejects an election but the courts won’t order a new one. The bill also doesn’t say what factors a judge must consider when weighing a request, or whether there would be a re-vote on all races or just specific ones.

Fillmore suggested that it wouldn’t be reasonable to stipulate all the potential reasons why lawmakers might reject election results. And he said the legislature would use that power with discretion.

“Do you think we come down here just to create havoc? No,” Fillmore said. “I don’t think, when you have 60 members down here, that we’re going to arbitrarily say, ‘Well we disagree.’”

Tammy Patrick, the former head of federal compliance at the Maricopa County Elections Department who is now the senior advisor for elections at the nonprofit Democracy Fund, said the proposal is part of a troubling trend in which “anti-democratic forces” in state legislatures across the country are sponsoring bills that would allow lawmakers to subvert the will of the people. The movement arose in response to bogus claims made by former President Donald Trump and some of his allies that the 2020 election was rigged against him.

If the bill is intended to only allow the legislature to reject election results if it finds fraud, then the bill needs to be explicit about that, Patrick said. But there are already remedies if fraud is suspected in an election: people can go to court if there’s evidence of malfeasance.

Numerous lawsuits were filed challenging the November 2020 election results in Arizona, but none were successful — and few alleged that the results were affected by fraud. All of those lawsuits, including those that did claim fraud, were dismissed for a lack of evidence.

On a global level, Patrick said laws like these are reminiscent of dictatorships with “sham democracies.”

“This type of activity, when you look at it all in one comprehensive way, it’s anti-democratic, it’s authoritarian, and it’s not the sort of activity and actions you see in a healthy democracy,” she said.

Fillmore’s bill also stipulates that the legislature may conduct an audit of election results for any primary or general election. That raises the question of what exactly must be done to demonstrate fraud. Senate President Karen Fann ordered an audit of the 2020 general election results in Maricopa County, but hired unqualified and biased contractors who had participated in efforts to overturn the election and to prove that Trump was cheated out of his re-election. The “audit” team alleged that it found dozens of issues, including thousands of potentially illegal votes, but acknowledged that there might be legitimate explanations. The county has mostly debunked the audit team’s findings.

House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix, predicted that if his Republican colleagues got the power to reject election results, they’d do so based simply on which results they liked or didn’t like. He noted that the “audit” recounted votes from the presidential and U.S. Senate races, which Democrats won, but didn’t question the results of legislative or other races in which Republicans prevailed.

“We’ve seen a legislature and members who argued that the top of the ballot was fraud, but the bottom of the ballot was accurate when it came to the 2020 election. Their majority was OK, but President Trump and Mark Kelly’s races were inaccurate,” Bolding said.

No more early voting or electronic ballot tabulators

The legislation makes a number of other major changes to Arizona’s election laws.

Early or absentee voting would only be permitted for people who are genuinely unable to vote in person on Election Day, such as people serving in the armed forces, people who will be out of the state on the day of the election, people who are hospitalized or in nursing homes, or people who are visually impaired.

Counties would no longer be able to use vote centers where anyone can cast ballots, regardless of where they live. Instead, voters would have to go to a polling place in the precinct where they live. Counties would have to notify voters at least two years in advance if they want to change the location of polling places. Counties would also be prohibited from using emergency voting locations.

Ballot paper would also have to include security features, such as holograms or “identifiable sequence marking,” which has become a rallying cry for people who baselessly believe that counterfeit ballots were inserted into Maricopa County’s tally.

Advocates of Trump’s bogus election fraud claims have promoted a number of conspiracy theories about the machines used to tabulate ballots. Those allegations largely revolve around Dominion Voting Systems, the vendor that provides machines for Maricopa County and many other jurisdictions where Biden defeated Trump.

Except in limited instances when people must vote using machines because they’re visually impaired, all ballots would have to be counted by hand, rather than by machines. And the returns must be completed within 24 hours of when the polls close.

Elections experts say the hand-counting requirements are simply not realistic.

“This has obviously never been run by an election official,” said Ryan Macias, a consultant at RSM Election Solutions and the former acting director of testing and certification at the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

Counting that many ballots by hand would take an extraordinarily long time, and would be nearly impossible to do in 24 hours. Macias noted that Cyber Ninjas, the company that led Fann’s so-called audit, took several months to count only two races on about 2.1 million ballots. Arizona’s ballots, by comparison, have dozens of races and questions. Patrick said the judicial retention elections that Arizonans vote in could add months to the tally.

“Cyber Ninjas couldn’t do it in eight weeks in a single county with two races,” Macias said.

Elections experts also emphasized that hand counts are simply less accurate than machine counts. Human beings are simply bad at tedious, repetitive tasks, Morrell said.

“There’s a reason why we sort of moved to voter technology. It’s both accuracy and efficiency,” she said.

Fillmore was unpersuaded by such arguments.

“I don’t care what election officials are going to tell me. I’ll tell you what I know in my heart. I know that if you were the election officer and you held that election in your precinct, and those are the people that are going to be counting, I trust you,” he said.

Some 80% of Arizona voters use the state’s early voting system, in which voters receive a ballot in the mail, with the option of mailing it back or dropping it off in person at a polling place. In Maricopa County, nearly 92% of voters used early ballots in the 2020 general election.

But just because the majority of people do something doesn’t necessarily make it right, Fillmore argued, saying early voting opens the door to potential election fraud.

Election officials and experts argue that early voting is highly secure. Voters must sign the envelopes used to return their early ballots, and those signatures must be verified by trained election workers before the ballots are counted. Instances of fraud in systems with early voting, even in states and other jurisdictions that conduct all of their elections by mail, are rare. It’s unclear if Arizona ever prosecuted someone for illegally voting with another person’s early ballot until last year, despite using no-excuse early voting for decades.

How much support Fillmore’s bill will get remains to be seen. Democrats are staunchly opposed to the types of proposals he included in HB2596, and Republicans have only a one-vote majority in each legislative chamber, meaning they can’t afford to lose a single member on a party-line vote.

That is likely to be a problem. In the Senate, Republican Paul Boyer has expressed skepticism about many of the changes his GOP colleagues want to make, especially proposals based on the findings of the so-called audit, of which he’s been critical. And he won’t vote to eliminate early voting.

“Here’s my approach generally – I’m not going to vote for anything to legitimize the Cyber Ninjas audit,” Boyer told the Arizona Mirror before Fillmore introduced his bill.

Even some audit supporters who have pushed new election restrictions based on the findings have expressed skepticism about getting rid of early voting.

“One day? See, now that restricts voting,” Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, told Patriot Party activist Daniel McCarthy in a video posted on Twitter on Jan. 10, the day the 2022 legislative session began.


Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Lies about the 2020 election propel Arizona bills aimed at combating non-existent fraud

Cheered on by an enthusiastic crowd that espoused conspiracy theories about fraud in the 2020 presidential vote and touted the largely debunked findings of the so-called Maricopa County “audit,” the Senate Government Committee on Monday advanced a slew of bills aimed at curbing or alleviating concerns about election fraud in Arizona, despite little evidence of such incidents.

The committee passed seven bills that proponents described as measures that would prevent fraud in future elections. The legislation included laws mandating counter-fraud security measures, probes into people who can’t prove their citizenship when they register to vote, reviews of election equipment, prohibiting all-mail balloting, changing mandatory recount rules and requiring images of all ballots to be posted online.

All seven of the bills passed on party-line votes, with the committee’s four Republicans voting in favor and its Democratic members in opposition.

Dozens of advocates of the proposed laws packed the committee hearing room at the Senate, many of them making wild, baseless claims about the 2020 election or espousing conspiracy theories about the vote, such as that the count included many counterfeit ballots or illegally cast votes, throughout the four-hour hearing.

One woman, for example, claimed that county election officials didn’t send her an early ballot in 2020 because she’d voted for Trump four years earlier. Several people cited the thoroughly debunked “Sharpiegate” allegations, which held that election officials intentionally gave Trump supporters markers that bled through the paper on their ballots in order to invalidate their votes. Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich investigated the claims and found them to be without merit.

Many of the speakers said they’d worked on the “audit” that Senate President Karen Fann ordered for the 2020 election in Maricopa County. The findings of the review, which was led by unqualified companies and individuals who had been heavily involved in the effort to falsely portray the election as rigged against former President Donald Trump, have been largely debunked and discredited.

Maricopa County rebuts ‘audit’ findings, GOP’s bogus election claims

Among the speakers who falsely claimed the 2020 election was marred by fraud was Republican gubernatorial hopeful Kari Lake, who has made bogus claims about the last election a centerpiece of her campaign.

“I’m worried about what happened to President Trump happening to me,” Lake told the committee. “This last election was shady, it was shoddy, it was corrupt, and our vote was taken from us.”

The overwhelming majority of the speakers supported the bills, though some questioned the motivation behind them.

“Conspiracy theories do not take away from the fact that our election processes are already safe and secure. The passage of this bill will sow the seeds of distrust in our democratic processes,” said Dana Allmond, an Oro Valley woman who is running for the state House of Representatives as an independent, of a bill that would require counties to post digital images of voted ballots online.

Sen. Martin Quezada, a Glendale Democrat, noted that more than a half dozen lawsuits alleging fraud or misconduct in the 2020 election were filed, and all were thrown out for a lack of evidence. Even Fann’s “audit” concluded that Biden had more votes than Trump, he said.

“Saying that the election was stolen — I mean that’s great for a campaign speech, but that’s not reality,” Quezada said.

Several of the bills included measures that were part of last year’s state budget but were later thrown out by the Arizona Supreme Court on the grounds that they violated the single-subject provision of the state constitution.

One of those was Senate Bill 1120. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, would require that if counties opt to use anti-fraud security measures on their ballots, they must use ballots that have specific types of features, such as watermarks, holographic foil, special inks, microprinting or others.

Conspiracy theorists claimed without a shred of evidence that counterfeit ballots were inserted into Maricopa County’s count in 2020, and the audit at one point inspected ballots for bamboo fibers and secret watermarks. Some claimed that ballots were printed on different types of paper, potentially signifying fraud, though no evidence of such problems has actually emerged.

“Any illegal ballot that gets injected into the system suppresses a legal vote,” Borrelli said.

Jennifer Marson, executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties, said county election officials had concerns about implementation and logistics. She said counties would need a way to ensure that ballots complied with the 17 approved counter-fraud measures, and that they would need money to ensure their machines could read the new ballots. She also said it was concerning that the paper is only available from one vendor, an issue that Quezada raised as well.

Two of the bills, both sponsored by committee chairwoman Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction, dealt with the issue of “federal-only” voters. State law requires people to prove their U.S. citizenship when registering to vote. But that requirement does not exist in federal law. As a result, people who can’t provide proof of citizenship can register to vote only in federal races, but not in state-level or other elections in Arizona. There are roughly 23,000 federal-only voters in Arizona.

Townsend’s Senate Bill 1012 would require the Secretary of State’s Office to provide the Attorney General’s Office and a legislative designee with access to the state’s voter registration database so they can investigate federal-only voters, and would require each county to submit an annual report to the legislature regarding those voters. Anyone who is found to have knowingly registered to vote despite not being eligible would be referred to the attorney general and the county attorney. Doing so is already a crime under state law.

Senate Bill 1013, also sponsored by Townsend, would attempt to eliminate the requirement that Arizona register federal-only voters by mandating that the secretary of state ask the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to include Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship requirement on federal voter registration forms for the state.

Just because federal-only voters don’t prove their citizenship doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not U.S. citizens; it only means that they haven’t provided the proof of citizenship needed to vote in state-level elections. Election officials also check driver’s license records, jury duty questionnaires, Social Security records, foreign identifications and other records to determine citizenship for voters who submit federal-only registration forms. Like other voters, federal-only voters need identification in order to vote in person or request an early ballot.

Of the nearly 23,000 federal-only voters in Arizona, 7,628 cast ballots in the 2020 general election, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Sen. Wendy Rogers, a Flagstaff Republican who has been a leading proponent of bogus election fraud claims, filled in on the committee in place of Sen. J.D. Mesnard, and was there to vote on one of her bills that the committee advanced.

Rogers’ Senate Bill 1133 would prohibit cities and school districts from conducting all-mail elections. State law has permitted mail-only balloting in off-year elections — the only elections in which the practice is permitted here — for nearly 30 years, though the issue attracted renewed attention from critics last year due to concerns over mail-in voting that were largely spurred by false allegations Trump made during his 2020 campaign.

Senate Bill 1008 would loosen the rules for when a full recount of a race must be conducted. Currently, state law only mandates a recount if the margin of victory is within either one-tenth of a percentage point, or within 10-200 votes, depending on what kind of race it is. The bill, sponsored by Sen Michelle Ugenti-Rita, would lower the threshold to a half percentage point.

Had the proposed threshold been in place in 2020, the state would have had to recount the presidential race, which President Joe Biden won by 10,457 votes.

Like the other bills the committee heard on Monday, SB1008 passed on a party-line vote, with the panel’s four Republican members voting in favor and the three Democrats voting against it.

Gov. Doug Ducey is supportive of expanding the recount threshold, his staff told reporters earlier this month. The governor rarely takes a position on legislation until he’s acted on it, and has repeatedly defended the security and integrity of Arizona’s election system, though he hasn’t closed the door to changes to the law.

Ugenti-Rita ran a similar bill last year, but that legislation died when Townsend, who’d initially supported the proposal, voted against it after Ugenti-Rita killed one of her election bills in committee. Townsend “killed it out of spite,” Ugenti-Rita told the Arizona Mirror.

Ugenti-Rita was optimistic about her bill’s chances this year.

“With the governor’s support and with the impact that bill can have on future elections that are very close, I think it’s going to garner the same level of support,” she said, adding, “I can’t guarantee.”

As to whether Ducey will support other election measures, chief of staff Daniel Ruiz told reporters that the governor will let that process play out in the legislature.

“The governor’s going to prioritize adjusting the recount threshold,” he said.

Senate Bill 1119 would require counties to make available to the public digital images of all ballots cast in an election. Those ballots would have to be searchable by precinct.

“We vote in private but we count in public,” said Borrelli, the bill’s sponsor, who emphasized that people would be unable to tie ballots to individual voters.

Townsend said the bill would reduce conspiracy theories by making the tally publicly available. She said Maricopa County’s ballot tabulation machines, which are provided by Dominion Voting Systems, already have the capability of creating digital images of the ballots.

Marson said the counties had some concerns they hoped to see addressed. One of their concerns was that they be released from any legal liabilities that may arise. She noted that some people sign their names or even write their names and addresses on ballots, which would eliminate the secrecy of their ballots. But the counties don’t want to redact anything, she said, which could give people the impression that they were hiding something.

“Redaction is tough. Redaction is a whole other ball of wax that’s not really contemplated right now. We don’t want to be in the business of redaction,” Marson said.

Sen. Teresa Hatathlie, D-Coal Mine Canyon, said the counties would have to engage in voter education if the bill passes into law to ensure that people know any personal information they write on their ballots will be made public.

That bill didn’t get any Democratic backing on the committee but had support from an unlikely source, former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes. Fontes, a Democrat who is now running for secretary of state, issued a statement earlier this month supporting an identical proposal sponsored in the House by Rep. Mark Finchem.

Fontes said that, although Finchem and other right-wing election conspiracy theorists believe the measure will “find their invisible smoking gun to prove election fraud,” it will actually do the opposite.

“To be able to have a visual record of a ballot, while still respecting the privacy of voters, is a great way to improve transparency and accountability in our state elections. This will make it harder not easier for right-wing conspiracy theorists to sow doubt about our elections,” he said in a written statement backing the bill.

Several committee members left before they’d finished with the day’s agenda, depriving the committee of a quorum and forcing Townsend to hold several bills for hearings next week. In addition to the committee’s regularly scheduled hearing on Monday, she said she hopes to hold an additional special hearing to help get through all the legislation she wants to hear.


Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Outlandish Trump-backed Arizona candidate raises record-breaking $2.5 million for re-election

The most impressive fundraising number in the 2022 election cycle belongs not to a gubernatorial candidate or U.S. Senate hopeful, but to a first-term state senator seeking re-election.

Sen. Wendy Rogers, a Flagstaff Republican who has made herself into a national figure by falsely claiming the 2020 election was rigged against former President Donald Trump, announced on Thursday that she raised nearly $2.5 million last year. According to online campaign finance records, which go back to 2002, the figure is a new legislative record, shattering the mark set by Rogers herself in 2020.

The majority of Rogers’ contributions are under $100 and from out of state. Rogers tweeted that she received contributions from more than 40,000 people.

Rogers has spent nearly $900,000, and has nearly $1.6 million on hand going into the election year.

Since her election to the Senate in 2020, Rogers, a retired U.S. Air Force pilot who reached the rank of lieutenant colonel, has become a mainstay on the national pro-Trump circuit. She has become a leader in the movement touting bogus allegations that election fraud cost him his re-election and promoting the so-called “audit” that Senate President Karen Fann initiated of the 2020 election in Maricopa County.

She often draws attention to herself with her combative style and outlandish statements and actions, such as calling for a return of McCarthyism, attending a convention promoting the QAnon movement and warning of the “great replacement,” a conspiracy theory popular among white supremacists that claims white Americans are being intentionally replaced with non-white immigrants.

Rogers went on a nationwide tour last year to promote the baseless conspiracy theory, spread by Trump, that the 2020 election was stolen. Trump has endorsed her campaign.

After a decade of unsuccessful campaigns, Rogers finally won her first elective office in 2020, ousting incumbent Republican Sen. Sylvia Allen in the GOP primary and winning a hotly contested general election in her northern Arizona-based legislative district. She lost her first campaign for state Senate in 2010 and lost four consecutive congressional races over the subsequent eight years.

In her 2020 Senate campaign, Rogers became the first legislative candidate in Arizona history to raise $1 million, a mark she shattered in 2021. Few statewide candidates in Arizona have ever raised as much as Rogers has for her first Senate re-election campaign. Prior to the 2022 election cycle, only six state-level candidates in Arizona had ever raised as much for their entire campaigns.

This election cycle, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in the governor’s race, raised $2.9 million, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Karrin Taylor Robson raised $3.7 million, half of which was her own money. Republican gubernatorial hopeful Steve Gaynor announced that he raised $5 million last year, but his campaign refused to say how much of that was from the wealthy businessman himself.

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission drew Rogers into the new District 7, which runs from southern Flagstaff through Gila County and into eastern Pinal County. She is now in the same district as fellow Republican Sen. Kelly Townsend, who lives in Apache Junction, setting up what could be the hottest legislative race of 2022.

Rogers may not have to face Townsend in the primary, however. Townsend filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to run in the new 6th Congressional District. Townsend has not yet filed a statement of interest with the Secretary of State’s Office, which she must do before collecting signatures to get her name on the ballot for the 6th District.

Townsend would not confirm which office she’s running for. She told the Arizona Mirror that she’ll have more information to share about her plans on Monday.


Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Arizona's Maricopa County slaps down ‘audit’ findings and GOP’s bogus election claims

Nearly every claim that Senate President Karen Fann’s so-called audit team made about the 2020 general election was either inaccurate, misleading or patently false, according to a long-awaited rebuttal by Maricopa County.

County officials have spent months since the audit team presented its findings in September examining the allegations, which included tens of thousands of possibly questionable votes, ballot tabulation equipment being improperly connected to the internet, illegally deleted files and early ballots being inappropriately counted despite missing signatures from voters.

During a four-hour presentation to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and county Recorder Stephen Richer on Wednesday, members of the county’s elections team laid out a point-by-point refutation of the claims made by audit team leader Cyber Ninjas and other members of the team that spent six months hand-counting ballots, examining machinery and probing other aspects of the 2020 election. The county also issued a 93-page report, titled “Correcting the Record: Maricopa County’s In-Depth Analysis of the Senate Inquiry,” on its findings.

Fann initiated the audit in response to the false claims that former President Donald Trump and many of his supporters spread that the 2020 election was rigged against him. She hired Cyber Ninjas despite the company’s lack of relevant qualifications or experience with election-related matters. Doug Logan, the company’s founder and the leader of the audit team, had promoted those false claims and had even actively participated in the “Stop the Steal” movement that attempted to legitimate those allegations and overturn President Joe Biden’s victory.

“I wish that we were not still here discussing the 2020 election, but, unfortunately, the state Senate, working with their contractors, have decided to go through with a detailed process to come up with certain conclusions,” said Supervisor Bill Gates, the board’s chairman. “Now, it’s my hope that this is going to be the last word on the 2020 election because you’re going to hear the facts in detail.”

Of the 75 claims that the audit team made, Scott Jarrett, Maricopa County’s director of election day voting, said the county’s analysis debunked all of them, finding 38 to be inaccurate, 25 to be misleading and 11 to be completely false.

Claims were deemed inaccurate when the auditors used methodology that was either incorrect or faulty, or they simply lacked understanding of federal and state laws governing elections. For example, Cyber Ninjas claimed about 53,000 ballots were questionable because the voters’ addresses didn’t match up with voter registration records. But the auditors reached that conclusion using commercial databases that are often inaccurate combined with partial information about voters, Jarrett said.

Misleading claims were those which were technically true, but presented in a way that would lead people to a faulty conclusion, such as claims by CyFIR, one of the companies that was part of the audit team, that several pieces of equipment from the elections department were connected to the internet. Two were, Jarrett said, but those were web servers that are supposed to be connected. Tabulation machines and other parts of the county’s election management system are air-gapped, meaning they’re physically unable to be connected to other computer systems.

And claims deemed false were those that the audit team should have known were wrong, even with their lack of knowledge about elections. Jarrett pointed to the audit team’s claims that they knew the county used the wrong kind of paper because ink from markers that were provided to voters bled through the paper, part of the long-debunked “Sharpiegate” conspiracy theory. Jarrett said the audit team would have learned the truth if it had bothered to contact the company that manufactured the paper.

Though Cyber Ninjas’ hand count of ballots, which used frequently-changing methodology that didn’t comply with industry standards, confirmed that Biden won Arizona, the audit team made myriad other claims that cast doubt on the results. Much of the information that Jarrett and the report provided on Wednesday debunking those claims elaborated on information the county released last year in response to the audit team’s final report.

‘Questionable’ ballots

The audit team claimed that more than 53,000 ballots were potentially invalid for various reasons, including that the voters had moved and cast their ballots from addresses where they weren’t registered, that they might have voted in multiple counties or that they’d moved out of state.

Election officials combed through those records and found Logan’s claims to be almost entirely inaccurate. Of the 53,304 ballots that Cyber Ninjas deemed questionable, the county found 37 instances in which someone might have illegally voted twice — 0.069% of the so-called “questionable” ballots. The county referred those cases to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, which is investigating the audit team’s findings at Fann’s request. The county also found 50 ballots that might have accidentally been double counted, the only one of the audit’s 75 claims that Jarrett said may not be false.

“This is the very definition of exceptionally rare,” the county’s report said of the finding that fewer than 100 ballots out of about 2.1 million cast were potentially suspicious.

The 53,000-plus instances, election officials explained to the Board of Supervisors, were the result of various errors by the Cyber Ninjas.

Jarrett and Janine Petty, the county’s senior director of voter registration, said Fann’s team made a critical error when it used a commercial database to verify voters’ residency information.

Every election official knows that those databases are full of inaccuracies, Jarrett said. For example, when someone’s roommate, ex-spouse or family member moves out of their home and files a change-of-address form, databases like the one Logan and Cyber Ninjas used will sometimes mistakenly list the other person as having also moved, creating a “false positive.”

In addition, Cyber Ninjas reached many of their conclusions based on “soft matches” — instances in which they erroneously concluded that two voters were the same person based on identical first names, last names and birth years. But in a county with more than 2.6 million registered voters, Jarrett said, there are going to be some errant matches if the auditors are only using those three data points. The county used seven data points to determine whether any of the 53,000 people may have voted illegally.

Ultimately, county election officials rely on voters’ affirmations regarding where they live, Petty explained.

“There is no real-time database that tracks the day-to-day movements and residency changes of a voter in our state — or in the nation, for that matter. We cannot deny a voter their right to vote based on the information contained in a commercial database,” she said.

The audit team’s ignorance of election laws also contributed to some of the inaccurate claims, the election officials said, a consistent theme throughout the day as they pointed out numerous mistakes that they claimed would not have been made by someone who was more familiar with the laws and procedures that the county must use.

Petty noted that Cyber Ninjas flagged some ballots as questionable because the voters who cast them had updated their addresses using U.S. Post Office boxes. But people can’t legally register at P.O. boxes and instead those voters would still be registered at their previous addresses, she said.

Richer, a Republican who wasn’t yet in office during the 2020 election, described the mistake as emblematic of Logan’s flawed analysis.

“That seems like something that anybody with any grounding in elections would know, is that correct?” he asked.

“That is correct,” Petty replied.

Technological issues

CyFIR claimed that county employees deleted various files from the Election Management System, and in other cases “flooded” the system with new actions in order to intentionally cause the system to overwrite old data.

Nate Young, the director of information technology at the Recorder’s Office, said the county examined versions of the hard drives that it cloned before turning over the equipment in response to Fann’s subpoena and was able to find all of the information that was allegedly deleted. The county has stated in the past that no information was permanently deleted, but rather was archived and preserved, as state law requires.

“This claim is wildly inaccurate and positions the topic in a way that is inaccurate to the misunderstanding of the Cyber Ninjas and the CyFIR to how they understand the way that we do what we do here at the elections office,” Young said.

The report noted that the county’s Election Management System database, which CyFIR’s founder and CEO, Ben Cotton, claimed had been deleted, was not only archived, but was provided to the audit team in April. In other cases, information that CyFIR claimed he couldn’t find wasn’t turned over to the audit team because the Senate never subpoenaed it, the county’s report stated.

Young addressed the allegations, which the county deemed false, that election workers illegally intentionally caused servers to overwrite their files by “flooding” their event logs with new information. The servers have a 20 megabyte storage capacity. Young said the county has asked Dominion Voting Systems, the vendor that provides the county’s ballot tabulation equipment, to request that the U.S. Election Assistance Commission allow it to expand the memory of those servers.

But Young said the audit team simply couldn’t find evidence of more than 400 of the alleged events that CyFIR said caused those overwrites. And he argued that it would have been physically impossible for election workers to create more than 37,000 events over the course of two days in March, as CyFIR claimed. The system has the capacity to hold about 38,000 logs, he said; the report said there were only 385 events logged during that period.

“We tried to come up with that 37,000 number, and we couldn’t,” Young said. “I’m still curious about how he came to that number.”

Jarrett also attributed some of the audit team’s errors to bias. For example, he pointed to allegations that the audit team had reviewed video in which they observed Election Department employees deleting files, a claim that elicited cheers from some members of the Senate during the audit team’s September presentation. In reality, Jarrett said, those videos only showed election workers preparing the machinery to be transported to the audit team.

“If you are biased and not using an objective process, you are likely to come to a faulty conclusion,” Jarrett said.

Early ballot envelopes

County officials also took aim at the spurious claims made by Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai and his company, EchoMail, regarding the affidavits that voters sign on the backs of the envelopes they use to mail their early ballots to the Election Department.

As with Cyber Ninjas and CyFIR, many of EchoMail’s erroneous findings were based on complete misunderstandings of state laws and election procedures, according to Celia Nabor, assistant director for early voting at the Recorder’s Office.

Ayyadurai did not understand that election officials give voters the opportunity to verify their signatures if election officials can’t do so, a process known as “curing.” She noted that a state law enacted in 2019 gives voters up to five days after the election to do so, and said the Elections Department hired additional staffers to cure signatures due to an expected influx of voters dropping off their early ballots in person on Election Day.

Nabor addressed Ayyadurai’s claim that the number of early ballots the county tallied was less than the number of early ballot envelope images it provided to the audit team, which EchoMail noted in its report. She said that’s true, but that the auditors didn’t understand that the county legally couldn’t turn over some of those affidavits, such as the ones used by voters whose registration information must be kept confidential, like law enforcement officers, judges and domestic violence victims.

Richer also noted that, in some cases, Ayyadurai showed Fann and Sen. Warren Petersen images of early ballot envelopes during the audit team’s presentation that he falsely claimed were approved despite having no signatures, when in fact parts of the signature could clearly be seen. In those cases, the voter signed the wrong line, affixing the signature instead to the area reserved for their phone numbers. Ayyadurai redacted that section with black boxes labeled “phone number.”

“It was staring us right there in the face behind the phone number box,” Richer said. “And, yet, they presented this as, ‘Aha! We found one that didn’t have a signature.’”

Gates concluded the presentation with an exhortation to the legislature not to take any action based on the audit team’s findings.

“I think it’s important that our legislators not create new election law based on the Cyber Ninjas report. It’s been debunked. It was not written by people who were experts in the field,” he said.

Fann said she wasn’t able to watch the county’s presentation and had no comment on its findings. Logan did not respond to a request for comment.


Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Arizona ‘Patriot Party’ misses deadline to be an official political party in 2022

The fledgling Patriot Party skipped an appointment with the Secretary of State’s Office to submit signatures so it can be recognized as an official party, meaning its candidates won’t be on the ballot in the 2022 election cycle, the first since its formation.

According to Murphy Hebert, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, Patriot Party Chairman Steve Daniels was scheduled to meet with the office on Friday afternoon, but cancelled the meeting minutes before it was supposed to begin.

In order to qualify as an official party for purposes of ballot access, a party must collect a minimum number of signatures equal to one-and-one-third percent of the total votes cast for governor in the state’s last gubernatorial election. Based on the vote count from the last governor’s race in 2018, that number is currently set at 31,686.

As part of its efforts to achieve ballot access, Patriot Party figure Daniel McCarthy recorded robocalls that began going out in early November, according to the Yellow Sheet Report, a high-priced subscription-only political insider publication. Jason Tsinnijinnie, a paid petitioner for the campaign, said he was paid $8 per signature. Several people on social media said some petitioners were paid as much as $12 per signature.

Since its inception, the Patriot Party, composed largely of former Republicans and espousing various conservative messages, has been at loggerheads with the Arizona GOP. And McCarthy, who ran in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in 2020, was sharply critical of the party in an interview with the Arizona Mirror. But he said the party’s goal in trying to get on the ballot wasn’t to siphon votes away from Republicans. Rather, it was to get access to other aspects of the elections system that is only provided to recognized political parties.

Official political parties can designate observers at polling places and ballot tabulation centers during elections. They participate in logic-and-accuracy testing for ballot tabulation machines before elections, and take part in partial hand counts of ballots after elections. And they recommend lists of people that election officials use to select poll workers, said Megan Gilbertson, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Elections Department.

“I think the confusion with the public is that our desire as a party, it’s purely to have access and supervision of the … ballot process and the voting process, and the mechanics of the voting process,” McCarthy said. “The Patriot Party, obviously our desire is not to split the Republican Party vote. Our desire is purely to work with the county recorders’ offices to be able to have access to the actual ballot process and the voting process.”

McCarthy said the desire for the Patriot Party to participate in the elections process is premised on concerns about election rigging and fraud by the Democratic and Republican parties. He and other Patriot Party figures have long promoted the false and debunked claims of fraud that stemmed from the 2020 presidential election.

The missed meeting on Friday means the Patriot Party will have to wait two years to try again because Friday was the deadline to qualify for ballot access in 2022. State law sets the deadline at 250 days before the primary election, which is on Aug. 2. Only the Democratic, Libertarian and Republican parties will qualify for statewide ballot access.

Had the Patriot Party qualified for ballot access, it would have been entitled to appear on the ballot for the next two general elections. After that, a party can maintain its ballot access by getting at least 5% of the vote for governor or president, or by again submitting petitions to qualify.


Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

With preclearance gone, redistricting in Arizona enters a new frontier

For the first time in decades, Arizona's map-drawers are crafting the state's new congressional and legislative districts without a key provision of the Voting Rights Act guiding their decisions, stoking concerns about representation for Latino and Native American voters.

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act is the heart of the landmark 1965 law. It prohibits any government entity from imposing a law or other requirement that denies or abridges “the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color."

For states or smaller jurisdictions considered to have a history of discriminatory election laws — of which Arizona was one — the Voting Rights Act contained an additional tool to ensure compliance with that law. Section 5 of the law required those entities to get pre-approval, known as “preclearance," from the U.S. Department of Justice for all changes to the laws and procedures governing elections and voting.

That preclearance requirement also applied to the decennial redistricting, meaning Arizona's maps were crafted to avoid having the DOJ reject them.

The U.S. Supreme Court gutted the preclearance requirement in 2013, opening the door for waves of legislation in former preclearance states that never would have passed muster. Now, states previously covered by Section 5 are drawing new districts for the first time without the Justice Department looming over them.

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission still must draw districts where Latino and Native American voters can elect the candidates of their choice. And anyone who believes the commission's maps don't comply with the Voting Rights Act can sue under Section 2 of the law. But that puts the onus on the person suing, rather than on the commission, as preclearance did under Section 5.

When it comes to redistricting, one of the biggest differences between the pre- and post-preclearance worlds could be described with one word: retrogression.

Retrogression refers to a change in the law that diminishes minority voting strength, and it was one of the surest ways to have preclearance denied for a redistricting map. If a district's minority population is smaller than its predecessor district, or that population's voting strength is diminished, the Department of Justice was likely to reject a map. Arizona's first AIRC in 2001 saw its legislative map rejected on those grounds.

Now, retrogression is no longer a concern, said Bruce Adelson, who was an attorney on the Justice Department's civil rights team that struck down Arizona's proposed legislative map 20 years ago.

Arizona's maps still need to pass muster under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, but that is a less strict standard than retrogression that examines the totality of circumstances.

With retrogression, previous commissions couldn't reduce the number of majority-minority districts or eliminate districts that otherwise gave minority voters the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice, Adelson said. Reducing minority voting strength within those districts was also a red flag.

But under Section 2, any lawsuit challenging the districts must show data that justifies the need for a certain number of majority-minority districts or a certain level of minority voting power within those districts.

“That's textbook retrogression Section 5 law — you have five districts (before), you can't have fewer than five (now). But that's not true anymore," Adelson said.

Gerald Hebert, also a former attorney with the voting section of the Justice Department's civil rights division, said reductions in a district's minority voting strength wasn't an automatic disqualifier under preclearance. A proposed district could still pass muster if the total percentage of minority voters in a district goes down, he said. But the AIRC would have to show that it still provides minority voters with the same opportunity to elect their preferred candidate.

“It was effective before, you just have to look at the newly configured district and see if it still performs. And if it does, it's not retrogressive," Hebert said. “It can't weaken the overall performance of voters within the district, regardless of the percentage."

Less leverage

In Arizona, groups representing Latino and Native American voters say they can already see the difference as the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission redraws the state's congressional and legislative boundaries.

The last AIRC in 2011 put a high premium on achieving preclearance on the first try, hoping to avoid the rejections that struck down maps in previous decades, requiring commissioners to go back to the drawing board. That led the commission to largely adopt proposed districts drawn by Latino and Native American groups.

When determining whether to preclear a redistricting plan, the Justice Department would look first at how the proposed districts performed for minority voters. But it would also reach out to leaders in minority communities and to organizations that represented their interests. That gave groups advocating for Latino and Native American districts significant influence in the decision.

“That played a key part. It wouldn't be the dispositive part — that would be the analysis and the election results. But, clearly, if a redistricting body is doing something that the minority community, minority organizations, minority elected officials disagree with, that's a huge problem," Adelson said.

This year, those groups feel the lack of preclearance has diminished their clout. The Navajo Nation and a Hispanic Democratic organization called the Arizona Latino Coalition for Fair Redistricting have both submitted proposed maps to the AIRC, both of which were largely rejected.

The Latino Coalition proposed both congressional and legislative districts. While the commission was largely amenable to the group's proposal for a predominantly Latino Phoenix-area congressional district to replace the district currently represented by U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, it was less receptive to the coalition's desires for U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva's southern Arizona-based district.

Specifically, the coalition wanted Grijalva's district, which would run from Tucson to Yuma and up through the Tohono O'odham Nation, to include heavily Latino parts of the western Phoenix area, as the pre-existing district does. But the majority of the commission was opposed to having that district again encroach on the West Valley. Those areas of Avondale and Tolleson will instead go to Gallego's new district.

Grijalva's new district, as it's drawn on the draft map, has a Hispanic voting age population of just over 51%, compared to more than 55% for his current district. The Hispanic citizen voting age population in the new district — the 2011 commission didn't track that population, so there's no basis for comparison — is 47%.

The Latino Coalition's proposed legislative districts fared worse at the commission. The group wanted to increase the number of Latino “opportunity" districts — districts where Latino voters, either on their own or in conjunction with like-minded voters, have the opportunity to elect the candidate of their preference — from seven to eight. The commission considered the plan, incorporated it into a map, then decided against using it, opting instead for seven Latino districts like Arizona has had for the past decade.

Without preclearance, the redistricting process becomes more arbitrary, said Danny Ortega, an attorney who works with the Latino Coalition and represented its predecessors before the previous two redistricting commissions. Now, the coalition must be more vigilant with the commission and more aggressive in representing its interests, he said.

“It's not that we don't have leverage. It's that we lost some leverage in not having Section 5. Clearly, it was the type of leverage that I believe led to a fair process in the past that's not there now," Ortega said.

Native Americans, who cover a geographically expansive area but have far fewer numbers than Latinos, have traditionally had one legislative district where they constitute a majority. And the AIRC plans to continue that trend for the state's eighth Voting Rights Act district, drafting a predominantly Native American district that covers much of northern Arizona.

But tribal groups, in particular the Navajo, don't feel the proposed District 6 ensures that they'll have the opportunity to elect the legislators of their choice. The Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission drew its own plan for the district and submitted it to the commission. Only Democratic Commissioner Derrick Watchman, a member of the Navajo Nation himself, supported it.

The other commissioners disliked the way it conflicted with some of their other plans for northern Arizona, including predominantly white areas where many people didn't want to be drawn in with the tribes. They also worried that the district's low population would be legally problematic.

The U.S. Supreme Court permits population deviations of up to 5% above or below average, as long as the people who drew the map can show a permissible reason, such as complying with the Voting Rights Act. The Navajo Nation's proposed district was 7% under the average district population of about 238,000 people, which Leonard Gorman, the executive director of the Navajo Nation Commission on Human Rights, said takes into consideration the likely undercount of tribal areas on the 2020 Census.

That stands out from previous decades, when the Navajo Nation's proposals to the commission carried a lot more weight. Gorman said the 2011 AIRC adopted a Native American legislative district that was largely similar to the one the tribe proposed.

“Specifically due to the preclearance provision … they had to respect the Navajo Nation plan," Gorman said.

Gorman worries that the proposed District 6, as the commission drew it, won't perform as well for Native American voters as its predecessors, or as well as the district that the tribe proposed. Part of that, he said, is that the AIRC's consultants erred in the way they calculated Native American citizen voting age population in a way that could jeopardize Indian voting rights.

Past commissions calculated Native American voting age population by counting only people who identified on the census as non-Hispanic, one-race Native American. The current commission counted anyone who identified as non-Hispanic Native American, even if they were mixed race.

Gorman said the distinction between the two numbers is important. People who identify as mixed-race Native Americans are less likely to live on tribal lands. Counting them instead of people who identify on the census as one-rate Native Americans increases the proposed district's Native American voting age population. But those additional people are less likely to live on tribal lands.

And that's troubling, Gorman said, because Native Americans who don't live on tribal lands simply don't deal with many of the same issues as those who do.

The commission now includes both numbers for its demographic breakdown of its proposed districts. But Gorman is still concerned about potential underperformance. Many Native American voters don't trust voting by mail because of inadequate mail service in tribal areas, he said. Navajo prefer to vote in person, turning Election Day into a social as well as civic event. But issues like poor road conditions and vast distances between polling places have negative effects on turnout, Gorman said, so a district needs a higher percentage of Native American voters to ensure that they can elect the candidates of their choice.

“I'm very concerned that there's some aspects of, let me just say, trickery at play here with the activities of Arizona redistricting," Gorman said.

The hammer is gone

Preclearance wasn't the only way for minority voters to challenge maps that diminished their representation, but it was the most effective. In previous decades, the Justice Department acted as a backstop that eliminated the need for costly litigation. Now, groups that feel they've been disenfranchised must sue under Section 2, which takes time and money, and is a generally more difficult hurdle to clear.

“Section 5 was a hammer. But the real substance is Section 2," Ortega said.

Without retrogression, previous maps become irrelevant, said Douglas Spencer, a redistricting expert and an associate professor of law at the University of Colorado. All that matters now is whether the new districts are justifiable under the latest census data. Other factors that the commission considers in redistricting, such as compactness and competitiveness, will also be taken into consideration.

“You're writing on a clean slate every decade," Spencer said.


Adelson said dropping the Hispanic citizen voting age population in Grijalva's district below 50% likely would have been a problem under preclearance. The commission would have had to demonstrate why reducing the overall percentage of Latinos in the district wouldn't reduce their voting strength. The failure to do so doomed the first AIRC's legislative map in 2002.

Hebert took a slightly more permissive view. Going under 50% would be a warning sign, he said, but wouldn't necessarily be fatal to a district if the AIRC could show that there are enough other voters in the district who vote for Latinos' candidates of choice.

Under Section 2, the bar for challenging those districts gets higher.

“In this instance, performance is the ballgame," Hebert said.

There's another challenge for Section 2 lawsuits, Spencer said, in that the federal courts are simply less aggressive in enforcing the Voting Rights Act than they have been in the past. That trend has continued from the U.S. Supreme Court rulings that weakened and then eliminated the preclearance requirement, as well as more recent rulings, such as Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich's success in defending a state law banning third-party ballot collection, or “ballot harvesting" as critics often refer to it.

Federal courts' interpretation of what constitutes a Voting Rights Act violation has become more permissive as well, Spencer said, making it more difficult for lawsuits filed under Section 2 to prevail.

The commission is listening

The new congressional and legislative districts are not yet set in stone. The commission is beginning the 30-day public comment period on its draft maps, which is mandated by the Arizona Constitution. Once that period, which includes a series of public meetings across the state, comes to an end, the AIRC will adjust the district boundaries before approving its final maps.

Ortega said it remains to be seen how seriously the AIRC will take the Latino Coalition's concerns. If the coalition doesn't believe that the new districts adequately protect Hispanic voting strength, litigation is likely.

Section 2 isn't the coalition's only option if it goes to court, Ortega noted. It could bring claims under the United States and Arizona constitutions as well.

“I want to give the commission the benefit of the doubt. And if they don't, then we'll have to consider our next steps," Ortega said.

Litigation is something the Navajo Nation hopes to avoid, Gorman said, but won't discount entirely.

“That's something that the Navajo Nation is making the effort to avoid because it's very expensive to go down that track," Gorman said. “It's not a favorite avenue, like the Navajo Nation has done in the past."

Erika Neuberg, the independent chairwoman of the AIRC, said the commission is committed to protecting minority voting rights. Preclearance may be gone, she said, but the commission's obligations to minority voters hasn't changed. When the commission's work is done, Neuberg said she's confident that the AIRC will have a product that will not only survive any court challenges, but would have passed preclearance if it were still required.

If preclearance were still a factor, Neuberg said it's possible that the commission would have met earlier and more frequently with groups representing Latino and tribal interests. But she noted that such meetings have taken place with commissioners and the AIRC's legal counsel, and said she's never turned down a request for a meeting.

“I can't imagine doing it any differently than we're doing now because we're doing due diligence to learn and study everything," she said.

The commission has yet to approve its final maps. Before that happens, the AIRC will listen to the concerns of communities across the state. Neuberg said the commission also must still receive an analysis of racially polarized voting in its proposed districts, an important step in determining whether they comply with the Voting Rights Act.

That means there could still be substantive changes to the proposed minority districts, such as Grijalva's 7th Congressional District. Neuberg said she doesn't want to see retrogression in the AIRC's maps, regardless of whether that's no longer a requirement.

“I am very undecided on what the right solution is. It's very complicated," Neuberg said of the debate over how to make that district more heavily Latino and whether to extend it into the West Valley.

But the commission does have other priorities it must consider as well. Neuberg said the Navajo Nation's proposed legislative district would have put the map in legal jeopardy by exceeding the level of population deviation traditionally permitted by the courts. And the Latino Coalition's proposal for an eighth Hispanic legislative district would have made it more difficult to create competitive districts elsewhere on the map, she said.

Nonetheless, the commission has a responsibility to ensure that minority voters are empowered by the maps it draws, Neuberg said. The Voting Rights Act is still in effect, and the Arizona Constitution requires the commission to abide by that. Regardless of whether preclearance is still in effect, Neuberg said the AIRC will respect that.

“I am concerned about this," she said. “It's complicated. And I look forward to having a lot of meaningful dialogue with the state about it."


Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Arizona Supreme Court struck down more than a ban on mask mandates in schools. Here's everything that's no longer law.

A ban on face mask mandates and critical race theory in schools were highest-profile laws that were thrown out when the Arizona Supreme Court tossed numerous provisions of the state budget for violating the Arizona Constitution, but the list of new laws that are now off the books is far more extensive than that.

Many of the other rejected laws besides the prohibition on face mask mandates in K-12 schools pertain to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those laws included prohibitions on colleges and universities requiring students to wear masks, get vaccines or submit to regular testing; barring K-12 schools from requiring students to take vaccines that have received emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; and barring cities and counties from requiring “vaccine passports" or otherwise imposing pandemic-related restrictions on private businesses, schools and churches.

Another of the now-defunct laws would have severely curtailed future governors' ability to use emergency powers to manage health emergencies such as the coronavirus outbreak. Starting in 2023, when Gov. Doug Ducey will leave office, governors would have been limited to 30-day emergency proclamations for public health emergencies, with the option to extend it for no more than 120 days — though it could be extended for longer with legislative approval.

Various election laws were also scrapped by the Arizona Supreme Court's ruling. One provision would have required counties that wanted to include anti-fraud countermeasures in their ballots to use specific kinds of types of paper and specific technologies, such as holographic foil, special inks and watermarks. A $12 million “election integrity fund" that the state treasurer would have administered to fund election security measures at the county level is also now gone.

Also gone is the creation of a “major events fund" that would have helped the state shoulder the cost of hosting the 2023 Super Bowl, as well as attract sporting and other events in the future.

That same budget bill also included numerous changes to the structure of a committee the state created in 2019 to study missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. The committee still exists and can continue its work, but without the changes the legislature made to its membership and mission.

Meanwhile, a trial court ruling in a separate case on Tuesday rejected a provision of fifth budget bill, also on single-subject grounds, that would have barred the City of Phoenix's plans for civilian review of its police department.

The city sued the state over the law, which mandated that any entity that investigates alleged misconduct by law enforcement officers or metes out discipline for that misconduct must primarily consist not only of people who have been certified as law enforcement officers, but of people who are from the same agency as the person being investigated. That law came shortly after the city created its new Office of Accountability and Transparency to investigate claims of police misconduct. The city expressly prohibited current or former law enforcement officers from serving with the new office.

The courts struck down all of the laws on procedural grounds, meaning that nothing would stop the legislature from passing them anew once they're back in session. All they would have to do is pass them as standalone bills — the same way most legislation is passed — or in another manner that didn't violate the single-subject rule.

Among the other laws that the Arizona Supreme Court struck down on Tuesday were statutes that would:

  • Strip Secretary of State Katie Hobbs of the power to defend election laws in court, with that authority residing exclusively with Attorney General Mark Brnovich.
  • Create a task force to investigate alleged political bias by social media platforms and other big tech companies, specifically regarding whether actions such as restrictions on individual candidates or biased algorithms constitute “unreported in-kind political contributions" to candidates or political parties.
  • Authorize the attorney general to initiate civil action against any “public official, employee or agent of this state" who uses public resources for an activity that prevents a public school from operating, or against any teacher or school employee violates the ban on teaching curriculum that “that presents any form of blame or judgment on the basis of race, ethnicity or sex."
  • Establish a Special Committee on the Election Audit, consisting of members of the Senate Government Committee, to review the findings of the so-called “audit" of the 2020 election in Maricopa County.
  • Require the state's auditor general to review voter registration databases and early voting lists.
  • Mandate tracking and reporting of “federal-only" voters who aren't allowed to vote in non-federal races because they cannot provide proof of citizenship
  • Require the Arizona Game and Fish Department to assist people who apply for hunting, fishing and trapping licenses with voter registration.
  • Allow people to refuse vaccines mandated during a state of emergency or war based on their personal beliefs.
  • Transfer oversight of the State Capitol Museum from the Secretary of State's Office to Legislative Council.
  • Change the legal definition of “newspaper" to include publications that haven't been admitted under federal law as a second-class matter for at least one year, which would allow such newspapers to publish legally required public notices.
  • Require the Arizona Department of Gaming to convert a dog racing permit to a harness racing permit if the holder meets the qualifications for a harness racing permit.
  • Expand the powers of the Governor's Regulatory Review Council to review existing agency rules to determine whether they're prohibited by state law.
  • Require the governor, superintendent of public instruction and Arizona Board of Regents to report all planned spending of $10 million or more from the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to the legislature before that money is spent.
  • Prohibit the State Lottery from advertising at professional sporting events or in conjunction with a professional sports team.
  • Create a state permitting director position, appointed by the governor, that would be required to establish an online state permitting dashboard.
  • Establish a 13-member Advisory Committee on the Formation of a Southern Arizona Regional Sports Authority

Exempt money spent by the Arizona Department of Public Safety on body cameras from certain oversight and verification requirements.


Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

This Trump-backed candidate appears to be unstoppable – but even some GOP officials think she is ‘dangerous’

On a warm Saturday evening, several hundred people milled around the Old West-style trappings of Frontier Town in Cave Creek, waiting for Kari Lake to take the stage.

The rally was held to “Back the Blue," and the crowd shared the pro-law enforcement sentiment. But more than anything, they were there to back Lake in her bid to become Arizona's next governor.

This article was originally published at Arizona Mirror

It was a stunning show of support for a candidate for governor — for anything, really — at a time when few voters are even paying attention to an election that is 13 months away.

Lake has spent the past several months barnstorming the state, packing people in for her campaign events. In Cave Creek on Oct. 2, it was several hundred. A couple weeks earlier, more than 50 people crowded into SoZo Coffeehouse in Chandler on a Tuesday morning. The crowd would be considered large for just about any candidate, but one volunteer said it was the smaller Lake events he'd seen recently.

“I've never seen hundreds of people go to an event over a year out," said Tyler Montague, a longtime Republican operative from the East Valley.

Few, if any, political operatives in Arizona have ever seen anything like Lake. When she left Fox 10 after 27 years as a news anchor in March, she recorded a video declaring that she walked away because she had to read news she didn't believe was truthful and no longer felt proud to be a member of the media. Three months later, she launched her campaign for governor. Since then, she's become a phenomenon: shooting into the lead in the crowded gubernatorial primary, confounding her opponents and surging to the front of the field with a populist conservative message and 27 years' worth of name ID from her career in television.

Lake faces businessman Steve Gaynor, regent and developer Karrin Taylor Robson, former Congressman Matt Salmon and state Treasurer Kimberly Yee. Reliable polling is hard to come by so early in the race. But what little polling has been made public shows her in the lead.

No one questions her frontrunner status. Political observers don't need polls to tell them that Lake is the favorite. The only question is whether she will maintain her momentum through the primary election on Aug. 2, 2022.

A lot can happen between now and then, and other candidates could still pull ahead of Lake, said George Khalaf, a GOP political strategist. But he doubts that will happen.

“Right now, the momentum seems decently unstoppable," said Khalaf, who isn't involved in the gubernatorial race but whose father's company is the treasurer for Lake's campaign.

Following in Trump's footsteps

The parallels between Lake in 2021 and Donald Trump in 2015 are hard to ignore.

Both were celebrities with high name ID who had never run for office, who jumped into their campaigns with populist, conservative messages, buoyed by vigorous social media presences and flurries of rallies that draw in supporters. Both campaigned as outsiders dedicated to shaking up the establishment while decrying the political class they were running against. Both rile up their supporters with pugilistic attitudes toward their opponents, Democrats, the media and anyone else they perceive as enemies. And both quickly vaulted themselves to frontrunner status on a groundswell of grassroots enthusiasm, feeding off the cheers of supporters at large rallies.

It came as little surprise when Trump endorsed Lake in late September. She's done all she can to tie herself to the former president, touting herself as a “Trump Republican," effusively praising his presidency, policies and his style.

“That's the style that the Republican Party is going in — outsider and someone who is taking folks to task. People want to see a fighter," Khalaf said.

Lake rails against vaccine mandates, face mask requirements and other COVID-19 mitigation measures, and speaks at “medical freedom" rallies. She lauds law enforcement, castigating calls to defund police departments, and is a booster of strict border security and enforcement of laws against illegal immigration. And she's made demands for “election integrity" a central theme of her campaign, promoting baseless claims that the 2020 election was marred by fraud and rigged against Trump.

Like Trump, Lake is fond of controversial and outlandish comments paired with combative rhetoric. She calls for the 2020 election to be “decertified" based on bogus fraud allegations, and she's repeatedly claimed that the likely Democratic nominee may be imprisoned for those same discredited allegations. In addition to her endorsement from Trump, she touts the backing of controversial figures like former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn and Congressman Paul Gosar.

She has urged Arizona State University students to defy a face mask mandate and said it's “child abuse" to make children wear masks. When health care officials and pharmaceutical companies began advocating for a third booster shot for COVID vaccines, she tweeted, “The COVID vaccine is a nightmare that will NEVER stop."

Lake's story seems almost tailor-made to appeal to Trump's most fervent supporters — a lifelong journalist who quit the business because she refused to go along with the liberal bias and “fake news" her industry promoted.

Voters are tired of career politicians pushing agendas for special interests and big donors, Lake told the Arizona Mirror. And that's driving the grassroots energy behind her campaign. Everywhere Lake goes, she said, she draws record crowds.

“They've had it. The pendulum's coming back, and it's coming back as a wrecking ball. And there's no returning from this. We're not going back to the way things used to be, with these politicians who run us into the ground, don't give a damn about our issues and what matters to us," Lake said.

Lake emulates Trump's style better than anyone, said Republican political consultant Nathan Sproul.

“For someone who's never run for office before, her instincts about what to say and when to say it are about as good as anybody I've ever seen," Sproul said. “She has a very instinctive understanding of what her voter wants to hear and when."

She has charisma and has an undeniable stage presence. Her background on television is serving her well on the campaign trail, with a level of comfort in front of cameras and crowds that few first-time candidates can achieve, Sproul said.

Steve Martinson, a 69-year-old retiree from Glendale who attended Lake's Cave Creek rally, said few things compare to the energy at her campaign events.

“I've been to Super Bowls, I've been to other things, and just the energy there was just amazing compared to even those. You leave pretty jacked up. You kind of get that similar feeling on a smaller scale here," said Martinson, who said he rarely attends campaign events, outside of Trump's February 2020 rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Lake's style, along with her message, is a big draw for many of her supporters.

“I thought she was awesome. I love everything that she stands for. I love how she's so forward, that she's not scared to talk about the policies," said Jennifer Nelson, a Chandler housewife, as she left Lake's campaign event at SoZo Coffeehouse. “I'm a big Trump supporter, so I love everything that she has to stand for."

Conservative credentials

Salmon has repeatedly castigated Lake as a fake Republican, an actress who's just saying what people want to hear, whose true colors will eventually shine through for the GOP faithful to see. She switched her voter registration from Republican to independent in 2006 and to Democrat in 2008, switching back to the GOP in 2012.

An independent expenditure supporting Salmon, Arizona Best, is already running television ads criticizing her for contributions she made to Democratic presidential candidates John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008.

Lake has said the $500 she gave to Kerry was due to her disillusionment with the war in Iraq. She said the $350 that federal campaign finance records say she gave to Obama — the money is listed as coming from a K Halperin, her legal, married last name, at the time — was actually given by her husband, not her. As to her time as a registered Democrat, Lake reminded a crowd at a Lincoln Republican Women meeting in Scottsdale last month that Trump, Ronald Reagan and Arizona GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward used to be Democrats as well.

That is outrageous, it is dangerous and it is not the way a serious leader communicates with the public.

– Kathy Petsas, Legislative District 28 Republican Party chairwoman

Other Lake critics take a similar view. Former Arizona Republican Party Chairman Robert Graham, an ardent Trump supporter since the early days of his first campaign, said Lake has fooled people for now. But as people learn about Lake, Graham predicted, they'll be “stunned" by what comes out.

“People haven't had time to vet her," Graham said. “She's going to have to answer a lot of questions, that's for darn sure."

But those attacks didn't work against Trump in 2016, and Sproul doubted they'll work against Lake now.

“There's a new breed of Republican voter out there that is willing to overlook what, 10 or 15 years ago would've been unpardonable sins for a candidate to have made," he said. “Fifteen years ago, if a Republican candidate contributed a significant amount of money to a Democrat candidate in years prior, that would've been game, set, match."

The line of attack over Lake's contributions to Democrats and her previous voter registration won't get her opponents very far, Montague predicted. Trump has largely inoculated her from that. Numerous attendees of her rally in Cave Creek said the same.

“It's OK to make mistakes. It's just what you personally believe in now. That's the whole point of what's going on," Art Haduch, a 70-year-old retiree from Surprise, told the Mirror as he waited for Lake's rally to begin in Cave Creek.

Mike and Teresa Rowe, of Anthem, weren't bothered by Lake's old contributions, either.

“It matters now, not what happened 15 years ago," Mike said.

“People's eyes were opened over the past four years," Teresa added.

Trump's endorsement will likely make it harder to cast Lake as a fake conservative.

“The party is owned by Donald Trump right now, so it's in fact an endorsement right now by the Republican Party," said Republican strategist Chuck Coughlin.

Sean Duffy, a 49-year-old electrician who moved from Massachusetts to Scottsdale in June, said he wasn't supporting anyone in the race for governor. Then he heard about the Trump endorsement. Four days later, he was at his first Lake rally in Cave Creek.

For some supporters at the Cave Creek rally, Trump's endorsement sent an unmistakable message.

“Kari Lake got endorsed by President Trump, so I know she's going to be for the people." said Stacey Goodman, a retired police detective from Long Island, New York, who now lives in Cave Creek.

Not everyone in Cave Creek was quite as sold on Lake. Brad Nielsen, of Gilbert, is tentatively supporting Salmon for now. But he came to the rally to learn more about Lake.

“He has a proven track record. So, we'll see. I don't know what Kari stands for," he said.

Heidi Grande, who attended the rally with Nielsen, also wanted to know more about Lake.

“Not just what she stands for, but what does she bring to the table? I know her experience, but what does that do for us when it comes to a governor position? I'd like to know," said Grande, a Republican precinct committeeman in legislative District 12.

Ken Varichak, a retired Scottsdale police officer who now works in casino surveillance, said he likes a lot of what Lake has to say and appreciates her support for law enforcement. But despite wearing a Lake shirt to the rally, he expressed reservations about her.

Varichak said he was a big supporter of Trump's policies. But he isn't a fan of Trump's rhetoric and his “turning on people," like he did with Gov. Doug Ducey when the governor certified the 2020 general election results, and he has some concerns that Lake's rhetoric is similar. Varichak said he also likes Salmon. He has a good, conservative résumé, Varichak said, and thinks he, like Ducey, wouldn't be afraid to certify the election and flat out tell Trump that he lost.

“Honestly, if it's too close to a Trumpian thing, I probably will lean away and go towards more of like a Matt Salmon," Varichak, who lives in the community of Desert Hills, near New River, said of Lake.

Remember November

Some Republicans worry that Lake's outlandish statements and enthusiastic support for conspiracy theories could be a problem if she's the GOP nominee next year.

Lake has unabashedly embraced the false narrative that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, including in Arizona, where Joe Biden won by just 10,457 votes. She has touted the dubious findings of the so-called “audit" commissioned by Senate President Karen Fann, and has joined the vocal chorus of people on the Republican fringe who are calling for the 2020 election in Arizona to be decertified, something that constitutional and legal scholars largely agree is impossible.

She has even demanded that Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the Democratic frontrunner in the gubernatorial race, be imprisoned for an undefined role in the unproven fraud that Lake claims took place last November.

“Frankly, I think she should be locked up," Lake told the crowd in Cave Creek, which responded by starting a Trumpian chant of, “Lock her up!"

Lake's campaign spokesman, Ross Trumble, wouldn't say what specific crimes she believed Hobbs had committed or whatever there was of any malfeasance on the secretary's part. No such evidence has ever become public, though supporters of the “Big Lie," as many have dubbed the discredited election fraud claims, have at times become so threatening to Hobbs that Ducey provided her with a Department of Public Safety security detail.

Kathy Petsas, a lifelong GOP activist and the Republican chairwoman in legislative District 28, found Lake's rhetoric about Hobbs to be concerning.

“That is outrageous, it is dangerous and it is not the way a serious leader communicates with the public," Petsas said.

Sproul doesn't see the electability argument getting much traction among primary voters. And it may not even be as true as some might wish, he said. After all, critics said Reagan and Trump were unelectable, too.

“I don't for one second think she's unelectable in Arizona," Sproul said.

Other paths to victory

Lake may be in the lead, but it's still early in the campaign cycle, and most primary voters are still undecided.

If the Republican nomination can be wrested from Lake, most GOP observers believe it's up to either Robson or Salmon to do it.

Robson is almost completely unknown to voters. She's never run for office, and though she's long been a mainstay in the political world, her work has been out of the spotlight. She's served on the Arizona Board of Regents, a relatively low-profile entity that few voters follow closely enough to know who serves on it, and been active behind the scenes in things like overseeing a political action committee that helped Republicans maintain their slim majorities in the legislature.

The biggest advantage that Robson may bring to the table is money. She and her husband are wealthy, and observers predict that she may spend tens of millions on the campaign. Robson has also assembled a large campaign finance committee — its members include many establishment GOP establishment donors — indicating that she won't rely on personal wealth alone.

“Karrin Taylor Robson's going to have the resources to reach every Arizona Republican in this state. She will not be outspent in this campaign, and in a race like this that is going to stretch well over a year, it's going to take a lot of money to get over the finish line," said Matthew Benson, a spokesman for Robson.

There are still a lot of undecided voters in the race, Montague said, and Robson can win them over. But she may need to spend $20 million to do it, he said.

Kari Lake got endorsed by President Trump, so I know she's going to be for the people.

– Stacey Goodman, a Republican voter from Cave Creek

Salmon has the advantage of name recognition from voters from his two stints in Congress, the second of which ran from 2013-2016, as well as his narrow loss to Janet Napolitano in the 2002 governor's race. He had a reputation as a conservative renegade in Congress in the 1990s, and after his return to Congress years later he helped found the conservative House Freedom Caucus. Since jumping into the race in June, he has released a ceaseless torrent of endorsements, ranging from local law enforcement officials to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

“Governor's races often come down to trust and results, and Republican Primary voters in Arizona are looking for a trusted and proven conservative with a record of getting things done," Salmon campaign spokesman Colin Shipley said in a statement to the Mirror.

Montague said Salmon is still in the mix, but he'll need Lake to stumble first. And he'll need to pivot away from the platform he's been running with so far. Salmon has tried to emulate Lake's message, Montague said, but that won't work when Lake is doing it better.

“Can he reinvent himself or can he hang back if she stumbles?" Montague asked. “He's going to have to help voters find a reason to vote for him."

Lake has little to say about most of her opponents, but regularly trashes Salmon. As a career politician and a former lobbyist, most recently for Arizona State University, she describes Salmon as the embodiment of the “swamp" that Trump campaigned against, and questions why he thinks he can win despite losing the governor's race in 2002.

“On Day One, he owes 30 years of political favors," Lake said during the event at SoZo Coffeehouse. “Not to mention he's been a lobbyist and has a soft spot in his heart for the communist Chinese regime."

Lake's comments about China refer to the Chinese-government funded Confucius Institute at ASU that provided Chinese language and cultural education. The ASU branch of the institute opened in 2007, long before Salmon joined the university in 2017. ASU shut it down in 2019 after the National Defense Authorization Act for that year barred universities that receive U.S. Department of Defense funding for Chinese language study from hosting the Confucius Institute.

As for Robson, Lake said, “I don't want to attack the people who are running. It takes a lot to run. I'm working very hard. … Anybody who wants to run can run. Anybody who wants to pour their own money into a race to try to drum up support can run."

Most observers believe Gaynor and Yee have tougher roads ahead of them.

Gaynor has the potential to bankroll his own campaign, Sproul noted, but it's unknown how much he's willing to spend. In 2018, he spent about $2.6 million of his own money, defeating an embattled incumbent in the Republican primary for secretary of state while narrowly losing the general election to Hobbs.

Yee spent nine years in the legislature before getting elected as treasurer in 2018. But the Treasurer's Office is a relatively anonymous post and she's not well known to the public. Ducey was state treasurer before getting elected governor in 2014, but accomplished that feat through self-funding and prolific fundraising.

The long game

Lake is formidable and her early lead is daunting, but it's still early.

“We're not even a year out right now. In politics, a month can be 10 years, practically. So much can change a week from now, a month from now and certainly a year from now," Petsas said.

For now, Sproul said Lake's opponents are better off saving their money until the race heats up. But there may be only so much time left if they hope to stop Lake from locking up the nomination early.

“Do you want to spend significant cash early doing rallies, or do you want to hold onto your resources until later in the campaign, when most voters are paying attention? There's obviously a danger of the candidates not doing enough because she can get too far ahead and they can't catch up," he said.

And despite the similarities between Trump's 2016 run and Lake today, there are significant differences, Sproul said. Trump tapped into the populist wing of the party early, taking a sizable minority of the vote while 15 other candidates vied for the rest of the votes. He didn't really expand that lead until he locked up the nomination. Meanwhile, the rest of the field was so crowded that the other candidates couldn't clear the way and expand their leads in the way they needed to have a better shot at dislodging Trump from his position at the front of the pack.

Perhaps the most important difference, said Barrett Marson, a consultant with the pro-Salmon Arizona Best committee, is that Trump's rise to the top of the field in 2015 was fueled by saturation media coverage that simply won't exist in the Arizona governor's race. Trump dominated every news cycle: If cable news outlets weren't showing his speeches or allowing him to call into their shows, they were still talking about him around the clock.

And though the big crowds are impressive, that alone doesn't mean she'll win, Marson said. After all, Trump packed thousands of people into Veterans Memorial Coliseum last year but still lost Arizona to Biden.

“I'm not saying she doesn't have her rabid fans. But you need more than rabid fans to win an election. You need some money. You need media exposure. You need TV ads. You need grassroots efforts. You need a lot," Marson said. “They came together for Donald Trump. I'm not denying that. But Kari Lake is not Donald Trump."

Sproul, too, said Lake's support and the turnout at her rallies represents a large amount of enthusiasm from a small segment of the electorate. He's seen candidates start their primary campaigns with a dominating share of the vote, only to lose to people who started out in single digits.

The race isn't over, Khalaf said. But he had a hard time seeing how anyone else will defeat her in the primary.

“Something dramatic would have to happen for anyone else to have a serious shot at taking her out in the primary at this point," he said.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

In other news, MAGA-loving 'Church of the AR-15' purchasing massive Tennessee retreat for 'training center'. WATCH:

MAGA-loving 'Church of the AR-15' purchasing massive Tennessee retreat for 'training center' youtu.be

Arizona ‘audit’ expert didn’t understand election procedures -- and made a number of false signature claims

The audience in the Senate gallery oohed and aahed as Shiva Ayyadurai drew its attention to a “verified and approved" stamp that appeared behind a triangle on the image of an early ballot envelope, unsubtly suggesting that it might have been pre-printed that way.
“It's almost as though it was imaged on there. I don't want to say Photoshopped, but put on there. But it's quite fascinating. I'm sure there's some explanation for this," Ayyadurai said. The remark elicited laughter from an audience largely composed of audit supporters who believed, without factual basis, that the 2020 election was rigged against Donald Trump, a position Ayyadurai himself has aggressively promoted.

It turns out there was an explanation, and a simple one at that. But Ayyadurai appeared to have absolutely no knowledge of Maricopa County policies and procedures regarding the early ballot envelopes and signature verification. That shortcoming would be a consistent theme as he presented his findings as part of the so-called audit of the election in Maricopa County, portraying commonplace occurrences and standard procedures as potentially suspicious.

And Senate President Karen Fann has asked the attorney general to investigate Ayyadurai's obviously false findings.

I just thought his testimony — if you can call it testimony — was a little bit ridiculous.

– Helen Purcell, former Maricopa County Recorder

Ayyadurai, known to his fans online simply as Dr. Shiva, is an MIT-trained engineer and entrepreneur known for his disputed claim that he invented email. He has a history of promoting discredited and debunked conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, including during a day-long event at the downtown Phoenix Hyatt several weeks after the election that featured Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.

The claim about the triangle on the early ballot envelopes was perhaps the most attention-grabbing of the numerous findings he presented during a presentation on Sept. 24, as the team that led Senate President Karen Fann's review of the 2020 election results in Maricopa County.

“I would consider this potentially a critical anomaly," Ayyadurai said.

But to those who understand how elections work, the “critical anomaly" was anything but. In fact, it's not only not an anomaly at all, it's exactly how the systems used to safeguard the election are designed to work.

'Hollowed out' shapes increase speed and decrease file size

When Runbeck Election Services, the company that prints Maricopa County's ballots and envelopes, scans the outbound and incoming early ballot envelopes, it does so in a binary format that only uses black and white pixels, with no gray shading. To save space with its file sizes and increase the speed at which ballots and envelopes can be scanned, the binary format doesn't fill in blocks of solid color, said Jeff Ellington, Runbeck's CEO.

So, the solid black triangles that point to the signature box on the envelopes become white triangles with black borders. All of the ink inside the triangles and other shapes, including any parts of the approval stamps that happened to be made over the triangle, are removed. The Arizona Mirror was shown examples of this technology from the scanning process of Arizona and Colorado ballot envelopes at Runbeck's Phoenix facility.

Ayyadurai never mentioned in his presentation or in his written report that the triangles on the paper envelopes, unlike in the digital images he analyzed, are solid black. Two smaller, solid red triangles on the ballot return envelopes also appeared hollowed out in the same fashion on the digital images that Ayyadurai displayed.

Ellington said Ayyadurai never contacted his company during his envelope analysis. Wake Technology Services, a company that worked on the audit until it parted ways with the rest of the team in May, contacted Runbeck with some questions early in the process, Ellington said. He asked them to route their questions through the county.

It's unclear if Wake ever contacted the county, but county officials have repeatedly refused to cooperate in any way with the audit team, which they view as as unacceptably biased — the team is led by adherents of the “stop the steal" movement that promotes false claims of election rigging — and professionally unqualified. It's also unclear if Ayyadurai made any attempt to contact anyone else who had knowledge of Maricopa County's election procedures.

Surge in 'verified and approved' stamps is a proof of success, not fraud

The triangle issue was far from the only of Ayyadurai's claims that demonstrated a lack of knowledge about how Maricopa County election officials handle early ballot envelopes and signature verification.

Ayyadurai said that only about 10% of the approximately 1.9 million early ballot envelope images had the “verified and approved" stamps on them, and said the bulk of them appeared to have been approved after the election, with a 25% increase between Nov. 4-9, the six days after the election. The implication was clear that he considered this suspicious.

Had Ayyadurai bothered to ask anyone who had knowledge of or experience with elections work in Maricopa County, he would have learned that there is a simple answer to his question.

Election workers who have been trained in signature verification examine digital images of early ballot envelopes to determine whether voters' signatures are valid before their ballots are counted. If the signature matches what the Elections Department has on file for that voter, the envelope is opened and the ballot counted. But if the signature doesn't appear to match, or if there's no signature at all, the voter's envelope is pulled out for additional review.

By law, elections officials must give voters an opportunity to rectify or “cure" their signatures. For a missing or potentially bad signature, election officials contact the voters to confirm that they were the ones who signed the envelope. Voters who forget to sign can come in to the Elections Department to sign there.

The reason why so many of the approval stamps came after Nov. 3 is that the Maricopa County Elections Department put additional resources into signature curing in the days after the election, said Megan Gilbertson, a spokeswoman for the Elections Department. By law, voters have five business days after an election to cure defective signatures — and after Election Day, workers who had been verifying signatures largely shift to signature curing duties. Voters cannot cure missing signatures after Election Day.

Tammy Patrick, the senior advisor for elections at Democracy Fund and the former head of federal compliance at the Maricopa County Elections Department, said the largest number of mail-in ballots also come in shortly before Election Day. That became more pronounced last year because of an increase in the use of drop boxes for early ballots, she said.

And the reason most early ballot envelopes don't have approval stamps is because election workers don't stamp envelopes if the signatures are verified without the need for additional follow-up. Only envelopes that are approved after missing or potentially invalid signatures are cured receive the stamp. If there's no need for additional review, election workers never actually handle the physical envelopes during the signature verification process, Gilbertson said — they only review the digital images of the signature area of those envelopes.

Ignorance of elections breeds faulty assumptions and implications

Ayyadurai's ignorance of Maricopa County's procedures extended to the process election workers use to actually verify the signatures. He repeatedly commented on the number of signatures that he described as “scribbles," which he defined as having 1% or less pixel density in the signature box, while anything over 1% was considered a signature. He identified 2,580 such scribbles, which he described as potentially bad or were assumed to be invalid.

Ayyadurai did not have the file of voter signatures and did not conduct any comparisons to determine whether the signatures matched.

Patrick took issue with Ayyadurai's analysis of the so-called scribbles.

“The very use of that word implies impropriety. It also demonstrates his lack of understanding of signature verification. And now we know why he wasn't hired to do signature verification," Patrick said.

Signature verification has nothing to do with legibility. The issue is whether the signatures match the ones on file for that voter, a process that's conducted by trained professionals, with multiple layers of oversight when questions arise.

Former Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell, who held the position for 28 years, said she and her election director once had to call an Arizona Supreme Court justice to confirm that the illegibly scribbled signature on his ballot envelope was correct. She said Ayyadurai's testimony on numerous points showed a lack of understanding about the processes he was analyzing.

“I just thought his testimony — if you can call it testimony — was a little bit ridiculous," Purcell said.

The bulk of Ayyadurai's presentation was devoted to the issue of duplicate ballot envelopes. But he displayed a fundamental misunderstanding of what a duplicate ballot image actually meant, declaring to Fann and Senate Judiciary Chairman Warren Petersen, “Each of these voters submitted two ballots."

That is blatantly false.

Election officials don't use the term “duplicate" to refer to ballot images. In election administration, the term “duplication" is used to describe a very specific process of re-copying ballots that can't be read by tabulation machines for various reasons.

What Ayyadurai referred to as duplicate images appeared to refer to multiple ballot envelope images for the same voter. That generally occurs when two images are made of the same ballot envelope, which most often happens when there is a question or issue with a particular envelope.

When election workers verify signatures on ballot envelopes, they look solely at digital images of the box on the envelope where voters are instructed to affix their signatures. If they can't verify the signature, or if there is no signature, they physically examine the paper envelope for further verification. If election workers are unable to verify a signature but are able to cure it by contacting a voter, that same envelope is re-scanned after being stamped for approval. If there's no signature, voters can come into the Elections Department to sign it in person.

Nonetheless, Ayyadurai presented the existence of duplicate envelope images — he questioned why the county didn't report them in its official canvass — as potentially suspicious.

Ayyadurai drew attention to 1,455 envelopes that he said were stamped as “approved" despite there being no signature in the signature box. Gilbertson said those are most likely instances when a voter affixed a signature elsewhere on the envelope, ignoring the instructions on where to sign. In such cases, election workers would cure the signature, re-scan it and then approve it. Ayyadurai even showed one side-by-side comparison of two envelope images in which part of a signature appeared jutting out from a black redaction box on the line for the phone number.

“If we stamped it as verified, there's absolutely another signature somewhere else," Gilbertson said.

Ayyadurai acknowledged during his presentation and in his report that he only looked at the designated signature field and did not look elsewhere on the envelope for signatures.

Auuadurai's distortions are 'disingenuous and irresponsible'

Gilbertson said there are other reasons why a ballot might be approved without a proper signature in the box.

There are bipartisan special election boards that personally bring ballots to voters who are in hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities, or who live at home but need assistance voting for various reasons. Technically, those voters are casting early ballots, which are placed into early ballot envelopes with their signatures. Some of those voters have physical difficulties signing, and some even sign with an X.

But because the boards must check their identification, as would happen with an in-person Election Day voter, those ballots bypass the signature verification process entirely and wouldn't even have an approval stamp, Gilbertson explained.

Ayyadurai showed several side-by-side examples of duplicates that he intimated were problematic. One showed a blank signature box next to a signed signature box — but he didn't note that it was the signed envelope, not the blank one, with the approval stamp on it.

Patrick said she was exasperated while watching Ayyadurai's presentation because he kept showing two images of what was clearly the exact same envelope. But multiple images doesn't mean multiple ballots or multiple votes, she said.

“To take something so simple and distort it and present it as though it was some sort of evidence of malfeasance, fraud or criminal activity is not only disingenuous and irresponsible, but I think it also, in itself, should have some sort of serious repercussion," she said.

At the end of his presentation, Ayyadurai presented a list of questions for Maricopa County officials that he didn't know the answer to, including whether the county “received" any duplicate early ballot envelopes, why he found more envelopes with no signatures or bad signatures than the county reported in its official canvass, why most envelopes didn't have “verified and approved" stamps, why there was in increase in those stamps after the election, why some envelopes with blank signatures fields were approved, and why the stamps appeared behind the triangles on some envelopes.

He even asked what the standard operating procedure was for processing early ballots and for verifying questionable signatures.

Ayyadurai was far from alone. Audit team leader Doug Logan and team member Doug Cotton made numerous claims throughout the more than three-hour presentation in which they portrayed normal, commonplace practices as possibly suspicious while acknowledging that there may be reasonable explanations that they were overlooking.

Ayyadurai, Logan and a spokesman for Logan did not respond to questions from the Mirror and would not say why he didn't make any effort to learn whether his alleged findings were actually suspicious or whether there were reasonable explanations.

Fann signed a $50,000 contract with Ayyadurai's company, EchoMail, for his ballot envelope analysis, according to documents obtained by the liberal watchdog group American Oversight. Those records include a separate contract between EchoMail and Cyber Ninjas, Logan's company.

After listening to Ayyadurai's presentation for an hour on Friday, Fann and Petersen didn't ask him a single question about whether he'd taken any steps to verify his claims. Fann also did not respond to questions from the Mirror.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

'Ridiculous': Arizona conservatives wooed by ignorant and disingenuous ballot analysis

The audience in the Senate gallery oohed and aahed as Shiva Ayyadurai drew its attention to a “verified and approved" stamp that appeared behind a triangle on the image of an early ballot envelope, unsubtly suggesting that it might have been pre-printed that way.

“It's almost as though it was imaged on there. I don't want to say Photoshopped, but put on there. But it's quite fascinating. I'm sure there's some explanation for this," Ayyadurai said. The remark elicited laughter from an audience largely composed of audit supporters who believed, without factual basis, that the 2020 election was rigged against Donald Trump, a position Ayyadurai himself has aggressively promoted.

It turns out there was an explanation, and a simple one at that. But Ayyadurai appeared to have absolutely no knowledge of Maricopa County policies and procedures regarding the early ballot envelopes and signature verification. That shortcoming would be a consistent theme as he presented his findings as part of the so-called audit of the election in Maricopa County, portraying commonplace occurrences and standard procedures as potentially suspicious.

And Senate President Karen Fann has asked the attorney general to investigate Ayyadurai's obviously false findings.

Ayyadurai, known to his fans online simply as Dr. Shiva, is an MIT-trained engineer and entrepreneur known for his disputed claim that he invented email. He has a history of promoting discredited and debunked conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, including during a day-long event at the downtown Phoenix Hyatt several weeks after the election that featured Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.

The claim about the triangle on the early ballot envelopes was perhaps the most attention-grabbing of the numerous findings he presented during a presentation on Sept. 24, as the team that led Senate President Karen Fann's review of the 2020 election results in Maricopa County.

“I would consider this potentially a critical anomaly," Ayyadurai said.

But to those who understand how elections work, the “critical anomaly" was anything but. In fact, it's not only not an anomaly at all, it's exactly how the systems used to safeguard the election are designed to work.

'Hollowed out' shapes increase speed and decrease file size

When Runbeck Election Services, the company that prints Maricopa County's ballots and envelopes, scans the outbound and incoming early ballot envelopes, it does so in a binary format that only uses black and white pixels, with no gray shading. To save space with its file sizes and increase the speed at which ballots and envelopes can be scanned, the binary format doesn't fill in blocks of solid color, said Jeff Ellington, Runbeck's CEO.

So, the solid black triangles that point to the signature box on the envelopes become white triangles with black borders. All of the ink inside the triangles and other shapes, including any parts of the approval stamps that happened to be made over the triangle, are removed. The Arizona Mirror was shown examples of this technology from the scanning process of Arizona and Colorado ballot envelopes at Runbeck's Phoenix facility.

Ayyadurai never mentioned in his presentation or in his written report that the triangles on the paper envelopes, unlike in the digital images he analyzed, are solid black. Two smaller, solid red triangles on the ballot return envelopes also appeared hollowed out in the same fashion on the digital images that Ayyadurai displayed.

Ellington said Ayyadurai never contacted his company during his envelope analysis. Wake Technology Services, a company that worked on the audit until it parted ways with the rest of the team in May, contacted Runbeck with some questions early in the process, Ellington said. He asked them to route their questions through the county.

It's unclear if Wake ever contacted the county, but county officials have repeatedly refused to cooperate in any way with the audit team, which they view as as unacceptably biased — the team is led by adherents of the “stop the steal" movement that promotes false claims of election rigging — and professionally unqualified. It's also unclear if Ayyadurai made any attempt to contact anyone else who had knowledge of Maricopa County's election procedures.

Surge in 'verified and approved' stamps is a proof of success, not fraud

The triangle issue was far from the only of Ayyadurai's claims that demonstrated a lack of knowledge about how Maricopa County election officials handle early ballot envelopes and signature verification.

Ayyadurai said that only about 10% of the approximately 1.9 million early ballot envelope images had the “verified and approved" stamps on them, and said the bulk of them appeared to have been approved after the election, with a 25% increase between Nov. 4-9, the six days after the election. The implication was clear that he considered this suspicious.

Had Ayyadurai bothered to ask anyone who had knowledge of or experience with elections work in Maricopa County, he would have learned that there is a simple answer to his question.

Election workers who have been trained in signature verification examine digital images of early ballot envelopes to determine whether voters' signatures are valid before their ballots are counted. If the signature matches what the Elections Department has on file for that voter, the envelope is opened and the ballot counted. But if the signature doesn't appear to match, or if there's no signature at all, the voter's envelope is pulled out for additional review.

By law, elections officials must give voters an opportunity to rectify or “cure" their signatures. For a missing or potentially bad signature, election officials contact the voters to confirm that they were the ones who signed the envelope. Voters who forget to sign can come in to the Elections Department to sign there.

The reason why so many of the approval stamps came after Nov. 3 is that the Maricopa County Elections Department put additional resources into signature curing in the days after the election, said Megan Gilbertson, a spokeswoman for the Elections Department. By law, voters have five business days after an election to cure defective signatures — and after Election Day, workers who had been verifying signatures largely shift to signature curing duties. Voters cannot cure missing signatures after Election Day.

Tammy Patrick, the senior advisor for elections at Democracy Fund and the former head of federal compliance at the Maricopa County Elections Department, said the largest number of mail-in ballots also come in shortly before Election Day. That became more pronounced last year because of an increase in the use of drop boxes for early ballots, she said.

And the reason most early ballot envelopes don't have approval stamps is because election workers don't stamp envelopes if the signatures are verified without the need for additional follow-up. Only envelopes that are approved after missing or potentially invalid signatures are cured receive the stamp. If there's no need for additional review, election workers never actually handle the physical envelopes during the signature verification process, Gilbertson said — they only review the digital images of the signature area of those envelopes.

Ignorance of elections breeds faulty assumptions and implications

Ayyadurai's ignorance of Maricopa County's procedures extended to the process election workers use to actually verify the signatures. He repeatedly commented on the number of signatures that he described as “scribbles," which he defined as having 1% or less pixel density in the signature box, while anything over 1% was considered a signature. He identified 2,580 such scribbles, which he described as potentially bad or were assumed to be invalid.

Ayyadurai did not have the file of voter signatures and did not conduct any comparisons to determine whether the signatures matched.

Patrick took issue with Ayyadurai's analysis of the so-called scribbles.

“The very use of that word implies impropriety. It also demonstrates his lack of understanding of signature verification. And now we know why he wasn't hired to do signature verification," Patrick said.

Signature verification has nothing to do with legibility. The issue is whether the signatures match the ones on file for that voter, a process that's conducted by trained professionals, with multiple layers of oversight when questions arise.

Former Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell, who held the position for 28 years, said she and her election director once had to call an Arizona Supreme Court justice to confirm that the illegibly scribbled signature on his ballot envelope was correct. She said Ayyadurai's testimony on numerous points showed a lack of understanding about the processes he was analyzing.

“I just thought his testimony — if you can call it testimony — was a little bit ridiculous," Purcell said.

The bulk of Ayyadurai's presentation was devoted to the issue of duplicate ballot envelopes. But he displayed a fundamental misunderstanding of what a duplicate ballot image actually meant, declaring to Fann and Senate Judiciary Chairman Warren Petersen, “Each of these voters submitted two ballots."

That is blatantly false.

Election officials don't use the term “duplicate" to refer to ballot images. In election administration, the term “duplication" is used to describe a very specific process of re-copying ballots that can't be read by tabulation machines for various reasons.

What Ayyadurai referred to as duplicate images appeared to refer to multiple ballot envelope images for the same voter. That generally occurs when two images are made of the same ballot envelope, which most often happens when there is a question or issue with a particular envelope.

When election workers verify signatures on ballot envelopes, they look solely at digital images of the box on the envelope where voters are instructed to affix their signatures. If they can't verify the signature, or if there is no signature, they physically examine the paper ballot for further verification. If election workers are unable to verify a signature but are able to cure it by contacting a voter, that same envelope is re-scanned after being stamped for approval. If there's no signature, voters can come into the Elections Department to sign it in person.

Nonetheless, Ayyadurai presented the existence of duplicate envelope images — he questioned why the county didn't report them in its official canvass — as potentially suspicious.

Ayyadurai drew attention to 1,455 envelopes that he said were stamped as “approved" despite there being no signature in the signature box. Gilbertson said those are most likely instances when a voter affixed a signature elsewhere on the envelope, ignoring the instructions on where to sign. In such cases, election workers would cure the signature, re-scan it and then approve it. Ayyadurai even showed one side-by-side comparison of two envelope images in which part of a signature appeared jutting out from a black redaction box on the line for the phone number.

“If we stamped it as verified, there's absolutely another signature somewhere else," Gilbertson said.

Ayyadurai acknowledged during his presentation and in his report that he only looked at the designated signature field and did not look elsewhere on the envelope for signatures.

Auuadurai's distortions are 'disingenuous and irresponsible'

Gilbertson said there are other reasons why a ballot might be approved without a proper signature in the box.

There are bipartisan special election boards that personally bring ballots to voters who are in hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities, or who live at home but need assistance voting for various reasons. Technically, those voters are casting early ballots, which are placed into early ballot envelopes with their signatures. Some of those voters have physical difficulties signing, and some even sign with an X.

But because the boards must check their identification, as would happen with an in-person Election Day voter, those ballots bypass the signature verification process entirely and wouldn't even have an approval stamp, Gilbertson explained.

Ayyadurai showed several side-by-side examples of duplicates that he intimated were problematic. One showed a blank signature box next to a signed signature box — but he didn't note that it was the signed envelope, not the blank one, with the approval stamp on it.

Patrick said she was exasperated while watching Ayyadurai's presentation because he kept showing two images of what was clearly the exact same envelope. But multiple images doesn't mean multiple ballots or multiple votes, she said.

“To take something so simple and distort it and present it as though it was some sort of evidence of malfeasance, fraud or criminal activity is not only disingenuous and irresponsible, but I think it also, in itself, should have some sort of serious repercussion," she said.

At the end of his presentation, Ayyadurai presented a list of questions for Maricopa County officials that he didn't know the answer to, including whether the county “received" any duplicate early ballot envelopes, why he found more envelopes with no signatures or bad signatures than the county reported in its official canvass, why most envelopes didn't have “verified and approved" stamps, why there was in increase in those stamps after the election, why some envelopes with blank signatures fields were approved, and why the stamps appeared behind the triangles on some envelopes.

He even asked what the standard operating procedure was for processing early ballots and for verifying questionable signatures.

Ayyadurai was far from alone. Audit team leader Doug Logan and team member Doug Cotton made numerous claims throughout the more than three-hour presentation in which they portrayed normal, commonplace practices as possibly suspicious while acknowledging that there may be reasonable explanations that they were overlooking.

Ayyadurai, Logan and a spokesman for Logan did not respond to questions from the Mirror and would not say why he didn't make any effort to learn whether his alleged findings were actually suspicious or whether there were reasonable explanations.

Fann signed a $50,000 contract with Ayyadurai's company, EchoMail, for his ballot envelope analysis, according to documents obtained by the liberal watchdog group American Oversight. Those records include a separate contract between EchoMail and Cyber Ninjas, Logan's company.

After listening to Ayyadurai's presentation for an hour on Friday, Fann and Petersen didn't ask him a single question about whether he'd taken any steps to verify his claims. Fann also did not respond to questions from the Mirror.


Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Arizona official resigns after outlandish recordings of him bashing colleagues over ‘audit’ become public

Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Chucri announced that he will resign his seat after a recording surfaced in which he criticized his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors for not supporting the Senate's review of the 2020 election, speculating that two of them were worried about what such a review would show about their own narrow victories in November in a newly released recording.

Chucri's resignation will be effective Nov. 5. The remaining four members of the Board of Supervisors will select his replacement.

In the conversation with conservative activists, which they recorded in January and March and provided to right-wing media this week, Chucri also made an outlandish claim that dead people voted in the November election, and alleged problems with illegal ballot harvesting and a law that Gov. Doug Ducey signed last year that allowed election workers to analyze digital images of ballots in cases where it was unclear which candidate a voter chose.

Chucri lamented in a recording of a March 22 conversation that fellow Republicans Bill Gates and Jack Sellers, the board's vice chairman and chairman, respectively, didn't support the upcoming Senate review of Maricopa County's election results. He said he'd personally told Senate President Karen Fann, who ordered the self-styled audit, that they would agree with him in supporting the election review.

Maricopa County was the driving force behind that law, and it was supported by Chucri and the other county supervisors.

And Chucri said he believed their opposition stemmed from concerns about what the audit would show.

“You know what I think it was, in hindsight? Gates got scared because he barely won, and Jack got scared because he only won by 200 votes. And if there was an audit and a recount — which is pretty bullshit, by the way — what would happen in those two races? And that is way too self-serving," Chucri said.

Sellers defeated Democratic challenger Jevin Hodge by just 403 votes, and Gates beat Democrat Whitney Walker by 5,613 votes.

Chucri's comment appears to cast doubts on the county's post-election hand count of a limited number of ballots that was required by law — 2% of ballots cast at polling places, and 1% of mail-in ballots — which matched perfectly with the county's official tally, and of an audit the supervisors ordered of the county's ballot tabulation machines. That audit of the machines, commissioned in response to baseless conspiracy theories that machine vendor Dominion Voting Systems manipulated the results, showed no problems. At the time, Chucri lauded the results and said they should instill public confidence in the county's election systems.

The picture some individuals are trying to paint about a cover-up, scam and other nonsense about my colleagues and myself is simply false. There was no cover-up, the election was not stolen. Biden won

– Steve Chucri

The comments were made during a meeting in March with Shelby Busch and Steve Robinson of the conservative group We the People AZ Alliance, which, at the time, was attempting to force recall elections against all five members of the Board of Supervisors, including Chucri. The group did not collect enough signatures to force recall elections against any of the supervisors.

In a press statement announcing his pending resignation, Chucri apologized for his comments about Gates and Sellers, and said that while his comments were critical, it was a pleasure and an honor to serve with them.

“The comments I made were during a very turbulent time. My colleagues have every right to be both angry and disappointed with me. I should not have made such statements and offer my colleagues heartfelt apologies," he said.

Chucri said he first ran in 2012, a time when the Board of Supervisors and Maricopa County government in general had been rocked by years of discord and scandal, to bring civility, innovation and a business mindset to government.

I do not want to perpetuate the very problem I ran to eliminate several years ago. While I have had my differences with my colleagues, I have known them to be good, honorable and ethical men," he said.

In a different recording from the same conversation, Chucri alleged that Republican Supervisor Clint Hickman wanted to discuss the possibility of an audit late last year, but “he just didn't have the guts to do it."

Chucri also made a baseless claim about dead people's ballots being cast in the election.

“I think it was done through dead people voting. I think it was multifaceted. I think there's a lot of cleanup here," he told Busch in a Jan. 22 phone call, which Gateway Pundit posted on Tuesday.

There is no evidence that the votes of dead voters affected the outcome of the election. The Arizona Attorney General's Office secured an indictment in May against a Republican woman from Scottsdale for allegedly casting her dead mother's early ballot, which may be the first such prosecution in the state's history.

Gateway Pundit, a far-right conspiracy theory website that has promoted countless false claims and conspiracy theories about fraud in the 2020 election, first published the recordings.

Chucri: Comments twisted to prove non-existent 'cover-up'

Chucri said the political landscape “has changed for the worst this year," a trend he blamed on the proliferation of false fraud claims about the 2020 election, an issue which, in Arizona, has put Maricopa County's elections officials and supervisors in the center of the storm.

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

He also criticized Gateway Pundit and others for presenting his comments as evidence of problems with the election in Maricopa County.

“The picture some individuals are trying to paint about a cover-up, scam and other nonsense about my colleagues and myself is simply false. There was no cover-up, the election was not stolen. Biden won," he said.

Chucri's criticism wasn't limited to his fellow supervisors. At one point, he said he was proud to have helped “take out" Adrian Fontes, the Democratic county recorder who lost his re-election last year, opining, “That guy's a scumbag." Fontes and the board clashed several times, and the supervisors stripped him of some of his powers over elections after problems during the 2018 vote.

The recordings are largely at odds with Chucri's public comments since the 2020 election. Chucri was initially supportive of any audit, and was the only member of the Board of Supervisors who opposed going to court to fight Fann's subpoenas for ballots, tabulation machines and other election materials she wanted for her review.

But Chucri has since been critical of the Senate's “audit," which has been plagued by problems and controversies, and was conducted by contractors who had no qualifications for elections-related work and who had openly promoted false claims that the 2020 election was rigged against former President Donald Trump. In May, he joined his colleagues in condemning the review, saying, “There was doubt cast, so I supported the audit. What I didn't support was a mockery, and that's what this has become."

According to Gateway Pundit, the recording was made on March 22, a little more than a week before Fann announced that she'd hired the Florida firm Cyber Ninjas to conduct the upcoming “audit," which began several weeks later.

Chucri also said he regretted not pushing for a larger hand count of ballots after the election. State law permits counties to count up to 5% of ballots; the county counted 2%.

'He can go to hell'

In a written statement his office provided to the Arizona Mirror, Chucri said he was referencing his support for an audit conducted by an accredited firm, but that he does not support the Senate's current audit, noting that he previously called it a mockery.

In addition to Gates and Sellers, Chucri apologized using what he called an “unflattering term" to describe Fontes.

Chucri added that he stands behind the audit that the county commissioned of its ballot tabulation machines earlier in the year, and supports the election workers who “have worked tirelessly to conduct secure elections for Maricopa County voters."

“This was not my finest moment but I own it. Again, I apologize to those who I have offended. And I apologize to those who will be misled and used through my commentary for the purposes of chipping away at our democracy," he said.

Chucri's office did not respond to a follow-up request for a response to his comments about dead voters and about Hickman.

Sellers said he was surprised by Chucri's comments. He said he hadn't heard Chucri express any concerns about the post-election hand count or the audit of the tabulation machines.

“Certainly Bill Gates and I were not concerned about a recount at any time. When the election's over, it's over. And a recount wasn't going to change the results. So, it's silly to say either one of us was ever concerned about it. But I really don't know where that came from or why," Sellers told the Mirror.

Fontes was blunter in his response to Chucri's comments about him.

“I won't apologize for thinking the same about him, and he can go to hell," Fontes said.

Gates and Hickman could not be reached for comment.

***UPDATED: This story has been updated to reflect Steve Chucri's resignation and its headline has been changed. The original headline was “Chucri bashed GOP colleagues over lack of 'audit' support, claimed dead people voted."

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Arizona Senate asks Cyber Ninjas for 'audit' documents after state Supreme Court rejection

Senate President Karen Fann has asked Cyber Ninjas to provide her with all documents in the company's possession that are related to the review it led of the 2020 general election in Maricopa County.

In a letter to Cyber Ninjas on Tuesday, Fann, R-Prescott, asked the company to immediately provide records it and its subcontractors possess “with a substantial nexus to the audit."

That includes, “without limitation," all documents and communications related to the planning, performance and execution of the so-called audit, all policies and procedures used for the audit, documents pertaining to funding and staffing, “and all records that are reasonably necessary or appropriate to maintain an accurate knowledge of activities concerning the 2020 Maricopa County election audit."

Fann's request came shortly after the Arizona Supreme Court declined to accept her appeal of a lower court ruling that audit-related documents and communications possessed by Cyber Ninjas and other subcontractors constitute public records. The Senate president's attorneys argued that the documents weren't public records because they weren't in the Senate's possession, but a trial court judge and the Arizona Court of Appeals concluded that any documents that have a “substantial nexus" with government business are public records, regardless of who holds them.

The lawsuit was brought by American Oversight, a liberal watchdog group that requested communications between contractors and audit employees, payment and funding records, and any contracts or agreements with outside groups that helped fund the “audit."

Mike Philipsen, a spokesman for Fann, said the Senate president has not yet received a reply from Cyber Ninjas. Part of the contract that the company signed with the Senate to lead the “audit" requires Cyber Ninjas to surrender all documents and records needed to settle litigation.

Attorney Roopali Desai, who represents American Oversight, said she's been told the records will be available “soon."


Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Arizona lobbyist says Stephanie Grisham told her election fraud claims were bogus

A prominent Arizona lobbyist said former White House press secretary and veteran Arizona politico Stephanie Grisham told her that the fraud rumors that gained traction after the 2020 election were false.

POLITICO Playbook reported Wednesday that lobbyist Gretchen Jacobs texted Grisham on Dec. 12, a little more than a month after the election, to ask about whether presidential electors could be withheld to deny certification of President Joe Biden's win. And Jacobs said that Senate President Karen Fann, who was preparing to launch a review of the election results in Maricopa County, told her proof of fraud would be a “game-changer."

Jacobs also asked whether Grisham could help raise $104,000 to hire a consultant who could look for evidence of fraud, the article reported.

According to the article, Grisham forwarded the text to a Donald Trump campaign aide to ask if he had any thoughts. In her upcoming book, “I'll Take Your Questions Now: What I Saw in The Trump White House," Grisham says she rejected the fraud claims and tried to convince former First Lady Melania Trump, whom she served as chief of staff, to say that the election wasn't rigged.

Jacobs told the Arizona Mirror that Grisham responded to her texts by calling her the next day and explaining that the fraud allegations were bogus.

“Hearing it from her was a great reality check," Jacobs said. “Stephanie, to her credit and to my benefit, said, 'I promise you, that's bogus. I promise you. Just drop it. Don't waste anyone's time or money.'"

Jacobs said Fann also did not believe there was any evidence of election fraud.

“She was (saying), 'People need to leave me alone unless there's demonstrable fraud proven.' It was exactly the opposite," Jacobs said. “She said there are a lot of rumors."

The text exchange between Grisham and Jacobs came just a few days before Fann and the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas to Maricopa County for ballots, tabulation machines, voting records and a plethora of other information for use in a self-styled audit of the election. The audit quickly became a cause célèbre among proponents of the false allegations that the election was rigged against Trump in Arizona and several other swing states that Biden won.

Despite her work with the controversial “audit," which was ordered in response to the bogus fraud claims and conducted by outspoken supporters of election fraud conspiracy theories, Fann has never said she believes the election was affected by fraud. She reiterated that to the Mirror on Wednesday.

“Never have I said there was fraud. I have been asked hundreds of times about what it would take to 'decertify' the election. I have always said it would take solid proof (through) the courts to show the actual vote counts were different than what was certified and it would have to be of the magnitude that the number of invalid votes would have made a difference (in) the outcome," Fann said via text message.

Grisham could not be reached for comment, but friend and former colleague Brett Mecum said she forwarded Jacobs' query about raising money for someone to investigate the fraud claims as a favor, and likened it to “passing along the note." Mecum said Grisham has never believed the election fraud claims that became widespread among many Trump supporters after the election.

Grisham got her political start in Arizona, working for the state's AAA chapter and for the Arizona Charter Schools Association before becoming then-Attorney General Tom Horne's spokeswoman in 2013 and serving as former House Speaker David Gowan's spokeswoman in 2015 and 2016. She began working for the Trump campaign and joined the administration after he won the 2016 election, serving both the president and first lady, and eventually rising to the position of White House press secretary. She resigned from the position in 2020 and rejoined the First Lady as chief of staff.


Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Trump endorses Republican who sought to overturn the 2020 election in Arizona secretary of state race

Donald Trump endorsed state Rep. Mark Finchem in the crowded Republican primary for secretary of state, throwing his support behind a candidate who one of Arizona's most vocal proponents of the false allegations that the 2020 presidential election was rigged.

In an endorsement statement he issued on Monday, Trump called Finchem “a true warrior" and lauded him for spreading discredited fraud claims about the election.

“Mark was willing to say what few others had the courage to say. In addition to his incredibly powerful stance on the massive Voter Fraud that took place in the 2020 Presidential Election Scam, he is strong on Crime, Borders, our currently under siege Second Amendment, and loves our Military and our Vets. Mark will also be fighting hard for further Tax and Regulation Cuts," Trump said. “Mark Finchem has my Complete and Total Endorsement. He will never let the people of Arizona down!"

Finchem tweeted that the endorsement was, “Such a great honor!"

The Oro Valley Republican, who was first elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in 2014, helped organize a November meeting in Phoenix where Trump allies aired unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about the election. And a nonprofit organization he runs called the Guardian Defense Fund has provided security for the self-styled “audit" of the election in Maricopa County that Senate President Karen Fann ordered.

Finchem also attended the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, D.C., that led to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters. Finchem claimed he was never closer than 500 yards of the Capitol building, but footage that surfaced months later showed him walking in front of the east steps after the pro-Trump rioters breached the barricades outside of the Capitol.

Jenna Ellis, a former Trump campaign attorney who promoted the debunked election fraud claims, endorsed Finchem last week. Finchem credit Ellis with helping him get the former president's endorsement, tweeting on Monday, “Thank you, Jenna! Your endorsement before this one was yuge."

Finchem did not respond to a request for comment from the Arizona Mirror.

State Rep. Shawnna Bolick, advertising executive Beau Lane and state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita are vying with Finchem for the Republican nomination in the race for Arizona secretary of state. House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding and former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes are seeking the Democratic nomination.


Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

'Audit' team plans to finally submit full draft report to Arizona Senate next week after delays

The team that conducted the controversial review of the 2020 general election in Maricopa County plans to submit its full draft report to the Senate next week, after several weeks of delays.

Randy Pullen, a spokesman for the self-styled election audit, said the team expects to submit the draft report to the Senate on Wednesday or Thursday.

The report has been plagued by a series of delays. Previously, the team planned to submit it by Aug. 20, but that plan was derailed after audit team leader Doug Logan and two other members of a five-person team tested positive for COVID-19. Senate President Karen Fann announced at the time that a partial report would come several days later, with the remainder still to come, but the partial report was never submitted.

When the “audit" began in late April, Logan said he expected it to be completed by mid-May.

A Senate team will review the report and recommend changes before the final report is issued. Pullen said the Senate team will meet on Monday to discuss the timeline.

One of the budget bills approved by lawmakers and Gov. Doug Ducey in July tasks members of the Senate Government Committee with reviewing the audit team's report and recommending changes to state law based on those findings.


Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.