Arizona Republican Leadership Is in Denial About the 2020 Presidential Election

Republican Congresswoman Debbie Lesko speaks at a November 5 press conference at the Arizona Republican Party headquarters in Phoenix.
Republican Congresswoman Debbie Lesko speaks at a November 5 press conference at the Arizona Republican Party headquarters in Phoenix. Josh Kelety
It's been almost a week since the major news networks called the presidential race for Joe Biden. Since then, the president-elect has continued to increase his lead over Donald Trump; Arizona and Georgia were both called for the former vice president late last week.

Yet Trump still refuses to admit he lost. And many members of the Republican party, both nationally and in Arizona, have fallen in line, encouraging or amplifying his tantrum to varying degrees.

Some, like Trump, have outright denied the election results and alleged, without any evidence, widespread voter fraud — a claim the courts have repeatedly smacked down. Others have merely refrained from acknowledging Biden has won the race. Here's a rundown of how some Arizona Republicans are conducting themselves.

Outright Denial & Conspiracy Theories

Let's start with Kelli Ward, chair of the Arizona Republican Party. In public statements and on Twitter, Ward continues to criticize Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes and Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, both of whom are Democrats, claiming voter fraud has occurred under their watch and that the election is being stolen from Trump.

At a November 5 press conference with representatives of the Trump campaign at the Arizona GOP's headquarters in Phoenix, Ward riled up a group of supporters, saying, "Stay vigilant, stay awake. Do not let this election be stolen."

A week later, she was still at it. "We want transparency & sunlight while Hobbs wants secrecy & darkness," Ward wrote in a November 12 tweet. "They expect us to trust what they say rather than believe what we see. #StopTheSteal"

The Arizona GOP — which, again, Ward leads — has filed several long-shot lawsuits against local officials alleging issues with the election administration, seemingly aimed at undermining Arizona's election results.

Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar, who represents Arizona's 4th Congressional District, was at that GOP press conference, too. Gosar is also all-in on the conspiracy theory that there was a targeted effort to swing the election results in Biden's favor.

"We cannot let our nation fall to Third World election status. Had we known of the massive election fraud we would have invited UN observers," he wrote in a November 9 tweet. "Donald Trump is the legitimate winner in Arizona and other states. Join us is stopping the steal."

State Representative Kelly Townsend (R–Apache Junction) has been raising the specter of election fraud of social media for days now.

"The fact that Fontes lost is not proof there is no fraud," she wrote on Twitter on November 13, referring to the fact that Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, a Democrat who oversaw the election in Arizona's most populous county, lost his reelection bid. "A better cabinet position awaits, should Biden win."

"We removed God from our country. We kill millions of unborn people, " Townsend wrote in another post on November 8. "How can we expect honesty from those promoting an anti-God, anti-Christ agenda? Do we really think they have integrity and will not seek to undermine our Republic?"

State Representative Walt Blackman (R–Flagstaff) tweeted in support of the debunked conspiracy theory that poll workers were using Sharpie pens to intentionally disenfranchise Republican voters.

"We can send a man to the moon, but we can't provide Arizonans with secure and transparent voting results after turning in their ballots. Sharpiegate is real," Blackman wrote on Twitter on November 8. "As leaders, we had better take this seriously. We can't stick our heads in the sand on this one folks."

Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, investigated the issue and determined that, in fact, no voter disenfranchisement had occurred due to poll workers' distribution of Sharpie pens.

Investigate! Investigate!

Other Arizona Republicans have adopted less hysterical and conspiracy-infused rhetoric that nevertheless still calls the election results into question. They haven't accepted the election results and are casting skepticism on its outcome, but haven't yet alleged outright fraud.

Arizona state Senator Karen Fann (R–Prescott), who lead the Senate Republican caucus, falls into this camp. She issued a letter on November 9 calling on Hobbs to address claims that the "election was conducted unfairly, if not fraudulently" by making available "all data and the logic and accuracy tests to independent expert evaluation." In a statement issued alongside the letter, she also called on the Arizona Attorney General's Office to "expand" the hand count audit in Maricopa County to a larger share of voting center locations.

Election officials in counties across the state already conducted a hand count audit of ballots and found no irregularities. That hasn't stopped the Arizona GOP from suing to force another audit, a move that Arizona's Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich has said is legally baseless, according to the Arizona Republic.

"I am not claiming fraud was involved in Arizona's election, but we must do everything we can to satisfy Arizonans that the count was lawfully done," Fann said in her statement.

Several representatives of Arizona’s congressional delegation have also called for further investigation. Reps. Andy Biggs (AZ-05), Paul Gosar (AZ-04), and David Schweikert (AZ-06) all co-signed a letter sent to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors on November 13 asking for a complete audit of the case ballots and to let “tabulators” review “ballot images and compare the results to current totals.”

“Americans and Arizonans must have full confidence in our election processes and systems in order to maintain the bedrock of our constitutional republic,” they said in a joint statement. “Although Arizona conducts elections with far more transparency and accountability than other states, there have been some issues raised about the integrity of some of our election systems within the state. Let’s leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of accountability and transparency.”

Even the newly elected Republican Maricopa County Recorder, Stephen Richer, was extremely hesitant to acknowledge Biden's win in Arizona during an interview with 12 News reporter Brahm Resnik on Sunday night.

"All around you, Republicans are not accepting the result of this election — in particular, Joe Biden’s victory, that he’s president-elect. Do you accept that? That Joe Biden is the president-elect?" Resnik asked.

"I only know about the election administration here in Arizona, and I've had tunnel vision over the last week as I’ve slowly come back from behind," Richer responded. "I know there’s a few remaining questions ... assuming those two pieces of litigation don’t end up anyplace significant, then, yeah, it looks like Vice President Biden will win Arizona."

Resnik wasn't having it.

"As of last night, he won Arizona. Do you accept that?"

Again, Richer refused to entirely ditch the party line and call the race for Biden.

"Yeah, as of right now, absolutely," he said. "At this point, there is no reason to think that those votes are invalid. I know people are going to continue looking at things and asking questions, and that's a healthy process, and it's good and should be explored."

Richer also declined to criticize President Donald Trump for refusing to concede the election and spreading baseless conspiracy theories about mass voter fraud and election tampering.

"I really haven’t even looked at those," he said, referring to Trump's rhetoric. "Like I said, I’ve just been following what’s been going on here in Arizona. I thought we had a pretty solid election."

Tactical Silence

On Election Night, both Fox News and the Associated Press called Arizona for Biden, drawing the ire of conservatives and rebukes from Governor Doug Ducey, who pointed to the fact that there were still hundreds of thousands of ballots to count in the state. In a November 5 statement, Ducey called on "media outlets, cable news and national pundits" to "avoid the temptation to declare a winner until our Arizona election officials have finished their jobs."

Ducey, who sought to align himself with Trump during the campaign, also endorsed Trump's legal response to the election results in a November 9 tweet.

"The President, just like any other candidate, has the right to all available legal challenges and remedies, and we are confident they will be properly adjudicated," he wrote. "We will respect the election results."

Notably, Ducey has not made any public statements denouncing the conspiracy theories about voter fraud or election tampering being floated by other Arizona Republicans and Trump. Nearly two weeks later, he still has not acknowledged that Joe Biden is the president-elect. And Ducey only acknowledged Democrat Mark Kelly's decisive win over incumbent Republican Senator Martha McSally on Friday, when McSally finally conceded the Arizona Senate race — several days after it became mathematically impossible for McSally to win.

Hard Truths

We may as well call this category "Mark Brnovich," since Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich is so far the only high-profile Arizona Republican to forcefully put to bed accusations of mass voter fraud and accept the fact that Biden is the winner in Arizona.

In a November 11 interview with Fox Business's Neil Cavuto, Brnovich said that Biden would likely win Arizona based on the vote margin at the time and number of remaining ballots.

He also cited the fact that Republicans won in local races — Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel, who won her reelection bid by a large margin, being one example — as indicative of the fact that there wasn't some malicious Democratic conspiracy to rig the election in their favor.

"In Arizona, there was a prediction that the Legislature would flip; it didn’t. There were some Congressional districts that supposedly leaned Democratic; they didn’t flip. The county recorder here — oversees elections — went from Democrat to Republican. The county attorney remained Republican," he said. "If indeed there was some great conspiracy, it apparently didn’t work, since the county election official who is a Democrat lost and other Republicans won."

"What really happened and came down to was people split their ticket. People voted for Republicans down-ballot, but they didn’t vote for President Trump or Martha McSally. That’s the reality," he added. "Just because that happened doesn’t mean it’s fraud."
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Josh Kelety is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Inlander and Seattle Weekly.
Contact: Josh Kelety