As of Monday morning, Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne said the county had validated 10,356 signatures from petitions seeking the recall of state Senate President Russell Pearce.
That's 2,600 more than the 7,756 signatures required by statute from Pearce's Legislative District 18.
But if a recall election is now inevitable, so too are the bogus allegations of massive "fraud" emanating from Pearce's camp.
Osborne told me that so far, based on what she's seein during the validation process, such characterizations are "inaccurate."
She pointed out that some people have signed the petition more than once, but there's nothing wrong with that, as long as they're signing their own names.
Indeed, from jump, recall organizer Randy Parraz of Citizens for a Better Arizona has admitted that there will be duplicate John Hancocks.
Anyone familiar with signature-gathering will tell you that duplicates are common. And duplicates are not proof of fraud.
Yet, Pearce and his slavish supporters have no recourse but to press on with their scurrilous claims. So along comes "reporter" Linda Bentley of the Cave Creek-based, far right bi-weekly Sonoran News to aid and abet in the mudslinging and misinformation.
A committed nativist and a die-hard birther despite President Obama's release of his long-form birth certificate, Bentley reveres Pearce. And she did him a big favor by writing her June 15 article, "Pearce Recall Petitions Indicate Massive Voter Registration Fraud."
As I reveal below, this misstatement of fact masquerading as a headline is actually belied by Bentley's primary example. And yet, her shabbily-reported piece has been effective in telling the wingnuts what they want to hear, truth be damned.
The article has been quoted as fact by several right-wing Web sites, including the Sonoran Alliance and Seeing Red AZ blogs, as well as the sites for the Maricopa County GOP and the Arizona Republican Party.
Pearce himself disseminated the inaccurate information by proxy, specifically via e-mail fundraising blasts sent out by the organization Ban Amnesty Now, run by one-time Arizona GOP executive director Sean McCaffrey.
The Senate President holds the title of "honorary national co-chairman" of B.A.N. Essentially, the non-profit 501(c)4 raises money by sending out insane, wingnut screeds soliciting donations.
In one dated June 22, McCaffrey repeats Bentley's allegations of fraud as if they are written in stone. Problem is, Bentley's main example of this supposed fraud is not fraud at all.
In fact, Osborne emphatically stated that the main petition-signer Bentley cites, a woman by the name of Benita Lantigua, has done absolutely nothing wrong.
"She did everything she was supposed to do as a citizen," Osborne told me of the Mesa resident, who over the years, has married and divorced a few times, changing her name in the process, but not her physical address.
Osborne said that Lantigua changed her registration to reflect her new names, but that county elections had not consolidated the registrations into one.
"I did have staff research it," said Osborne of the Bentley allegation. "She was on the files on the three positions, but she had never voted in the inappropriate name and had not signed the petition dually."
Did Bentley contact county elections about the matter? Osborne said she has not been contacted directly by Bentley or her paper. She had the item researched after the article's publication.
Nor does Bentley quote any county personnel. If she had contacted the county, she might have discovered that the names had not been consolidated and the woman had done nothing wrong.
Moreover, Bentley apparently did not bother to contact Lantigua, the woman she's maligned. I looked Lantigua up, found her phone number and gave her a call.
Lantigua had not seen the article and was genuinely puzzled by the allegation.
"I only signed once," she said of the petition. "I did not sign it twice."
She freely admitted that she had changed her name because of divorce and remarriage in the past. And county records reflect that she re-registered under her new name when appropriate.
And yet, Bentley identified her by name and by address, suggesting that she had committed fraud. Bentley mentioned other last names Lantigua's had, as well.
Bentley makes much of the fact that there were three registrations for the same address under different last names, and each was "active."
But Osborne explained that this simply means that the county has sent out three pieces of mail to the home. When nothing comes back, the name stays "active."
There would be possible fraud if Lantigua had voted in the same election under different names, or if she'd signed the petition under different names.
But this didn't occur, according to Osborne.
Did Bentley choose Lantigua to pick on because of her Hispanic surnames? I don't know, but Bentley does use some coded language implying that some of those who signed were illegal immigrants.
She writes: "There were plenty of other examples of people signing the petition with Latin names who could barely print, let alone sign, claiming a birthplace of Mexico, Guatemala or `Not Provided.'
"Many stated their occupations as `laborer' or, in some instances, as `laborers.'"
Web sites for the Arizona GOP and the Maricopa County GOP reproduced Bentley's false allegation against Lantigua verbatim.
Seeing Red Arizona gushed effusive praise:
"Ace investigative reporter Linda Bentley has done another bang-up job with her exposé of voter and registration fraud revealed in the Pearce recall petitions."
McCaffrey lists each of Lantigua's past names in his e-mail blast.
I advised Lantigua that she may wish to consult an attorney. And I have sent her the various links to the Web sites involved.
And she's not the only one who could be considering possible legal action over accusations of "fraud."
Friday, Chad Snow, chairman of the recall effort and himself a lawyer, fired off a letter to Pearce, Ban Amnesty Now, and Pearce's lawyer Lisa Hauser, demanding immediate retractions to the B.A.N. smears.
"It is one thing to call us `open borders extremists', `socialists,' `anarchists,' the `open borders cartel,' `mafia members,' `thugs' and the like - petty name calling, while unbecoming of a Senate President, is what we have come to expect from you.
"But when you start disseminating information accusing us of `supporting massive voter fraud' and `illegal' activities, you have crossed a line into defamation, which is recognized as a tort in the State of Arizona."
As for Bentley, I can certify from having met her before that she's imbibed deeply of the nativist Kool-Aid, though that's hardly an excuse in this case.
Indeed, should you doubt my assessment, you need only read this latest article by her and observe its glaring inaccuracies, which I have already demonstrated. I can only hope some appropriate legal action will follow.
UPDATE: Just discovered more ammo for Lantigua's lawyer if and when she gets one. Check out this passage from Sonoran News publisher/editor Don Sorchych, based on Bentley's "reporting":
"Bentley found a Mexican woman who has voting rights under three different last names at the same home address. She is likely an illegal also, in which case she has no right to vote. If she is legal, she has a right to vote once, not three times."
I called Lantigua with this latest allegation. She informed me that she is a naturalized U.S. citizen, has a U.S. passport, and works at a local bank.
She also says she is considering legal action against the paper.
Bully for her.
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