Arizona Republicans fight back against election fraud claims

PHOENIX — Republicans in Arizona’s largest county are escalating their defense of their 2020 vote count, putting them increasingly at odds with former President Donald Trump and a sizeable chunk of their party that believes without evidence that something was amiss.

Maricopa County’s top officials, almost all of them Republicans, are scheduled Monday to refute allegations of election wrongdoing raised by the Republican state Senate leader and amplified by Trump.

The showdown in Phoenix follows several days of heated rhetoric stemming from the state Senate’s unprecedented, partisan recount and audit of the 2020 election in Maricopa County. The Senate used its subpoena power to take possession of all 2.1 million ballots, the machines that counted them and hard drives full of data, then hired a firm run by a Trump supporter who has promoted election supporters to comb through all of it.

Promoted heavily in right-wing media, the audit has become a cause celebre among some of Trump’s most loyal fans, who believe it will uncover evidence of the former president’s claim that he was the rightful winner of the election.

Senate President Karen Fann last week sent a letter to Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers questioning records that document the chain of custody of the ballots and accusing county officials of deleting data. Sellers responded: “That would be a crime – and it is not true.”

Trump sent a statement saying, in part, that “the entire Database of Maricopa County in Arizona has been DELETED! This is illegal and the Arizona State Senate, who is leading the Forensic Audit, is up in arms.”

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, one of the county’s top election officials, on Saturday called the statement “unhinged” and called on other Republicans to stop the unfounded accusations.

“We can’t indulge these insane lies any longer. As a party. As a state. As a country,” Richer tweeted.

Richer was elected in the same election many in his party are now questioning, defeating an incumbent Democrat. As recorder, he oversees the voter registration database and the mail voting operation, including signature verification, while the county board oversees the team charged with election-day operations and counting ballots.

Republicans who have disputed fraud allegations have faced a severe backlash.

Clint Hickman, who until recently was the GOP chairman of the Board of Supervisors, has been the subject of conspiracy theories, including that a massive fire at the egg-producing farm his family owns was cover for burning Trump ballots.

State Sen. Paul Boyer had to change his phone number, flee his house with his wife and young son and get police protection after he voted against holding the Board of Supervisors in contempt earlier this year. His vote killed a resolution that would have authorized the arrest of county officials during a dispute over whether the Senate had the power to subpoena ballots.

Boyer recently said the Senate’s handling of the audit has been embarrassing.