Lorraine Longhi Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates speaks during a press conference with other county officials during a press conference at the Maricopa County Elections Department on Monday, May 17.
Lorraine Longhi

Maricopa County’s Republican officials earlier this week joined a growing chorus of voices critical of the Arizona Senate’s audit of the 2020 election results, calling the process a disaster, mind-boggling, and a grift.

The audit of Maricopa County’s election results was commissioned earlier this year by the state’s Republican-controlled Senate to “ensure transparency and integrity” in the election, but it has been plagued by concerns of mismanagement, lack of transparency and lapses in security

Despite insistences from supporters of former President Donald Trump, elections officials across the country on both sides of the political aisle have found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors—a majority of whom are Republican—and Republican Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer joined Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone, a Democrat, to speak out against the audit on Monday. Arizona election officials and experts have called the audit an effort by fringe Republicans attempting to relitigate the election. 

Richer, who unseated former recorder and Democrat Adrian Fontes in last November’s election, said he felt compelled to speak out after “outlandish” criminal accusations had been made against him and his office.

Since taking office following the election, Richer said he had been accused of shredding ballots in last year’s election, inserting fake ballots delivered from a South Korean plane, and deleting entire voting databases. No credible evidence has been provided for any of the accusations made against Richer.

“I am now the leader of an office of 160 full-time employees, and I am tired of hearing them defamed and ridiculed,” Richer said. “They are good people. They are hard-working people. They are people of integrity. They are my friends.”

The audit is being overseen by Cyber Ninjas, a Florida cybersecurity company whose CEO has promoted conspiracy theories that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.

In response to a letter from Arizona Senate President Karen Fann accusing the county of not complying with the audit, the Board of Supervisors on Monday called the accusations false, defamatory, and “beneath the dignity of the Senate.”

“You have rented out the once good name of the Arizona State Senate to grifters and con-artists,” the board wrote in a response to Fann.

Supervisor Steve Chucri said he had initially been in favor of an audit of the election results after questions were raised by some in the community about whether or not every vote in the county had been counted, including from his own mother. 

But, on Monday, Chucri said the audit had turned into a “mockery.” 

“Let’s move forward together and hopefully put this audit behind us,” he said.

Steve Gallardo, the lone Democrat on the board, called attention to the more than six months that have passed since the Nov. 3 election.

In that time, the county has conducted two independent audits of the 2020 election results, including a hand count of a “statistically significant” number of ballots that were found to have been counted with 100% accuracy.

Former US Attorney General William Barr also told The Associated Press in December that there had been no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could change the outcome of the 2020 election.

“It’s hard to believe Mr. Chairman that it has been six months, 195 days…since Nov. 3, and we’re still talking about this,” Gallardo said. “We’re still hearing the same accusations, the same conspiracy theories, the same unfounded comments continue to be thrown out. And they’re making new ones as we go along. It seems like it just never stops.”

Call to Action To Fellow Republicans, Arizona’s Business Community

Some Republican county officials yesterday pointed to the divisiveness of the current political climate as a potential explanation for why some Republicans had yet to speak out against the audit.

More than 10,000 Arizona Republicans left the party in the days following the Jan. 6 insurrection when supporter of former President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol.

Supervisor Bill Gates called the current moment a “point of inflection” for Republicans to set themselves apart from Democrats in order to win elections in 2022. Gates said that some members of the party are instead choosing to focus on relitigating the 2020 election.

“Elected Republicans—I think are afraid of the next election and they can’t be,” Gates said. “They’ve got to stand for what is right, otherwise why did they run for office in the first place?”

Gates also questioned why Arizona’s business community, some of whom penned an op-ed in recent weeks pushing back against controversial Republican-backed voting legislation, had yet to condemn the audit.

“This is creating a black eye to Arizona, and I would think that those business leaders would want this to stop,” Gates said. “We haven’t heard much from them.”

Board Chairman Jack Sellers said Monday that it had become clear that some people in favor of the audit were only going to be happy “when they get the answers they want.”

“They’re not going to get that from the experts,” he said. “It’s truly a frustration.”

Richer suggested that elected representatives who are hearing from constituents that the election was stolen “stop indulging lies” and instead reiterate that these claims are unfounded.

Instead, Richer said Republicans who have stuck their heads out have seen those heads “whacked off” when they’ve gone out on their own.

Last weekend, Richer pushed back against “unhinged” claims and “insane lies” being propagated by former president Trump that Maricopa County had deleted its voter registration database.

In an op-ed for The Arizona Republic, Republican Senator Paul Boyer said he faced death threats and needed police protection after he voted against holding the Board of Supervisors in contempt when they initially resisted handing over the county’s ballots and voting machines for the audit. Boyer was the lone Republican who voted ‘no.’

On Monday, Richer described himself as a recorder who preferred to sit quietly on the sidelines and focus on the administrative and managerial aspects of running the office. Richer ran on a platform of making the Recorder’s Office “boring again,” citing election day problems in 2018 under Fontes that included long lines and some polling places where voters were unable to secure ballots for hours. 

Richer said it was time to join other Republicans in speaking out.

“We’re out here now, we’ve moved, and I think you’re going to see others joining,” he said. “The water’s warm. Come on in.”