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5:08 AM Wed, Dec. 12th

GOP launches ‘audit’ of Maricopa County Recorder

Gov. Doug Ducey chat with reporters Friday about an "audit" being launched by the state Republican Party into allegations of voting irregularity in Maricopa County. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Gov. Doug Ducey chat with reporters Friday about an "audit" being launched by the state Republican Party into allegations of voting irregularity in Maricopa County. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

PHOENIX – Alleging voting “irregularities’’ the state Republican Party is launching what it calls its own an “independent audit’’ of practices by Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes – an audit being aided by a law firm that represents the party.

In a release Friday, party chairman Jonathan Lines said the investigation will focus on “allegations of fraud in the election.’’

Lines, however, provided no examples. In fact, he said the plan is to have attorney Stephen Richer, chosen by the party as the auditor, to set up a web site for people to submit information.

The GOP inquiry also will go into the decision by Fontes, a Democrat, to open “emergency voting centers’’ on the Saturday and Monday before the election. Lines has questioned the legality of such centers even though they have been operated before by Republican recorders and are used in multiple counties.

And Lines wants to look at Election Day voting procedures, challenges, ballot counting and the process for reporting results.

The move comes after Republican candidates came up short in a series of races all up and down the ballot, with the GOP losing its stranglehold on all statewide elected offices. Voters not only chose Democrat Kyrsten Sinema to replace Republican Jeff Flake in the U.S. Senate but also picked Democrats for secretary of state, state school superintendent and for one of the two open seats on the Arizona Corporation Commission.

Richer an attorney with the Phoenix law firm of Steptoe and Johnson, lists his areas of practice as corporate, autonomous vehicles, transportation and blockchain and cryptocurrency. He declined to comment.

But the state party will have its hands in the process.

Lines said the probe will be conducted with the assistance of the Statecraft law firm. That is the same firm that has represented the party in multiple lawsuits, most recently its attempt to block Fontes and Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez from giving voters who submitted early ballots an opportunity to “cure’’ differences between their signatures on the envelope and what is on file at county offices.

A deal reached between the parties allowed that practice to continue. In fact, it was expanded to all 15 counties.

Lines made it clear he starts from the position that Fontes did something wrong.

“Anyone thinking we would allow Adrian Fontes’ office to get away with non-compliant practices was wrong,’’ he said in his prepared statement. “If his hands are clean then he should have no problem with the independent audit and will fully comply.’’

An aide to Fontes said her boss “isn’t interested in commenting’’ on what Lines is planning.

And an aide to Lines said he is on vacation and not available to answer questions – including how something planned and paid for by the Arizona Republican Party can be independent – until next week.

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, reelected by a wide margin despite allegations of improprieties, sought to distance himself Friday from Lines’ allegations and audit.

“The election’s over, the people have spoken,’’ he said. Ducey said he even reached out earlier in the day to Katie Hobbs after it became evidence that she had outpolled Republican Steve Gaynor in the race for secretary of state.

“I’m going to let the party do what they’re going to do,’’ the governor continued. “I’m going to get focused on leading and governing.’’

And Ducey sidestepped multiple questions on whether he believes there was fraud.

“Those are questions you have to ask others,’’ he said. About the closest Ducey would come to raising questions about the just-completed election is that it can be good to examine the process regularly.

“I always want, and I’ve said many times before, that we can improve, we can reform,’’ the governor said. “We want it to be easy to vote and we want it to be hard to cheat.’’

But Ducey threw cold water on the idea of having that driven by a party-led probe.

“Those are issues that can be handled in a legislative session or after the calendar turns,’’ he said.

Aside from the Republicans losing winning several statewide races, Democrats picked up four seats in the 60-member House of Representatives. That trims the GOP margin there to just 31-29.

The governor, however, seemed unsurprised at the Democrat gains, particularly in the state’s largest county.

“I think Maricopa County has always been purple,’’ he said. Nor does he believe that’s a recent development, citing the election of Janet Napolitano as governor in 2001 and again in 2004, and the more than two terms that Bruce Babbitt served as governor in the 1970s and 1980s.

And that, he said, means Republicans cannot take Arizona for granted in the 2020 presidential race.

“I think it’s always going to be a challenge,’’ Ducey said. “Thankfully we don’t have a presidential race for some time, which will allow politics to stand down for a bit.’’

Lines and Republicans also have been unhappy with the fact that people can register to vote for federal candidates without presenting proof of citizenship despite such a requirement being enacted by voters in 2004.

That procedure, however, was approved by Secretary of State Michele Reagan, a Republican, to settle a lawsuit filed against the state.

That fight is over the National Voter Registration Act, approved by Congress, which allows people to register to vote for federal elections without the kind of proof Arizona demands. Instead, people need only to swear, under penalty of perjury, that they are eligible to vote.

In 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an attempt by Arizona to enforce its proof-of-citizenship requirement on those using the federal form, at least as far as federal elections.

Then earlier this year Secretary of State Michele Reagan, a Republican, signed a consent decree allowing people who register using the state form to vote, at least in federal elections, even if they did not provide the proof required under state law. There was no immediate count of how many people cast a federal-only ballot this year because they did not have state-required ID.