January 24, 2023 7:35pm
Updated: January 24, 2023 11:29pm
Amid allegations that Arizona Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs withheld evidence last year as secretary of state during an election trial regarding the state attorney general race, new Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes is shifting the focus of the AG's election integrity unit to voter suppression.
Former Arizona Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Wright, who served in the civil division of the office's election integrity unit under former Attorney General Mark Brnovich, joined GOP attorney general nominee Abe Hamadeh's lawsuit against Hobbs and Mayes last week and argues that Hobbs didn't provide evidence in Hamadeh's trial last month.
Hamadeh's lawsuit alleges that multiple Arizona counties inaccurately counted votes in the attorney general election and requests that "all ballots read as undervotes" be inspected. After a Mohave County Superior Court judge dismissed his and the Republican National Committee's election challenge on Dec. 23, Hamadeh filed a motion earlier this month for a new trial.
In a Dec. 21 report to then-Secretary of State Katie Hobbs regarding the recount, Pinal County admitted finding a 507-vote variance between the certified election count and the recount. The recount totals weren't announced until Dec. 29 by Maricopa County Superior Court.
Hamadeh had 392 more votes after the recount, while his Democratic opponent, Attorney General Kris Mayes, had 115 more votes. The Republican initially lost the election by 511 votes, which then dropped to 280 votes after the automatic statewide recount.
Wright told the John Solomon Reports podcast on Tuesday that "the secretary of state's counsel was aware through the recount process, and the secretary of state herself was aware, that there were problems in Pinal County that specifically were the problems that Abe raised in his case that he took to trial on December 23rd."
Tabulation machines misread "validly cast votes as undervotes," which means that some votes for the attorney general election weren't counted, Wright explained.
The information regarding the updated vote total "was known to the secretary before trial," Wright said. "She did not provide information that, in fact, the concerns we raised were happening, at least in one county. And we believe that that there alone is motion for a new trial. We think that that lacked candor to the court, if evidence was withheld, and we believe that we need to retry this issue and look closely at every single ballot that had an undervote."
Wright said that she would "be fairly offended" if she was the judge in the case.
The former assistant attorney general noted that Mayes' and the new secretary of state's counsel claimed that Hamadeh filed his lawsuit too late, despite it being filed two business days after the news about Pinal County was made public.
"I'm hopeful that the judge is going to see through this," Wright said. "They're basically saying, 'There's nothing to see here, move on, this is over, we shouldn't look any further.' And that is the absolute opposite thing we should do when we need transparency and accountability so that we can heal some of these wounds that people have been feeling regarding voter integrity."
Hobbs hasn't responded to requests for comment regarding the Hamadeh lawsuit.
Meanwhile, Mayes is changing the focus of the attorney general's election integrity unit to "protecting voting access and combating voter suppression," according to a statement she gave to The Guardian.
"Under my predecessor's administration, the election integrity unit searched widely for voter fraud and found scant evidence of it occurring in Arizona," Mayes said. "That's because instances of voter fraud are exceedingly rare."
She added that she "will also use this unit to protect elections officials, election volunteers and poll workers against threats of violence and against interference in our elections," as well as defend vote-by-mail, according to a statement provided to The New York Times.
At the end of October, there were five pending voter fraud investigations. Mayes' office told the Times on Monday that there wasn't yet a plan on what to do with them.
Wright said Tuesday that there weren't any remaining election integrity civil investigations before she left office, but that there were some in the criminal division.
"These were people who voted in more than one jurisdiction," she said. "These are people who voted, maybe, a family member's ballot. These are people who were convicted felons that voted. These are people that, for instance — I believe there's an ongoing investigation in Yuma still regarding more concerns about the potential ballot harvesting operation."
"So if these criminal cases are dropped, I think that does not bode well for our state because we need to have accountability when people cheat the system, and this is giving them a free pass if she drops these cases."