Voter integrity showdown: MAGA champion vs. Soros-networked election boss in Arizona

Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs seeks promotion following string of election fumbles, fraud on her watch, including 2020 audit, illegal ballot harvesting, and 2022 ballot shortages.

Updated: August 8, 2022 - 5:45am

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Arizona's top elections official, Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, is seeking a promotion to governor following a string of fumbles and fraud on her watch, including a 2020 audit in the state's largest county, illegal ballot harvesting, and 2022 ballot shortages — all of which her Republican opponent will use against her in the November contest.

Hobbs, a zealous opponent of her state's Senate-ordered audit of the controversial 2020 presidential election in Maricopa County, has become a lightning rod for conservatives critical of election irregularities in swing-state Democratic strongholds in the 2020 presidential contest.

On the Republican side, Donald Trump-endorsed Kari Lake, a former local TV news personality, won her primary following a protracted ballot counting process. Lake beat out lawyer Karrin Taylor Robson by roughly 3%. Robson was supported by former Vice President Mike Pence. 

The outspoken Lake has been a vocal critic of the state's handling of the 2020 presidential election, for which Hobbs was responsible in her capacity as secretary of state.

Trump narrowly lost Arizona to Joe Biden by roughly 11,000 votes in 2020, with Biden securing 49.4% of the vote to Trump's 49.1%. The narrow margin, coupled with the lengthy counting process and the unusual number of mail-in ballots due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fueled accusations of voter fraud. Many proponents of an electoral audit pointed the finger at Hobbs for not securing the process.

The Arizona secretary of state, who has received support from left-wing megadonor George Soros, repeatedly chided state Republicans for their efforts to investigate the electoral process and to secure it for future races. State Republicans auditing the election are pursuing partisan aims "to continue to disrupt, to undermine voter confidence in our processes," she alleged in late May.

"It is not independent," Hobbs said of the audit team commissioned by the Republican-majority state Senate. "It is completely biased, being run by people who have already said that Donald Trump won Arizona with no evidence to back that up. These are folks with a highly partisan agenda who aren't based in reality."

But a review of the Senate audit by the Arizona Attorney General's Office confirmed "problematic system-wide issues that relate to early ballot handling and verification," Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich reported.

Brnovich pointed to "serious vulnerabilities that must be addressed and raise questions about the 2020 election in Arizona" in Maricopa County specifically. Among the issues cited by the AG, the county included 19,000 late ballots in its final tallies, a figure that could have theoretically flipped the outcome.

The AG also secured plea deals in which two women, including a Democratic elected official, admitted to involvement in a 2020 ballot harvesting scheme in Yuma County, a class six felony.

Hobbs' efforts to undermine the Maricopa County auditing process in part prompted Republican leaders to hand over "sole authority" to defend state election rules to Brnovich. The secretary of state defiantly asserted that the GOP was just frustrated over the election results.

"This statutory sleight of hand is set to expire at the end of my term, leaving no doubt that this was prompted by my efforts to protect the freedom to vote and because they did not like the outcome of the Presidential Election," Hobbs said.

The audit sought to investigate the voting machines Maricopa County used during the process and, while independent auditors did gain access to them, Hobbs told county officials to jettison the voting equipment, asserting that it had become compromised.

"I have grave concerns regarding the security and integrity of these machines, given that the chain of custody, a critical security tenet, has been compromised and election officials do not know what was done to the machines while under [audit contractor] Cyber Ninjas' control," Hobbs said.

While the Arizona Democrat did not concede that any systemic issues marred Maricopa County's final tallies in 2020, the acknowledgment that the voting machines were susceptible to compromise could play into Lake's counternarrative that elections in the state remain insecure.

Indeed, last week's primary races were marred by a string of issues, chief among them a substantial ballot shortage that led in part to the ouster of Pinal County's elections director, David Frisk, following the contest.

Though the GOP gubernatorial race remained uncalled as of Wednesday afternoon, Lake was confident enough in her lead to claim victory early, according to the Arizona Mirror. In doing so, she claimed that her totals had successfully overcome fraud schemes through the mail-in process.

"We out-voted the fraud, we didn't listen to what the fake news had to say," she said, per the Mirror. "The MAGA movement rose up and voted like their lives depended on it."

Lake secured the endorsement of former President Donald Trump with her rhetoric on election integrity and border security, though media speculated she might moderate her positions following the primary contest, a suggestion at which she balked.

"I'm not going to change who I am," Lake insisted, according to the Mirror. "Just because I won doesn't mean I'm going to pivot and turn into a Democrat."

Former Ohio Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell said Thursday that Hobbs' checkered record managing elections would provide Lake with plenty of ammunition to use against her opponent.

"I think it's ironic that the current secretary of state is the nominee of the Democrats to be governor," he said on the "Just the News, Not Noise" television show. "And this is a clear demonstration of incompetence. And I'm going to hope that it is incompetence, and not a deliberate circumventing of a free and fair election."

Blackwell, the former mayor of Cincinnati, told show cohosts John Solomon and Amanda Head: "I think there's going to be a tremendous backlash to this gross incompetence. And again, I'm hoping that it is incompetence — and we should measure whether or not she should be awarded a promotion. Or, if it's worse than incompetence and this is a deliberate undercutting of a free and fair election system, there has to be not only a political price to pay, I think there has to be a legal price to pay."