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Arizona Republicans sue fellow state party members over election laws

 Arizona Republican Party
Arizona Republican Party

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Arizona Republicans are suing other Republicans in the state in a dispute over what's required under state election laws and rules.
The Arizona Republican Party and the Republican National Committee contend in new legal papers that Maricopa County is not complying with requirements to have inspectors from both political parties at polling places. Similar requirements exist, the lawsuit says, for the boards that oversee processing of early ballots, vote adjudication boards and the boards that oversee operations at county election headquarters.
What that resulted in, attorneys for the national party charge, is the county hiring 857 Democratic poll workers but only 712 Republicans. And 11 county voting centers in the 2022 primary had no Republican poll workers at all.
So attorneys for the party want Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Daniel Kiley to issue orders to ensure that the county has more GOP poll workers for the upcoming general election. And they want to be sure those poll workers come from lists created by the Republican Party.
In a joint statement, supervisors Chairman Bill Gates and Stephen Richer, the county recorder, called the lawsuit a "political stunt.''
"We contact everyone on the list the parties provide us,'' the two officials said.
And there's something else.
"The idea that a Republican recorder and four Republican board members would try to keep Republicans out of elections is absurd,'' they said.
There was no denial by the county of the claim that some polling places came of short of Republican watchers. But in a separate posting, the county Elections Department said it's not because of the lack of efforts.
"Unfortunately, not all are willing or able to serve,'' the agency said. And then there's the problem of election workers quitting at the last minute.
"Our recruiters do their best to backfill these positions with someone from the same party,'' the statement says. "But there are some instances when that is not possible.''
In those cases, according to the Elections Department, it follows the state Election Procedures Manual to ensure that election boards "still have a diversity of parties and affiliations.''
And Megan Gilbertson, spokeswoman for the County Recorder's Office, pointed out that the legal requirement for diverse election boards does not necessarily mean each major party gets someone at every site.
"Bipartisan could mean a Republican and an independent, a Democrat and a Libertarian,'' she said.
The lawsuit comes amid increasing hostility between the state party, whose top official, Kelli Ward, has backed the baseless claim that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 election, and county officials who say they ran a clean and legitimate election and are defending the results that showed Joe Biden outpolling the now-former president by 45,109 votes. That was enough to overcome Trump support elsewhere and give Biden a 10,457-vote victory and the state's 11 electoral votes.
Ward even filed suit against Vice President Mike Pence right after the 20202 election in a bid to void the laws which given the ultimate authority to Congress to decide which Electoral College delegates should be counted. Instead, she asked the court to order that Pence has and must exercise unilateral power to decide which slate of electors from Arizona and other disputed states should be counted -- or if none of the electoral votes for Biden from Arizona should be counted at all.
And Ward, along with husband, Michael, were part of a slate of fake electors on a list sent by the state GOP to Washington saying that Trump had won Arizona.
The new lawsuit contains no claims about the 2020 vote. Instead, it picks up on the theme that Maricopa County is conducting its elections this year in ways that violate state laws, action that the party lawyers say "inevitably breeds distrust and doubts among the electorate.''
Lawyers for the GOP contend there is no reason the county cannot find qualified Republicans to serve as election workers what with more than 830,000 registered party adherents. But what's happening, they said, is the county has established "onerous hours requirements'' and created "unduly inhospitable working conditions'' and then used that to say why they can't find enough people who, while paid a nominal amount, essentially are volunteers.
"Telling such potential board members that they will not be appointed unless they agree to lengthy and onerous day and hour commitments screens out anyone with full-time employment or family commitments and thus many of the individuals the Republican Party has nominated,'' the lawsuit claims. What is also does, the lawyers say, is screen out many elderly and disabled people who would otherwise be willing to serve.
Gilbertson acknowledged there are requirements for many of the jobs that could deter some from agreeing to serve. But she said these cannot simply be waived.
"Each position has a certain amount of time that is needed, from the number of hours in the day to the number of weeks required,'' she said. And Gilbertson said state law says anyone working at a voting location on Election Day cannot leave.
"If you leave, you couldn't come back,'' she said.
She acknowledged the hours are long.
Check-in, Gilbertson said, is 5:30 a.m., a half hour before the polls open.
"They don't leave until the last voter gets to cast their ballot, break down the voting location, and bring the memory cards and ballots back to the Elections Department,'' she said.
Gilbertson said other election positions have different requirements, like picking up heavy boxes or being able to sit at a table for long periods of time.
The attorneys for the GOP were not persuaded. They argued to Kiley that the requirements for equal access by the parties to polling places and other sites where election work goes on trumps any working conditions the county imposes.
No date has been set for a hearing.
The increasingly hostile situation over election issues has shown up in other -- and less legal -- ways: threats against those involved in the process.
Most recently, the U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday arrested an Iowa man accused of sending threatening communications Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman. According to the indictment, Mark Rissi left a voicemail last year threatening to hang Hickman.
"When we come to lynch your stupid lying Commie (expletive), you'll remember that you lied on the (expletive) Bible, you piece of (expletive),'' the indictment quotes Rissi as saying.
"This wasn't protected speech,'' Hickman said in response to the indictment. "This was a serious threat to me and my family.''
The incident, he said, is not an aberration, saying he and other supervisors received numerous threats during the past two years, as has Richer.
"And worst of all, county elections staff doing their job honorably are getting calls and emails threatening violence, calling them traitors,'' Hickman said. "It's despicable.''
Rissi is separately charged with leaving a phone message with Attorney General Mark Brnovich, also last year, saying that he knows the 2020 election was fraudulent and that he person is aware of images of "conspirators'' deleting election fraud data from the county's computer system.
"Do your job ... or you will hang with those son-of-a-bitches in the end,'' was the message. "We will see to it. Torches and pitchforks.''
Brnovich said he was glad the Department of Justice is taking such threats seriously.
"We cannot tolerate violence in our political system,'' he said.
No date has been set for Rissi's court appearance.
On Twitter: @azcapmedia