Arizona officials blast attorney general for election report

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (file)

PHOENIX (AP) — Republican officials who oversee elections in Maricopa County issued a blistering retort Wednesday to GOP Attorney General Mark Brnovich accusing the state’s top lawman of abusing his position and misleading the public about the 2020 election to advance his U.S. Senate campaign.

The county officials issued a nine-page response after Brnovich last month released an "interim report" on his findings in a criminal investigation of the 2020 election. The report outlined his concerns with some election procedures but did not provide proof of any major issues despite six months of investigation.

"It’s disappointing that I have to write this about a person that I previously admired, and considered a friend and a good man," County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican, said of Brnovich. Richer was not involved in conducting the 2020 election but has forcefully defended the staff in his office against allegations they broke rules to deny a victory to then-President Donald Trump.

Richer said he’s learning to live with Republican officials who privately acknowledge the election was conducted well but publicly raise doubts, but Brnovich should be held to a higher standard as Arizona’s chief law enforcement officer.

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"Where it’s different is where you have an ethical responsibility as an attorney," Richer said. "Where it’s different is where you have the awesome power, the ultimate power of the state, which is to deprive people of liberty and to ruin their reputation."

Brnovich said in a statement that everyone should want the same thing: "fair elections that maintain accuracy and promote public confidence."

"Hurling accusations and holding divisive press conferences will not move us any closer to that goal," he said.

Maricopa County, which includes more than 60% of Arizona’s voters, has been at the center of the push by Trump and his supporters to advance the lie that the 2020 election was marred by fraud. A widely mocked review conducted on behalf of state Senate Republicans did not dispute now-President Joe Biden’s victory in the county but claimed there were a variety of irregularities. The report tried to paint routine election practices as errors, irregularities or sinister efforts to deny Trump another term.

"I want to say something now to the Republicans who are listening," said Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates, a Republican. "We used to be the party of facts. We used to be the party of the rule of law. What happened? What happened, Mr. Brnovich?"

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Brnovich’s highly unusual "interim report" said some of the forms documenting the transportation of ballots were missing signatures or other information. He also claimed that election officials worked too quickly in verifying voter signatures on mail ballots and contended a drop in the number of ballots with rejected signatures between 2016 and 2018 and again in 2020 warrants scrutiny. And he claimed that county officials were slow in responding to his requests for information.

The county officials said in Wednesday’s response that Brnovich’s report disregarded obvious explanations and was written to make it appear the election results could be questioned. They said error rates on ballot transfer forms were tiny and no ballots were tampered with and that changes in the law, a larger staff and new technology account for the drop in rejected ballots.

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The county officials also took issue with Brnovich’s comments on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s podcast in which he claimed that Maricopa County used artificial intelligence to verify signatures on mail ballots. The officials said every signature was verified by a human.

They suggested Brnovich’s public comments about an ongoing criminal investigation may violate his ethical obligations as a prosecutor but stopped short of filing a complaint with the State Bar of Arizona.

Brnovich is courting Trump’s endorsement for his Senate run, which would give him a significant boost in a field with no clear Republican frontrunner to take on Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly.

Shortly after his "interim report" failed to confirm Trump’s claims of fraud, Trump indicated he would not back Brnovich’s campaign.