Analysis: Election deniers faced defeat but election denialism is still swirling in Arizona

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CNN
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Many of the candidates who promoted former President Donald Trump’s lies that the 2020 election was “rigged” and “stolen” were defeated in November, a pattern heralded by Democrats that is already reshaping the contours of the 2024 election – leading the former president to modulate his tone when he recently launched another bid for the White House.

But the efforts to cast doubts about the management and operation of the 2022 election are still festering in Arizona, long a hotbed of election conspiracies that spawned the sham audit of the 2020 Maricopa County results by the now-defunct firm Cyber Ninjas after Trump questioned Joe Biden’s victory there. The continuing election denialism underscores that although the highest profile promoters of Trump’s election lies were defeated, the efforts to undermine democracy will carry on.

Several Trump-backed Republican candidates at the top of Arizona’s ticket, including defeated GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake, defeated Secretary of State candidate Mark Finchem, as well as GOP Attorney General candidate Abe Hamadeh – whose is trailing his opponent Democrat Kris Mayes by 510 votes as their race heads toward a recount – have seized on a problem with Maricopa County’s printers on Election Day to make exaggerated claims about the election.

Maricopa officials have said that printer problems affected about 70 vote centers, preventing some ballots from being read by tabulator machines on Election Day, but that the problems were fixed and that those ballots were set aside in a secure ballot box and counted separately. Bill Gates, the Republican Chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, called the inconvenience and the long lines that resulted “unfortunate” in one Twitter video but said “every voter had an opportunity to cast a vote on Election Day.”

But that has not stopped the issue from spiraling into a swirl of misinformation and conspiracy theories about the overall management of the election within the hard-right faction of Arizona’s Republican Party, despite the best efforts by other Republican election officials to squelch conspiracy theories and fact-check them in real time.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican who rebuffed Trump’s efforts to overturn Arizona’s 2020 election results, is once again among the officials signaling that it is time to move on.

Though Lake has not conceded in her race against Democrat Katie Hobbs, who is the current secretary of state, Ducey posted pictures Wednesday of his meeting with Hobbs on Twitter, noting that he had congratulated the governor-elect on “her victory in a hard-fought race and offered my full cooperation as she prepares to assume the leadership of the State of Arizona.”

The issues could come to a head next week. Monday is the deadline for counties in the Grand Canyon State to certify their general election results – with statewide certification slated to follow on December 5. Any recounts cannot begin until after certification. In the leadup to those events, Lake has posted videos and missives on Twitter insisting that she is “still in the fight.”

Because some voters were forced to stand in long lines – a unremarkable occurrence on Election Day in many states – Lake charged during a recent appearance on Steve Bannon’s program “War Room” that her opponents “discriminated against people who chose to vote on Election Day.”

Rather than using Trump’s 2020 buzzwords like ‘rigged,’ Lake has generally used more narrow language, describing the management of the election as “botched” and “the shoddiest ever” while accusing Maricopa County of “dragging its feet” in providing information about the election to her campaign.

Lake’s arguments were bolstered by a letter from Arizona’s Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Wright last week to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office seeking information about what Wright described as “myriad problems that occurred in relation to Maricopa County’s administration of the 2022 General Election.” (Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich is a Republican).

The letter requested information about ballot-on-demand printer configuration settings that contributed to problems getting ballots read by on-site ballot tabulators; as well as the procedures for handling ballots that were supposed to be segregated and placed in the secure ballot box; and information about the handling of voters who checked in at one polling place but wanted to check out to vote in a second voting location, either because of wait times or other issues.

Gates said the county would respond to the questions from the attorney general’s office “with transparency as we have done throughout this election” before it holds its public meeting on Monday to canvass the election. The canvass, Gates said, is “meant to provide a record of the votes counted and those that were not legally cast.”

“There will be no delays or games; we will canvass in accordance with state law,” he said in the statement.

But in Cochise County, a community of roughly 125,000 people in southeastern Arizona, the two Republicans on the three-person Board of Supervisors recently opted to delay a vote on certification until Monday’s deadline, citing their concerns about vote-tallying machines.

That prompted the Secretary of State’s office to threaten legal action if county did not complete certification by the deadline. Peggy Judd, one of the Republican supervisors who initially voted to delay action, told The Arizona Republic this week that she has decided to certify the results when the board meets.

CNN has reached out to Judd for comment.

Still, the 11th-hour drama in the Republican stronghold underscores the mistrust of standard election procedures that has taken hold in parts of this battleground state ever since Biden won the state in 2020, the first Democrat presidential nominee to do so in nearly a quarter century.

Officials in a second county – Mohave, in the northwest corner of the state – also voted to delay their certification until Monday’s deadline. But officials there described their move as a political statement to register displeasure with issues that arose on Election Day in Maricopa County.

Like Lake, Finchem has refused to concede his race to Democrat Adrian Fontes while he has sent out fundraising solicitations to his supporters claiming that he is trying to get to the bottom of “myriad issues” with the election. He has repeatedly called for a new election.

Hamadeh, the GOP attorney general candidate, filed a lawsuit in state superior court in Maricopa County this week challenging the election results based on what the suit describes as errors in the management of the election. Hamadeh’s lawsuit notes that plaintiffs are not “alleging any fraud, manipulation or other intentional wrongdoing that would impugn the outcomes of the November 8, 2022 general election.”

But the lawsuit asks the court to issue an injunction prohibiting the Arizona secretary of state from certifying Mayes as the winner and asking the court to declare Hamadeh as the winner – while alleging that there was an “erroneous count of votes,” “wrongful disqualification of provisional and early ballots” and “wrongful exclusion of provisional voters.” The Republican National Committee has joined the lawsuit.

Hamadeh trails Mayes by just 510 votes and the race is heading toward an automatic recount. CNN has reached out to the Secretary of State’s office for comment.

Lake has promised that her campaign’s attempt to get more information from election officials this week are only the beginning of her efforts. It remains to be seen whether she will have any more success than Trump did in his many failed lawsuits – and whether following a course that has now been resoundingly rejected by voters will be politically prudent as she lays the groundwork for her next act.

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