Arizona Republican Party, chair Kelli Ward sued over refusal to audit her election
Two Republican activists are suing the Arizona Republican Party and its chair Kelli Ward over her refusals to allow an audit of the results and procedures used for the state party's January elections.
In a complaint filed Friday in Maricopa County Superior Court, an attorney for William Beard and Sandra Dowling asked a judge to require the state party to explain why it shouldn’t conduct an audit, noting that further delay only makes the situation worse for Dowling while there is no harm at all to doing the audit.
"Without Court intervention, the audit simply will not happen," attorney Tim La Sota argued in court papers. "... The balance of harm in this case could hardly be starker."
The lawsuit comes after Ward repeatedly has rejected calls by GOP activists challenging her win to allow for a review of the results and the methods used during what they deemed a "chaotic" election process.
State party officials did not allow the media to cover the election process on Jan. 23, a departure from what had been standard, open-door practice.
Ward and the Arizona GOP's attorney have rebuffed calls for an audit of the election, saying it did not have the structure to do one and that party activists, known as state committeemen, would have to formally vote to do so.
Attorney Jack Wilenchik, who represents the state Republican Party, said Friday he had not yet seen the complaint.
"They need to go to the state committee," Wilenchik said. "... I don't know why they're barking up the wrong tree still. Unfortunately, now, it sounds like it's going to cause some lawyers' fees for the party. But we will, of course, defend the lawsuit, and get rid of it."
Ward, who echoed former President Donald Trump's baseless claims of election fraud and called for interventions in the presidential election, did not immediately respond Friday to The Arizona Republic's attempts to reach her.
She won reelection as party chair in a narrow race that went to a runoff and illustrated how deeply divided party activists felt about returning her to the post after Republicans lost both the races for president and U.S. Senate but maintained control of the state Legislature.
Ward has used those losses as a way to motivate voters to get more involved in the political process. She won her reelection bid thanks in part to Trump, who endorsed her for the unpaid job as he exited the White House. The position has given her a perch to speak to the party faithful and war with the governor and establishment Republicans on issues ranging from election integrity to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is unclear whether an audit would affect the actual outcome of the election. But it would provide transparency about the election process, the complaint said.
In legal documents, La Sota noted that Dowling, who ran for an at-large committee position in the 8th Congressional District, initially was announced as a winner. She was later told she had not won; Ward blamed the mistake on "human error."
Beard, meanwhile, had made a lengthy series of concerns to Ward about election procedures, such as ballots left unguarded and insufficient tracking of ballots.
"Based on the significant number of irregularities and general chaos, various state party committee members," including Dowling and Beard, voiced their concerns at the Jan. 23 party meeting about "the need for an audit to ensure that the votes were properly counted."
Among the people they spoke to was Republican National Committeeman Tyler Bowyer, who on that day served as parliamentarian of the meeting, the complaint said. Boyer said at that meeting that the requests were within their rights, it said. A day later, in an email to Dowling, he wrote that "the ballots were all collected and should be with the AZGOP staff." He wrote that the party's executive director Greg Safsten "can assist you with scheduling a time to review them!"
Separately, Sergio Arellano, a candidate for chair who lost to Ward, was "assured" by Safsten "that such an audit would occur," the complaint said.
The complaint argues that the AZGOP's bylaws provide for an audit: "Indeed, it will be difficult for the Defendants to even present a case in opposition given the position the State Party has taken in other courts regarding the need for verifiable election results. Ms. Ward personally filed suit in Maricopa County Superior Court seeking access to thousands of ballots that had been cast in the 2020 presidential election to review for tabulating errors or irregularities."
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