Attorney General Mark Brnovich wants the legislature to fund a new voter fraud unit, with an eye toward refuting the baseless claims of voter fraud that swirled in some political circles after the 2018 election.
The budget agreement reached by Gov. Doug Ducey and Republican legislative leadership includes $530,000 for an elections integrity unit that would have four full-time employees. Ryan Anderson, a spokesman for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, said Brnovich, a Republican, asked for the funding in response to Republican lawmakers who raised questions about fraud in last year’s election.
But rather than seeking to find alleged fraud, Anderson said part of the point is shoot down the allegations. He said the Attorney General’s Office has received a number of complaints, but subsequent investigations haven’t found any actual fraud.
“The notion that there is fraud, pervasive fraud, in our elections is damaging to the collective confidence of the public in our elections and in our public institutions,” Anderson said. “So, what we have said, if there is in fact fraud, don’t you want to know? And if there isn’t fraud, and that is what the ultimate determination is on a yearly basis, isn’t that good to know, as well?”
Anderson said the purpose of the elections integrity unit, as it would be called, is to “promote and to ensure open, honest and lawful elections.”
After post-Election Day vote counting erased early GOP leads and resulted in several big Democratic wins in November, some Republicans alleged foul play and made baseless claims of electoral fraud. Even President Donald Trump tweeted about “election corruption” in Arizona.
No evidence has ever lent any truth to the claims.
The Arizona Republican Party commissioned an “audit” of the election in Maricopa County in response to the myriad allegations. Attorney Stephen Richer’s preliminary findings were critical of Democratic Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes – Richer is now running against him for the 2020 election – and repeated several inflammatory claims about the election, but acknowledged that he had found no evidence to back them up.
Social media activity among Republicans would lead people to believe there was massive, widespread fraud in the 2018 election, Anderson said. But the Attorney General’s Office received few actual complaints, he said. And none of the complaints found any proof of wrongdoing, though Anderson noted not all investigations have concluded.
“I think that was one of the things that was frustrating for us, is people are perpetuating a narrative that there was voter fraud, to which we say, show us the complaints, show us the proof. And if you have credible proof and credible complaints, then we will investigate them. And we didn’t get a lot of those,” Anderson said.
Actual cases of verified election fraud are extremely rare. The most common type of election-related malfeasance is people who vote in the same election in multiple states. Oftentimes, Anderson said, those people don’t even realize they’re not allowed to do so. He said the Attorney General’s Office has prosecuted about 30 of those cases in recent years.
If lawmakers approve Brnovich’s request, Arizonans will be able to submit complaints on the attorney general’s website. The Attorney General’s Office would produce an annual report on the complaints it received in the previous year and the disposition of those cases. If the attorney general finds criminal wrongdoing, the report could make recommendations to the legislature, as well.
The $530,000 that Brnovich is requesting will pay for four full-time employees: a senior criminal attorney; a sworn agent who is certified by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training board; a support staffer, such as a paralegal or assistant; and a forensics auditor. Anderson said the Attorney General’s Office has long sought to hire a forensics auditor, and has historically had to rely on the Auditor General’s Office for such expertise.
However, Anderson said there likely isn’t enough work to keep an election fraud unit working full-time, so the Attorney General’s Office plans to hire people whose skills will translate to other criminal investigations. Anderson said the unit will likely also focus on issues such as misuse of public money, embezzlement and public integrity issues.
Fontes was supportive of Brnovich’s plan. If it helps maintain the integrity of Arizona elections, he said, “I’m all for it.”
“Voter confidence is the goal of all election administrators, and one of the best ways to improve is to work fighting voter fraud while restoring confidence in election systems,” he said. “Having a respected and objective entity to help do that as a partner would be great.”
Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, whose come-from-behind win in November was the focus on conspiracy theories and baseless fraud claims, is looking forward to learning more about the proposed unit, said spokeswoman Murphy Hebert. Hobbs takes concerns about voter fraud seriously, Hebert said, and believes the processes that in place to prevent it are working, as evidenced by the lack of prosecutions.
“We look forward to any opportunity to demonstrate the integrity of our election process,” Hebert said.