After being booed off the stage at a weekend rally headlined by former President Donald Trump, Republican state senator and secretary of state hopeful Michelle Ugenti-Rita publicly lashed out at the Senate’s “botched” election review and defended her record on election integrity over criticism for voting against a fellow GOP senator’s election legislation.
Ugenti-Rita, a Scottsdale Republican who’s long been one the legislature’s most prominent Arizona advocates for “election integrity” legislation, was among the roster of candidates and political figures with speaking slots at the “Rally to Protect Our Elections,” an event hosted by Turning Point Action, an arm of the conservative organization Turning Point USA.
Boos filled the auditorium at Arizona Federal Theatre as soon as Ugenti-Rita began her remarks, rising in volume and intensity as she struggled to finish her speech.
“Pay attention,” she implored the crowd. “Why don’t you listen to what I have to say?”
Ugenti-Rita ended her speech prematurely, telling the crowd of about 5,000, “I am running to be your next secretary of state. I’m going to win the primary. Thank you very much.”
The hostile reception was the result of Ugenti-Rita’s ongoing feud with fellow Republican Sen. Kelly Townsend.
As chair of the Senate Government Committee, Ugenti-Rita refused to give hearings to several of Townsend’s election-related bills. Townsend, R-Mesa, lashed out at Ugenti-Rita on social media and later voted against her bill to renovate inactive voters from the state’s Permanent Early Voting List, saying the Senate should wait until it sees the results of Fann’s election review before moving forward on such legislation. Townsend later voted for the bill and Gov. Doug Ducey signed it into law.
Later in the legislative session, Ugenti-Rita returned the favor when she was one of two Republican senators to vote against Townsend’s bill that would have made a number of changes to Arizona’s election system. A newly added provision would have required election officials to inform the attorney general when it found signatures on early ballot envelopes that didn’t match the voter’s signature on file. The bill would have also increased requirements for chain-of-custody documentation for election equipment and imposed new requirements for people who register to vote in Arizona to cancel previous voter registrations in other states, among other changes.
Ugenti-Rita said the bill hadn’t been properly vetted in her committee before going to the Senate floor.
Townsend retaliated by voting against a Ugenti-Rita bill that would have expanded the narrow circumstances in which election officials must recount a race, which kept the bill from passing out of the Senate. Trump’s defeat by 10,457 votes, for example, did not qualify for a recount under current state law, but would have under Ugenti-Rita’s proposed threshold. Republicans hold a 16-14 majority in the Senate, and any Republican defection on a party-line vote is enough to kill a piece of legislation.
Townsend pushed back on Twitter after Ugenti-Rita’s comments about her legislation and questioned her motives for voting against Townsend’s bill.
“1st she said she didn’t read my bills. Then, the language was sloppy. Next, I went around her and her committee. Now she says it’s show legislation I was doing for myself. What is it @MichelleUgenti about election SECURITY, that the entire caucus supported scares you?” Townsend wrote.
Several hours after leaving the stage at Arizona Federal Theatre, Ugenti-Rita responded with a series of tweets defending her record on election matters and taking aim at GOP Senate President Karen Fann and her increasingly troubled “audit” of the election in Maricopa County.
Ugenti-Rita wrote that she was initially supportive of the election review, but has grown dismayed.
I wanted to review our election processes and see what, if anything, could be improved. Sadly, it’s now become clear that the audit has been botched. The total lack of competence by @FannKfann over the last 5 months has deprived the voters of Arizona a comprehensive…(4of5)
— Michelle Ugenti-RITA (@MichelleUgenti) July 25, 2021
“Sadly, it’s now become clear that the audit has been botched. The total lack of competence by @FannKfann over the last 5 months has deprived the voters of Arizona a comprehensive accounting of the 2020 election. That’s inexcusable, but it shows what can happen when Republicans do not take election integrity deadly serious,” she wrote on Twitter.
The self-styled audit, conducted by companies with little to no background in elections work, and with deep ties to the “stop the steal” movement that has promoted false and baseless claims that the 2020 election was rigged against Trump, has been increasingly plagued by problems as it drags into its fourth month.
At a recent briefing in the Senate, audit team leader Doug Logan falsely claimed there was no record of 74,000 early ballots being mailed to voters, failing to take into account that more than 200,000 Arizonans voted early at in-person voting centers, and that daily reports issued by the county before the election didn’t include those votes during the last 10 days before the election. Fann’s team also recently banned Ken Bennett, the Senate’s audit liaison, from the audit site over his unauthorized sharing of information with third parties.
Ugenti-Rita touted her record on election integrity matters as well. She noted that she sponsored a 2016 law, which was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, that banned third-party collection of early ballots, a practice that Republican critics refer to as ballot harvesting. She pointed to her legislation this year on the early voting list and bills to strengthen voter identification laws.
And she defended her opposition to Townsend’s bills, writing, “I’ll put my record of fighting for election integrity up against anyone. What I won’t do is vote for ‘show’ legislation that does nothing to strengthen election integrity and (was) introduced for self serving reasons.”
Conservative activists have waged an online campaign against Ugenti-Rita over her opposition to Townsend’s bills. The conservative media outlet Gateway Pundit, for example, chastised her in June for voting against Townsend’s bill, writing, “She doesn’t support these critical election security measures but she wants to run Arizona’s elections?”
Gateway Pundit correspondent Jordan Conradson confronted Ugenti-Rita backstage after her speech, following and haranguing her about voting against the Townsend bill. Ugenti-Rita asked security to remove him for harassment. Conradson behaved similarly in following and haranguing Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs in May.
A Phoenix police spokeswoman said officers handcuffed an individual who had been trespassed from Arizona Federal Theatre after he returned to the venue. She wouldn’t confirm the name of the person who was handcuffed and transported from the area — no one was charged or cited in connection with the incident — though Conradson confirmed in a Gateway Pundit article that it was him.
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