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Arizona attorney general gets $530,000 to investigate election fraud

Posted at 2:04 PM, Jun 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-07 17:04:04-04

PHOENIX — Arizona's attorney general is hiring four people dedicated to investigating alleged voter fraud amid accusations of widespread malfeasance in elections leveled without evidence by President Donald Trump and other Republicans.

Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich isn't setting out to find support for those claims, his spokesman said, but rather to give people confidence in the outcome of elections -- even if that means his new investigators find little or no wrongdoing. The budget signed this week by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey gives Brnovich $530,000 for the project.

"Consider us the 'MythBusters' of election fraud claims and rumors," said Ryan Anderson, a spokesman for Brnovich.

"If there is fraud, let's investigate it, let's prosecute it and work to eradicate it," Anderson said. "If there's not fraud, then let's give the public the confidence they deserve in their elections."

Democratic election officials are cautiously on board, but not everyone is convinced it's a worthwhile endeavor.

"This is a circumstance where there's not a clear plan to address a documented need, so we shouldn't be spending that money," said Alex Gulotta, Arizona director for All Voting is Local, which advocates for reduced barriers to voting. "It seems like a case of misguided priorities."

Rumors have persisted, particularly on the right, that elections in Arizona are riddled with fraud, following an extremely close 2018 election that saw Democrats win a U.S. Senate seat and several statewide offices they haven't controlled in decades. Trump and others have fanned the flames.

Three days after the 2018 election, as Democrats picked up gains in the vote count in several close statewide races, Trump tweeted without evidence about "electoral corruption."

"Just out -- in Arizona, SIGNATURES DON'T MATCH," Trump wrote. "Electoral corruption - Call for a new Election? We must protect our Democracy!"

Steven Richer, a Republican lawyer who is running for Maricopa County recorder, published a report in January alleging a variety of impropriety but noting it was unsubstantiated. The allegations have circulated on social media.

Recorder Adrian Fontes, a Democrat, said he'd "provide any assistance we can" to Brnovich's unit, adding it would be great to have a respected and objective unit to partner with in restoring confidence in election systems.

"If this unit will help maintain the integrity of Arizona's elections and election systems, then I am all for it," Fontes said in a statement.

Katie Hobbs, a Democrat who oversees elections statewide as the secretary of state, said it's an opportunity to boost confidence in elections without diverting money from other election purposes.

"They said that they want to show that the system is not plagued by fraud," Hobbs said. "So I'm taking that at face value."

Since 2010, the attorney general's office has successfully prosecuted 22 voting fraud cases, most of them people who voted in more than one state. The office received a handful of specific allegations of potential fraud from the 2018 election, but no charges have been filed, Anderson said.

The money comes from Arizona's $37.1 million share of a settlement with Wells Fargo over fake accounts and other violations. Brnovich envisions an "election integrity unit" employing a senior attorney, a paralegal, an investigator certified as a law enforcement officer and a forensic auditor. They'll create an online form where people can submit specific allegations of voter fraud, and they'll be discouraged from reporting anonymously. Investigators will look into complaints and will probe publicly reported irregularities but won't be harvesting databases looking for trouble where none is alleged, Anderson said.

"With criminal investigations, you don't go out and just look for stuff to do," he said. "I think that's an important component of our form of government."

When they're not busy with voter fraud complaints, they'll work on public corruption investigations.

Texas has an election fraud unit in the attorney general's office that prosecuted nearly three dozen people in 2018 over alleged election fraud.

New Hampshire's secretary of state hired an investigator in 2017 to enforce voting laws, and lawmakers are considering adding an additional and a paralegal dedicated to election matters.

Nevada has had a voter fraud task force for more than a decade. It was started in 2008 by a Democratic secretary of state, working with state and federal law enforcement, and has been maintained by the current Republican elections chief. Kentucky has a similar task force.