A Tea Party-linked voter fraud activist known for her vigilante approach to poll-monitoring is heading to the Arizona Attorney General’s office.
Jennifer Wright — a former GOP mayoral candidate who once worked for the voter fraud alarmist group Verify the Vote — was hired as an assistant attorney general who will be focused on election integrity, KPNX, the NBC local news affiliate in Phoenix, reported Monday.
A spokesperson for Attorney General Mark Brnovich told TPM Wright approached the office about working for the unit, which will eventually employ four people total, after it was first announced. The spokesperson, Ryan Anderson, defended Wright’s credentials, including her legal experience work for the voter fraud group and her experience as candidate herself.
Wright ran unsuccessfully for Phoenix mayor in 2011, where she had the support of local Tea Party groups. Through the 2012 election cycle, she played a prominent role in a multi-state push by conservative activists to place volunteer poll watchers at voting sites. The effort was criticized by Democrats and voting rights groups for allegedly targeting minority districts in its poll monitoring and trying to intimidate voters of color.
Wright, who co-chaired Verify the Vote Arizona, denied that the group’s work amounted to voter suppression. She said that it was up to the local political parties to determine to which polling places the observers her group trained were assigned.
Verify the Vote was a partner of the more well-known Houston-based group, True the Vote, which sprung from the Tea Party organization King Street Patriots. In addition to its poll watcher campaign, True the Vote also advocates for restrictive election laws like voter ID. It was embroiled in controversy — and lawsuits — over its overhyped allegations of voter fraud and the aggressive tactics it used to police it.
Verify the Vote worked with True the Vote to try to recruit and train 5,000 volunteers to be poll monitors across Arizona for the 2012 election. In a 20-minute video promoting the effort, Wright claimed that 80 percent of poll watchers will have an uneventful election day but that “upwards [of] twenty percent are going to find issues that absent their presence, could have resulted in a fraudulent vote being cast.”
It’s unclear where she derived those numbers.
In the video, she called for volunteers to serve not only as poll observers but to also challenge voter registrations and review recently submitted registration forms.
“There are groups working to fraudulently register individuals who are not eligible to register to vote,” she claimed in the video.
While the Verify the Vote’s campaign prompted fears that the vigilantes would seek to intimidate Latino voters, the 2012 elections came and went without any reports of issues with the monitors in the state.
Wright said at the time that the presence of the poll observers prevented any problems from occurring; Voting rights attorneys said that the larger True the Vote campaign had fallen well short of its goal of 1 million volunteer poll watchers.
Anderson, the AG spokesperson, told TPM that the unit was being launched to help to maintain voter confidence after some — including President Trump — claimed mass voter fraud in recent elections. Anderson said those claims were “unfounded” and compared the unit’s work to the show “MythBusters” in that it could debunk allegations if the evidence to support them weren’t there. Though if there was credible evidence of voter fraud, the unit would investigate it and prosecute it, he said.
He said the attorney general’s office would handle referrals as it does now. Asked if the unit would be seek to review voter registrations, as Wright’s group once did, Anderson said it would review only the voter registration allegations referred to it.
Arizona’s GOP legislature set aside $530,000 for the unit, which came from a settlement the state reached with Wells Fargo.