Arizona attorney general Kris Mayes plans to overhaul a unit created by her predecessor to investigate unsubstantiated claims of election fraud into a task force focused on reinforcing voting rights instead.
The newly elected Democrat hopes the unit will “reprioritize the mission and resources” it has into “protecting voting access and combating voter suppression,” she told the Guardian on Saturday.
The unit was launched in 2019 by the state’s former attorney general Mark Brnovich, a Republican, after the Arizona GOP suffered midterm losses to Democrats in 2018 and complained to his office about supposed voter fraud.
Then-Governor Doug Ducey approved a budget of $530,000 for a full-time criminal prosecutor, civil attorney, special agent and administrative assistant for the unit to investigate the allegations. Ryan Anderson, then a spokesperson for Brnovich, tried to claim at the time that the point of the unit was to debunk the allegations, even though the funding and creation of the task force did little other than give the election deniers political ammo.
“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,” he told the Arizona Mirror in 2019. “So, what we have said, if there is in fact fraud, don’t you want to know?”
Well, now we know: Despite receiving thousands of complaints since the unit’s inception, it ultimately only racked up 20 prosecutions—none of which changed the outcome of an election but did manage to punish a woman for turning in her dead mother’s ballot as her last wish.
“Under my predecessor’s administration, the election integrity unit searched widely for voter fraud and found scant evidence of it occurring in Arizona,” new AG Mayes said in a statement. “That’s because instances of voter fraud are exceedingly rare.”
Brnovich hired conservative attorney-activist Jennifer Wright to oversee the department. Wright is a Big Lie supporter and fervent tweeter who’s been associated with the far-right nonprofit True the Vote — the group behind Dinesh D’Souza’s “2000 Mules” that first floated some of the conspiracy theories about the 2020 election detailed in the film.
Wright resigned from office when Mayes took over, telling reporters that “it was clear by Mayes public statements that our visions for the Elections Integrity Unit would not align.” Her departure led to a bizarre back-and-forth in the pages of the Arizona Republic where Mayes’ staffers allegedly told the paper that she was given the choice to resign or be fired; she denied that was the case.
She’s since waged war against Mayes by joining losing Republican AG candidate Abe Hamadeh in a legal challenge to Mayes’ victory with the debunked claim that there were hundreds of uncounted ballots in the state’s midterm race.
“I look forward to getting Kris Mayes out of the office she should have never occupied in the first place,” she said in a Jan. 17 statement.