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Maricopa County GOP wants the cash-strapped AZGOP to fund a costly presidential primary


Maricopa County GOP wants the cash-strapped AZGOP to fund a costly presidential primary

Aug 30, 2023 | 7:48 pm ET
By Caitlin Sievers
Maricopa County GOP wants the cash-strapped AZGOP to fund a costly presidential primary
A voter leaves after casting their ballot at the Phoenix Art Museum on Nov. 8, 2022. Photo by Kevin Dietsch | Getty Images

The Arizona Republican Party is basically broke, but that’s not stopping the Maricopa County GOP from attempting to force it to run a hand-count presidential primary election this spring with a price tag of up to $15 million. 

The Maricopa County Republican Committee voted on Saturday to send a resolution to the state party asking it to back out of the state-funded primary election by a Sept. 1 deadline. Instead of an election run by county elections officials — and featuring standard election protocols like early voting and counting ballots with machines — the county GOP wants a Republican Party-funded primary held all on one day, at the precinct level, and with all ballots counted by hand. 

In a video posted on Rumble Tuesday, MCRC Chairman Craig Berland scoffed at claims that the “cost is insurmountable and the execution impossible” for a one-day hand-counted primary election. Berland, who attended election denial celebrity Mike Lindell’s symposium earlier this month, added that he believes those are the kinds of claims that come from the people who “stole” the 2020 and 2022 elections in Arizona and who are prosecuting former President Donald Trump. 

Although Trump and other Republicans, including failed GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, have made sweeping allegations of fraud in elections, they have yet to produce any evidence. Many lawsuits claiming fraud changed the outcomes of close races, including Lake’s, have been rejected because they lack proof.

One of the most notable people claiming a party-run primary would be cost prohibitive is AZGOP Chairman Jeff DeWit, who previously served as chief financial officer for Trump’s 2016 campaign and chief operations officer for his 2020 campaign. 

In a response to the MCRC’s video, DeWit posted his own video Tuesday evening, accusing county party leaders of not being team players and of failing to take enough time to properly plan or work with the state party on a change of the magnitude it is proposing.

The county’s plan would force the state Republican Party to spend millions of dollars on the primary election instead of using that money to campaign for and win races in the general election. 

“It would be much appreciated if they could tell us where we’re going to get the $13 (million) to $15 million that the secretary of state estimates we will need to do what they’re asking us to do, and why we want to spend that money on something other than winning elections,” DeWit said in the video. 

Paul Smith-Leonard, communications director for Democratic Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, told the Arizona Mirror that the office had not provided any estimates on the potential cost of a Republican Party-run, hand-counted primary. 

It’s unclear how DeWit arrived at those numbers and AZGOP did not immediately respond to requests for comment and clarification. 

The MCRC’s estimated cost for a high-turnout primary with between 650,000 to 900,000 voters is wildly different from DeWit’s numbers, at around $1 million, Berland told the Mirror in an email. 

He said that the cost would be covered by donations. 

“We already have people volunteering to cover the cost of an entire county,” Berland said.

He added that the MCRC already has a written plan on how to execute the election, but that it would require an astronomical 5,000 volunteers and the creation of a management center. But those plans are tentative until the AZGOP votes on it.

What is certain is that the Arizona Republican Party has struggled to raise money for basic party operations this year, DeWit’s first as chairman.

As of its last monthly filing, the AZGOP had a paltry $28,325 in its federal campaign account, which is an important source of funding for operations during presidential election years. In total, the state party had raised only $188,882 so far this year, compared to the Arizona Democratic Party’s $1.2 million

That means the AZGOP barely has enough money to cover its operating expenses at the moment, let alone organize and fund an expensive election fewer than seven months from now. 

Even so, Berland challenged DeWit to stand up for election integrity by pulling out of the state presidential primary to host the party’s own hand-counted election. 

Berland said that he believes the 2022 election for governor was stolen from Kari Lake and that Republican politicians make plenty of promises about election integrity but “when the opportunity arises to truly stand, all they do is stand in the way.” 

While prominent election deniers in the Arizona legislature, and some of their constituents have advocated for one-day in person elections at the precinct level, with only hand counts in an effort to stamp out election fraud that they believe is happening, Fontes has repeatedly pointed out that hand counts are highly inaccurate, as compared to the tabulators that Arizona currently uses. 

The Maricopa County Republican Committee’s executive board includes election deniers, like Shelby Busch, of the conservative group We the People AZ Alliance, who testified on behalf of Kari Lake during her failed court challenge to the results of the 2022 race for Arizona governor. Another executive committee member is former state Rep. Liz Harris, who was ousted from the legislature for bringing a conspiracy theorist before a hearing of the Joint Elections Committee, who accused scores of lawmakers of being involved in a drug-cartel housing deed money laundering scheme. 

Harris was a member of the House Municipal Oversight and Elections Committee, which, along with the Senate Elections Committee, recommended bills to the full legislature this year that would have made it illegal to use any kind of technology to vote, force hand counts of all ballots, severely restrict voting by mail and early voting, and dump everyone from the voters rolls once per decade, among many other changes to the state’s election system.

Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs vetoed the majority of the bills that came out of those committees, including one that would allow counties to conduct hand counts in place of machine counts. 

The Mohave County Board of Supervisors, which had previously planned to hand count all ballots in the 2024 election, decided against it in early August after learning that the count would cost more than $1 million, a cost that Chairman Travis Lingenfelter said the county couldn’t afford. 

A large part of that cost, according to Mohave County Elections Director Allen Tempert, would be to hire 245 workers. He also expressed concern at the number of errors workers made during a test hand count of 850 ballots in June. 

***UPDATE: This story has been updated to include comments from Craig Berland.