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12:37 AM Tue, Dec. 11th

State GOP launching ‘independent audit’ on allegations of election fraud

Gov. Doug Ducey chat with reporters Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, about an "audit" being launched by the state Republican Party into allegations of voting irregularity in Maricopa County. (Howard Fischer/Captiol Media Services)

Gov. Doug Ducey chat with reporters Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, about an "audit" being launched by the state Republican Party into allegations of voting irregularity in Maricopa County. (Howard Fischer/Captiol Media Services)

PHOENIX — Alleging voting “irregularities’’ the state Republican Party is launching what it calls its own an “independent audit’’ of practices by Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes - an audit being aided by a law firm that represents the party.

In a release Friday, party chairman Jonathan Lines said the investigation will focus on “allegations of fraud in the election.’’

Lines, however, provided no examples. In fact, he said the plan is to have attorney Stephen Richer, chosen by the party as the auditor, to set up a web site for people to submit information.

The GOP inquiry also will go into the decision by Fontes, a Democrat, to open “emergency voting centers’’ on the Saturday and Monday before the election. Lines has questioned the legality of such centers even though they have been operated before by Republican recorders and are used in multiple counties.

And Lines wants to look at Election Day voting procedures, challenges, ballot counting and the process for reporting results.

The move comes after Republican candidates came up short in a series of races all up and down the ballot, with the GOP losing its stranglehold on all statewide elected offices. Voters not only chose Democrat Kyrsten Sinema to replace Republican Jeff Flake in the U.S. Senate but also picked Democrats for secretary of state, state school superintendent and for one of the two open seats on the Arizona Corporation Commission.

Richer an attorney with the Phoenix law firm of Steptoe and Johnson, lists his areas of practice as corporate, autonomous vehicles, transportation and blockchain and cryptocurrency. He declined to comment.

But the state party will have its hands in the process.

Lines said the probe will be conducted with the assistance of the Statecraft law firm. That is the same firm that has represented the party in multiple lawsuits, most recently its attempt to block Fontes and Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez from giving voters who submitted early ballots an opportunity to “cure’’ differences between their signatures on the envelope and what is on file at county offices.

A deal reached between the parties allowed that practice to continue. In fact, it was expanded to all 15 counties.

Lines made it clear he starts from the position that Fontes did something wrong.

“Anyone thinking we would allow Adrian Fontes’ office to get away with non-compliant practices was wrong,’’ he said in his prepared statement. “If his hands are clean then he should have no problem with the independent audit and will fully comply.’’

An aide to Fontes said her boss “isn’t interested in commenting’’ on what Lines is planning.

And an aide to Lines said he is on vacation and not available to answer questions — including how something planned and paid for by the Arizona Republican Party can be independent — until next week.

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, reelected by a wide margin despite allegations of improprieties, sought to distance himself Friday from Lines’ allegations and audit.

“The election’s over, the people have spoken,’’ he said. Ducey said he even reached out earlier in the day to Katie Hobbs after it became evidence that she had outpolled Republican Steve Gaynor in the race for secretary of state.

“I’m going to let the party do what they’re going to do,’’ the governor continued. “I’m going to get focused on leading and governing.’’

And Ducey sidestepped multiple questions on whether he believes there was fraud.

“Those are questions you have to ask others,’’ he said. About the closest Ducey would come to raising questions about the just-completed election is that it can be good to examine the process regularly.

“I always want, and I’ve said many times before, that we can improve, we can reform,’’ the governor said. “We want it to be easy to vote and we want it to be hard to cheat.’’