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Republicans demand audit of Kelli Ward’s narrow win for Arizona GOP chair

Republicans demand audit of Kelli Ward’s narrow win for Arizona GOP chair

by Yvonne Wingett Sanchez Ronald J. Hansen | Arizona Republic  |  Published on January 29, 2021

After months of sounding the alarm on what she claimed was a stolen presidential election, Kelli Ward is facing questions about her own reelection Saturday as Arizona Republican Party chair.

Sergio Arellano, the southern Arizona businessman who narrowly lost to Ward in a runoff, has asked state party officials for an audit of the election results, said Kim Owens, a Republican consultant who is serving as his spokeswoman.

So far, that hasn’t happened, adding to a growing sense of angst among GOP activists that the election had problems.

“This isn’t about the chairman’s race, this is about election integrity,” Arellano said in a written statement provided by Owens to The Arizona Republic.

In a statement issued hours later to the newspaper, Arellano said he did not expect the audit to lead to a reversal of wins for Ward and others.

Neither Ward nor other state party officials could be immediately reached for comment.

Doubts about the results of the chair’s race started to swirl after the announced winner in another race, for the at-large committee member from the 8th Congressional District, was informed she had lost.

Arellano said that error “created an environment where a number of state committeemen are raising concerns and asking me to ask for an audit because only a candidate for party office can do so. So I’ve done that and we’re waiting for a response that lays out the when, where, and how of that process. I anticipate the State GOP will do a solid job here and provide election officials around the state with an example of how to conduct a timely audit and how important ballot security and paper backups are.”

The elections played out Saturday at the party’s annual meeting, an event that was closed to most of the media and drew rare national attention because of the deep division over whether Ward should guide the party for another two years after Arizona voters backed President Joe Biden and Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly.

Owens said that on Tuesday, Arellano and the two other Republicans who challenged Ward, sent another request asking for the audit to take place on Thursday. That request, which called for witnesses, had not generated a response as of Wednesday evening, she said. Owens declined to provide the letters.

Ward, a controversial figure who gained national attention for claiming the 2020 presidential election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, won her reelection bid by 42 votes after the election went to a runoff against Arellano. Trump endorsed her reelection.

Owens said of the challenge: “This is not about one person or one race, it’s about the integrity of our elections. With the absence of the tapes from the machines or any documentation of where votes came from, and in most races, a lack of numbers, of tallies, we need to see evidence that everything is as it should be.”

The race for chair isn’t the only one in question. Sandra Dowling, who ran for an at-large committee position in the 8th Congressional District, initially was announced as a winner, she said. She had left the meeting by the time the winners were announced.

“I start getting phone calls from everybody and their neighbor saying ‘Congratulations, Sandra, you won, you won, you won,’” she recalled.

Ward told her friend after the meeting that Dowling had not won and blamed the mistake on “human error,” she said.

Ward’s reelection was considered nearly a foregone conclusion ahead of the race weeks ago, but many in the GOP had misgivings that Biden had carried Arizona and Republicans lost a longtime GOP-held Senate seat to Democrats during the 2020 cycle.

Those concerns only grew after the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. That happened on the day that most GOP lawmakers voted to set aside election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania. Ward had been a prominent voice on social media and at post-election rallies in Arizona claiming they needed to “Stop the Steal.”

Heading into the midterm elections, Republicans are looking to fortify the party’s standing in a state they fear is slipping away from them.

In an unusual move, the Arizona Republican Party barred most reporters from attending the election portion of the statutorily required meeting. The election took place away from public view at Dream City Church.

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