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Kelli Ward demanded an audit of a local GOP leadership election before refusing one of her election

Less than two months before refusing calls for an audit of her re-election to lead the Arizona Republican Party, AZGOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward demanded GOP leaders in a north Phoenix legislative district conduct an audit of the party’s December organizing election.

If they didn’t, Ward told to the Legislative District 15 Republican Party she would refuse to seat the district’s delegation to the AZGOP’s state committee.

On. Dec. 17, Lee Miller, an attorney for the state GOP, emailed leaders from the LD15 GOP, saying the party had received a complaint regarding its election two weeks earlier.

Miller said Ward had decided to review the election, and requested the district’s bylaws; a list of its precinct committeemen, who are the voting members of each district-level party organization; data on who voted in person versus who voted by proxy; all ballots cast in the election of the district’s state committeemen; and other information regarding the district’s Dec. 2 election. State committeemen represent the district at state Republican Party meetings, and who vote for things like state party chair.

Ward herself was more pointed in an email she sent the next day to members of the district organization.

“We are continuing to pursue this. Should we not have resolution, LD15 may not be seated at the statutory meeting of the state committee as we will not have confirmation of a free, fair, and transparent election in that district. We are fighting fraud at the national and state level (and) we certainly don’t want it inside our party,” Ward said in the email.

Derrick Rochwalik, who was elected chairman of District 15 in December, said he didn’t believe Ward had any authority to demand an audit, and that there was no legitimate reason to question the district’s election.

Rochwalik also disputed that Ward could refuse to seat his district’s state committeemen. He said he believes she targeted District 15 because it is predominantly anti-Ward. He estimated that 90% of the district’s 69 state committeemen voted for Sergio Arellano, whom Ward narrowly defeated by 42 votes to win a second term as state chair on Jan. 23.

“Our district is not a Kelli Ward-friendly district. So, it was quite interesting that our district was targeted with baseless allegations and threats to unseat our district if we didn’t comply with an audit,” Rochwalik told Arizona Mirror. “There was no surprise as to who our district was going to support. We were definitely on the anyone-but-Kelli train.”

Nonetheless, Rochwalik said he agreed to allow Mickie Niland, who leads the Maricopa County Republican Party, examine materials from the December election in the interest of openness and transparency. The examination uncovered no problems, Rochwalik said, and Niland told Ward in an email that the district’s delegation of state committeemen “remains as originally submitted” following her review.

Given Ward’s repeated talk of election integrity — she has been a leading voice in spreading baseless claims that the election in Arizona, especially in Maricopa County, was rigged against former President Donald Trump — and her demand that the LD15 GOP audit its results, Rochwalik said it’s hypocritical of Ward to refuse calls for an audit of the AZGOP’s Jan. 23 election.

“I think she has a duty to perform this audit,” said Rochwalik, who is among the signers of a letter calling for an audit of the state party’s election. “Her actions in the situation with Legislative District 15 only show that she herself understands the importance of election audits, election transparency and the integrity of the vote, which confuses me as to why it’s okay for my district but it’s not okay for her state party.”

Former AZGOP Chairman Robert Graham, a state committeeman from District 15 and a vocal critic of Ward, agreed with Rochwalik, calling Ward’s refusal to conduct an audit “absolute hypocrisy.” Graham said Ward also had no authority to force an audit of the district’s election and no legitimate reason to do so.

“Quite honestly, it’s none of her business. It was a county business deal. Nothing to do with the state (party),” Graham said.

Rochwalik said Ward never explained what the allegations were regarding the District 15 election. He said at the time of the election, another candidate for district chair questioned whether some state committee candidates were precinct committeemen, which is a prerequisite for serving on the state committee, but a check of credentials found that they were. Graham said that candidate also questioned whether all of the candidates who were elected to the state committee from District 15 had been nominated with their consent.

Miller confirmed to Rochwalik on Jan. 11 that LD15’s state committeemen were indeed precinct committeemen. Rochwalik said all state committeemen signed affidavits affirming that they knew they were nominated.

A spokesman for Ward did not return a message from the Mirror.

Arellano and other party activists began calling for an audit last week in response to questions and alleged irregularities with the AZGOP election. A candidate who was declared the winner of an at-large election from the 8th Congressional District was later told that she had actually lost and that her victory had been announced in error. Others questioned the fact that the AZGOP didn’t announce vote totals in some races for several days, among other allegations regarding the vote.

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Ward told conservative radio host James T. Harris in a Jan. 29 interview that there’s no mechanism in party bylaws for an audit, adding, “And you certainly don’t allow a challenger who lost an election to demand something that they don’t have the right to, and we don’t have the responsibility for providing.”

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy/Arizona Mirror

Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward speaks at an April 24, 2019, press conference supporting an increase in the state sales tax to provide more funds to education. Ward demanded GOP leaders in a north Phoenix legislative district conduct an audit of the party’s December organizing election while saying there’s no mechanism in party bylaws for an audit in regards to her election.


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