Maricopa GOP Loses Bid to Run Its Own Presidential Preference Election in Arizona

Tom Ozimek
By Tom Ozimek
September 3, 2023Politicsshare
Maricopa GOP Loses Bid to Run Its Own Presidential Preference Election in Arizona
A supporter of Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake is illuminated by a television camera while he stands in protest at the Arizona State Capitol Building in Phoenix on Nov. 15, 2022. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

The Maricopa County GOP has failed in its last-minute bid to persuade the Arizona Republican Party to hold its own presidential preference election—similar to a primary—and will instead take part in a joint taxpayer-funded Democrat and Republican preference election in March 2024.

The Maricopa County Republican Committee (MCRC) tried to convince Arizona Republican Party (AZGOP) chairman Jeff DeWit to withdraw the AZGOP from the government-run 2024 presidential preference election and instead hold its own statewide election for the GOP presidential nominee.

The MCRC said in an Aug. 26 resolution that it wanted to “reclaim election integrity” and have Republicans run their own presidential preference election according to rules that include in-person only voting and hand counting of results. The group cited failures during the 2020 election that supposedly resulted in “hundreds of thousands of illegitimate ballots being counted.”

Craig Berland, MCRC chairman, said in a video posted on Rumble that the “historic” resolution sought to “reclaim our presidential preference election from the government that has failed us over and over again and to hold the election for our presidential nominee by the People, for the People, one-day, one-vote, paper ballot, hand count, all at the precinct level.”

But the Maricopa County GOP proposal failed to get the backing of AZGOP leadership, with Mr. DeWit saying in a letter to party members that the plan suffered from fatal flaws of a legal and logistical nature.

In response, Mr. Berland expressed disappointment at the decision, saying in an emailed statement to The Epoch Times that organizational challenges could be overcome and that legal experts advised the MCRC that its plan for a GOP-only presidential preference election wouldn’t lead to any insurmountable legal blowback.

Arizona’s presidential preference election is similar to its open primary but differs in several ways, including that only registered Democrat and Republican party members can vote in the preference election, while those who are unaffiliated cannot. Independents are eligible to vote in Arizona’s open primaries.

‘They Can Run Their Own Thing’

AZGOP chair Jeff DeWit rejected the MCRC’s request, meaning that early and mail-in voting will go on as usual on March 19, 2024, with registered Republicans casting votes for who they want to represent them in the presidential election later that year.

In a letter to party members cited by AZCentral, Mr. DeWit said that a number of obstacles, including time and legal constraints, made a Republican-only presidential preference election impossible.

“The Party has no well-articulated plan to replace the PPE and no money with which to communicate this change to Arizona Republican voters,” Mr. DeWit wrote, per the outlet.

Mr. DeWit told Capitol Media Services that the MCRC’s demands could not be met because party rules require a 30-day notice to convene a meeting of the AZGOP’s executive board, while the county party’s Aug. 26 resolution came just six days before the Sept. 1 deadline to notify the Arizona secretary of state whether AZGOP would opt out of the government-run preference election in March.

However, Mr. DeWit told the outlet that he offered a “compromise solution” that would allow the Maricopa Republicans to run a “parallel” election under its own rules (in-person only voting with hand counting of ballots and same-day results).

That parallel election would not be official, however, and would only serve as a kind of test run and audit, but voters would still have to vote in the state-run election for their votes to count.

“They know the real one is the state election, but they can do basically like a real-time audit if they want,” Mr. DeWit said, per the outlet. “They can run their own thing and see if their results match. Because they say it can be done very cheaply and easily and so this gives them a chance to.”

‘Plain Stupid’

Asked to respond to Mr. DeWit’s remarks, Mr. Berland told Capitol Media Services that he was opposed to such a “compromise,” arguing that it would confuse voters and make little sense since the votes in the county-run election wouldn’t actually count.

“That is plain stupid,” Mr. Berland told the outlet.

Other members of the Maricopa GOP criticized Mr. DeWit’s response, accusing him of undermining their efforts while calling for his removal from office.

“He has betrayed Trump and Arizona and is a Uniparty RINO and cannot be trusted with 1 cent of Trumps money and must be removed from office,” Brian Ference said in a statement posted on his website. Mr. Ference is a member at large of the MCRC executive board.

Former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake took to social media in support of the MCRC proposal.

“I’m disappointed that @AZGOP Chair Jeff Dewit would not allow a vote on this bold election plan,” Ms. Lake said in a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “Thank you Maricopa County Republican Committee for your efforts to restore faith in our elections. We see the work you are doing and We appreciate it.”

By contrast, Dan Farley, AZGOP Legislative District 4 chairman, said in a statement on social media that Mr. DeWit’s message to party leaders included a cautionary message from the state party attorney warning of legal risks to the MCRC’s proposal.

Mr. Farley said that, per the counsel, even if the AZGOP were to run its own presidential preference election in the future, it would still have to follow state and federal law or face lawsuits from candidates and the Justice Department.

Not having a plan and funding available in time for the Sept. 1 deadline also puts AZGOP in additional legal jeopardy, Mr. Farley said, including with the Republican National Committee.

Also, any plans for a party-funded and operated presidential preference election would need to have a voter outreach mechanism to ensure participation doesn’t drop compared to previous elections.

“If MCRC wants to run things in a haphazard amateur hour way which didn’t have a plan logistics, didn’t have funding, put us in jeopardy of losing delegates w the RNC, & set us up for lawsuits, it should be on them to fund & show how easy it would be to do what they demanded of the AZGOP,” Mr. Farley wrote.

He said that, with its request, the MCRC “attempted to create a Catch 22 for the AZGOP” by giving them unrealistic demands and blaming them for failing to make them happen.

Asked for comment on Mr. Farley’s remarks, the MCRC chairman told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement that Mr. Farley’s comments are “certainly unsubstantiated and likely just meant to be divisive.”

Mr. Berland said that, before bringing the presidential preference election resolution to a vote, the MCRC contacted “highly respected” election law attorneys who said the plan was a “fantastic idea and they had no concern for any litigation blowback.”

He also disputed Mr. Farley’s claim of it being an “impossible” task, with Mr. Berland saying the MCRC was working with people from out of state who have experience charting out procedures for the successful implementation of such a plan.

Nomination petitions for the presidential preference election can be filed with the Arizona secretary of state starting on Nov. 10.

Voter registration for the March 19 presidential preference election closes on Feb. 20.

This article has been updated with comments received from Mr. Berland.

From The Epoch Times

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