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'There Are A Lot Of Questions': Arizona GOP Faces Concerns About Party Elections

Former President Trump, right, is greeted by Kelli Ward, chair of the Arizona Republican Party during a stop in Arizona last year.
Former President Trump, right, is greeted by Kelli Ward, chair of the Arizona Republican Party during a stop in Arizona last year.

The chair of Arizona's Republican Party has been a leading voice for false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

Now Kelli Ward faces questions from her fellow Republicans about the state party's recent election of party leaders, and possibly her own reelection as party chair.

Multiple Arizona Republicans have demanded an audit of the state party's leadership election at its Jan. 23 biennial convention. Ward claimed a narrow victory that day, reportedly defeating southern Arizona businessman Sergio Arellano by 42 votes. Local press was barred from covering the event, which has traditionally been open to reporters.

Concerns about the vote-counting process grew after a candidate running to serve on a committee in Arizona's 8th Congressional District was announced as the winner at the meeting. Hours later, Sandra Dowling was told she actually lost, according to multiple Republicans.

Kim Owens, a Republican who supported Arellano's bid for party chair, said the state party didn't allow observers to watch the vote-counting process, a violation of the party's election procedures.

It's an accusation reminiscent of failed GOP complaints last fall in multiple states, such as Pennsylvania, where then-President Donald Trump lost to now-President Biden.

"We can't just talk the talk. We have to walk the walk. And this is a perfect example of, if there was nothing to hide, there's nothing to hide. Let's put it all out in the open. Count the votes," Owens said. "We have every expectation that the results will be exactly what were announced. But because there are questions in the minds of the voters, we need to just put that to rest and move on."

State party leaders still haven't released a full tally of the votes cast during the convention.

That includes the vote to reelect Ward as party chair, but also controversial votes to censure top Arizona Republicans, including Gov. Doug Ducey, former U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain, the widow of late U.S. Sen. John McCain.

Trey Terry, a Republican active with the party in the West Valley, said those tallies are usually announced moments after the votes are counted.

"There are a lot of questions. There are a lot of concerns. And this is supposed to be the party of election integrity. And I don't think we had that on Saturday," Terry said.

Terry voted for Arellano as an alternative to Ward, saying he soured on her leadership after watching Republicans lose another U.S. Senate seat in 2020 and lose the popular vote for president for the first time since 1996.

Ward's response in the weeks after the election didn't help.

"The behavior after the election results was probably the final straw for me. You know, the Twitter account that has just become a late night troll. It's embarrassing to most Arizona Republicans I talk to."

However, Owens said the requests for an audit aren't an attempt to rehash the race for party chair.

"This is not about one candidate or one race — it's about the moral high ground that we have set. We believe in election integrity. And if that's the case, then this should not be a problem going forward," she said.

Arizona Republican Party officials did not respond to a request for comment.

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