Chair Kelli Ward Calls Effort To Redo Arizona Republican Party's Election 'Illegitimate'

By Ben Giles
Published: Tuesday, March 30, 2021 - 5:54pm
Updated: Wednesday, March 31, 2021 - 7:54am

Kelli Ward
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Kelli Ward

Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward won’t allow a do-over of the party’s leadership election, claiming an effort to call a special meeting for that purpose failed to gather enough valid signatures.

Last week, GOP activists turned in 352 signatures from Republicans who support calling a meeting on April 24 to vote whether or not the results of the January leadership election should be set aside and a new election held. That could lead to Ward, who declared victory on Jan. 23, being ousted as party chair.

In an email sent out by the state Republican Party, Ward called the effort “a failed and dishonest sham that has preyed on some state committeemen through a series of lies, false pretenses and fraud.” She claimed signatures were fraudulently gathered, and that Republicans who supported the effort now claim they signed under false pretenses, but she provided no evidence.

Pima County Republican Bill Beard, who helped organize the signature-gathering effort, said the signatures are legitimate and vowed the meeting will take place in April.

“It speaks volumes about her integrity, her willingness to do pretty much anything to cling to power. This is a desperate attempt. And I am truly sad that the Arizona Republican Party has been reduced to this level by its chairman,” he said.

Later Tuesday, Beard and fellow Republican Sandra Dowling sued Ward and the Republican Party. They’re asking for a court order to ensure the signature they helped gather are counted fairly, and for an injunction to prevent Ward from using official party resources to block the April meeting.

Ward has dodged criticism about the state party’s election for months. Questions about the vote-counting process and the conduct of party officials conducting the election were raised immediately following the vote, and were echoed in the following days with requests for an audit and transparency. In late February, Beard and fellow Republican Sandra Dowling sued Ward and the state party, alleging she’s violating party bylaws that obligate her to conduct the audit if asked.

Some Republicans say it’s imperative for Ward, who’s been a vocal critic of the presidential election and demanded audits in Arizona, to treat the party’s own election with the same scrutiny.

Ward’s emailed statement includes a link to an incomplete list of names of those who signed the call for a special meeting. It’s unclear why two dozen names were removed — party officials did not respond to a request for comment. The email states the list was provided for those who suspect their name was “falsely” added.

While Ward has described the effort to redo the election as a push from a “disgruntled few,” the published list includes signatures from 11 sitting members of the Arizona House and Senate, as well as seven former lawmakers and other prominent former party leaders. Those who signed represent broad swaths of the party, from conservatives such as former Sen. Russell Pearce, the author of Arizona’s “show me your papers” immigration law, to more moderate Republicans like former Sen. Heather Carter, who lost a Republican primary in 2020 because she wasn’t considered conservative enough.

Beard said the variety of Republicans supporting their cause show how much Ward’s refusal to provide accountability of the party’s own election has undermined her leadership. 

“Her legitimacy for transparency, her ability to conduct the business of the state party, has basically been undermined by everything she has been saying and doing regarding this matter since January,” Beard said. “For the good of the party, she needs to go now.”

Beard stressed that it’s not up to Ward whether a special meeting occurs. As long as the signatures are valid, Arizona GOP bylaws require a call for the meeting be issued to all members of the state party.

"This issue is too important to the people that signed that letter to just pretend we can sweep all of this under the rug and move on with some agenda that’s for the greater glory of Dr. Ward,” Beard said.