AZ Rep. Austin Smith withdraws from reelection bid rather than fighting forgery accusations

By Camryn Sanchez
Published: Thursday, April 18, 2024 - 11:55am
Updated: Thursday, April 18, 2024 - 6:02pm

Austin Smith
Gage Skidmore/CC BY 2.0
Austin Smith speaks with media outside the Arizona State Capitol on Jan. 9, 2023.

Republican state Rep. Austin Smith (R-Wittman) is dropping his bid for reelection rather than fight accusations that he forged signatures he needed to gather to qualify for the ballot. 

A voter in Smith’s legislative district claims roughly 90 signatures Smith personally gathered were forged in a complaint filed in Maricopa County Superior Court on Monday. 

Smith denied the allegations, but said Thursday that he’ll bow out of the race to avoid a lengthy and expensive legal battle he claims is spearheaded by liberal activists unhappy with his conservative politics.

According to the Washington Post, Smith also resigned Thursday from his role as senior director of Turning Point Action, the advocacy arm of Turning Point USA — a national organization focused on engaging young conservatives that has supported false claims of election fraud.

Smith may also still face criminal charges for forgery. 

The Secretary of State’s Office automatically referred Smith’s signatures to the attorney general. According to state law, candidates found guilty of petition forgery are no longer eligible to seek election, or run for any public office for no less than five years.

A spokesperson for Attorney General Kris Mayes declined to comment, citing a potential criminal investigation. 

Democratic consultant Jon Sutton has been in contact with voters who say they’re signatures were forged on Smith’s petition sheets, and said Thursday he had people “lined up to testify” against the representative. 

Sutton says the validity of the signatures is “as bad as [he’s] ever seen.”

“I’ve been doing this for 15 years. This is a level of blatant-ness that I have barely ever seen and from an office holder no less,” Sutton said.

In light of the accusations, Smith’s critics have accused him of hypocrisy given his repeated claims that the 2020 and 2022 elections were stolen from former President Donald Trump and other losing Republican candidates. His campaign website describes the Nov. 3, 2020, election in Maricopa County as “a national disgrace and embarrassment.”

“Not only that, Austin believes it was criminal and will fight every day in the State Legislature to hold those responsible to account,” Smith’s campaign website states. 

Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman, a Republican who’s defended the county against accusations of election fraud such as those levied by Smith, called on him to immediately resign from the House. 

“This is a man who has lied to the people of Legislative District 29 and the entire state about our election operations for at least three years. And now he is accused of lying about the signatures he personally collected to get on the ballot again,” Hickman said in a statement. 

“I think if he can’t abide by the rules and the laws of this state he shouldn’t have the right to be able to effect new laws or rules on this state so he needs to resign,” Hickman later told KJZZ News.

As for Smith’s claim that he’s withdrawing from the race to avoid spending “tens of thousands of dollars” in legal fees, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer noted that his office is obligated to determine the validity of signatures – a process that wouldn’t cost Smith a penny.

Richer said Smith withdrew before his office could complete such a report.

“It seems to me if my signatures were being challenged, I’d want to see what the recorder’s office report says unless I was withdrawing for other reasons, and I just didn’t want this to be examined further.” Richer said. “It is more than a little bit ironic given what potentially knocked him off the ballot today and potentially could lead to further issues for him.”

Smith dropping out of the race puts Republicans at risk of losing a seat in the House to Democrats. There’s now only one Republican running for the two House seats in Legislative District 29. 

Smith asked his supporters to write in longtime Republican James Taylor’s name on the ballot in his place. 

Former Republican Rep. Joanne Osborne said she’s considering running as a write-in candidate as well. 

“I care deeply about our community and this state. I appreciate all who step up to serve. Now more than ever, Arizona needs stability in their leaders and I am one of them. I am highly considering a run,” Osborne said in a text. 

Smith did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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