Former head of AG's Election Integrity Unit joins challenge of Kris Mayes' election
Corrections & Clarifications: Jennifer Wright endorsed then-state Sen. Nancy Barto before the 2022 election. The name of the politician Wright endorsed was incorrect in a previous version of the article.
The former head of the Arizona Attorney General's Election Integrity Unit has joined a legal fight to overturn the results of the closest election in the state's history.
About three weeks after leaving office, Jennifer Wright announced she wants to force out newly elected Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes and install Republican candidate Abe Hamadeh.
Wright, who said she held off resigning in the event Hamadeh beat Mayes in a recount, says human and machine errors disenfranchised hundreds of voters in Arizona counties and a new trial would prove he is the rightful winner of the 2022 race.
"Evidence was withheld, machines failed to tabulate and erroneously marked them as undervotes, and it appears some provisional ballots were erroneously rejected," Wright said in a Jan. 18 social media post after an announcement that she had joined Hamadeh's legal team and was helping him pursue an election lawsuit.
Wright is the attorney who issued a legal demand to Maricopa County officials after the Nov. 8 general election, contending they potentially violated laws after equipment problems prevented machines from reading ballots in about 30% of polling stations. She also had posted support of conservative candidates and positions on social media weeks before the election.
Wright, in a Jan. 19 statement to The Arizona Republic, said Hamadeh should be granted a new trial to ensure every lawful vote is counted.
"Based on the withheld and newly discovered evidence, once every lawful vote is counted, I believe Mr. Hamadeh will be found to have the highest number of votes and should be declared Attorney General for the State of Arizona," she said in the statement.
A Mohave County Superior Court judge in December rejected Hamadeh's election challenge in part because an inspection of sample ballots showed he could not get enough votes needed to beat Mayes, who at the time was ahead by 511 votes.
But Mayes' margin of victory shrank to 280 votes when the official results of a recount were made public Dec. 29 and a judge declared her the official winner. The change was largely related to a counting error in Pinal County.
Wright said Gov. Katie Hobbs, who was secretary of state during the 2022 election, withheld "critical evidence" from the court about errors that caused votes to be misread.
"Further, information disclosed by Maricopa County after the trial suggests that hundreds of voters were disenfranchised when their provisional ballots were seemingly wrongfully and erroneously rejected."
County election officials say the certified election results are accurate and no provisional ballots were mistakenly rejected. They researched 7,803 ballots and the findings are publicly available.
Hamadeh called Wright an "election attorney powerhouse" in a Jan. 17 statement posted on social media. He said she worked tirelessly to ensure voters could have confidence in elections.
"There are still hundreds of uncounted ballots," Hamadeh said in the statement. "Democracy demands accurate results in our elections and I know Jen will fight relentlessly to make sure every voter's voice is heard."
Wright is also waging a personal ― and public ― fight against Mayes. In a series of social media posts on Jan. 18, Wright said she joined Hamadeh's team after the Attorney General's Office falsely claimed she was forced from her job, leading to a story in The Republic.
"But after @krismayes targeted me by falsely and unlawfully planting a hit on me on @azcentral, it became clear that left unchecked, the new admin intended to abuse their power," Wright said in a Twitter post, adding in another: "I will hold her legally accountable."
A spokesperson for Mayes' office told The Republic three times between Jan. 4-6 that Wright was forced out of her job. When pressed, the office issued statements Jan. 9 saying Wright resigned and that officials had informed former Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s administration “several times” in late November and December that Wright would not be retained.
Wright's attorney sent a letter to Mayes and staff members accusing the office of "intentional discrimination" based on Wright's politics and of violating employee confidentiality laws.
Wright provided The Republic with a copy of her resignation letter, dated Dec. 31, which was the Saturday of a holiday weekend. The attorney general’s human resources office confirmed receiving Wright’s letter Jan. 3, a day after Mayes took office, according to another document provided by Wright. It asked Wright to review exit paperwork and said any state equipment, including her state ID, must be turned in to her immediate supervisor.
Wright said in her Jan. 19 statement she initially declined to take the Hamadeh case but changed her mind "after being thrust into the limelight" over the circumstances of her departure.
"I decided that lending my expertise to such a worthwhile, yet high profile cause, was a worthy endeavor," she said.
Wright told the The Republic in separate emails that she would have stayed on at the Election Integrity Unit if Hamadeh had won the election, but "it was clear by Mayes public statements that our visions for the Elections Integrity Unit would not align.”
Mayes has pledged to shift the unit's primary mission from investigating allegations of voter fraud to combating acts of voter intimidation and threats to election officials.
Brnovich hired Wright in 2019 to run the newly created unit, which Republican lawmakers funded after election losses to Democratic candidates in 2018. The Attorney General's Office said at the time the unit's primary focus would be debunking voter fraud claims.
An investigation by The Republic in November found Wright was criticizing county officials and raising claims about procedures on Election Day about 10 days before she sent a letter ordering officials to respond to a series of questions before certifying election results.
The Republic found she liked and retweeted posts by Republican candidates and endorsed another on Twitter in the weeks before the election.
Between Oct. 23 and Nov. 6, Wright liked several posts by Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, one of which referred to Hobbs as not a serious person. Before that, Wright had retweeted a post by Hamadeh and said she was looking forward to electing state Sen. Nancy Barto to another term.
Lake and Hamadeh were endorsed by former President Donald Trump. Both filed lawsuits contesting their losses and potentially stood to benefit from Wright's election probe of Maricopa County.
"I look forward to getting Kris Mayes out of the office she should have never occupied in the first place," Wright said in Hamadeh's Jan. 17 statement.
Wright, who has been featured on conservative radio shows and publications, said she will not back down from her fight.
"My plan was not to stay in the public light," she said in a Jan. 18 post. "God pushed me back in. So, I will keep fighting the good fight ― and I will not be shaken."
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