Feb 29, 2024 - News

Maricopa recorder Stephen Richer gets primary challenge from the right

A man speaks into microphones at a podium with a group of people behind him holding signs with his name.

State Rep. Justin Heap (R-Mesa) announces his campaign for Maricopa County recorder outside the Senate with a group of legislators behind him. Photo: Jeremy Duda/Axios

Conservative state Rep. Justin Heap launched a GOP primary challenge to Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer — a prominent target of people who falsely believe the past two elections in Arizona were rigged.

Why it matters: Heap's entrance sets up a competitive primary in the race to determine who will manage the county's elections.

  • He was joined at a Wednesday press conference by Republican lawmakers who have espoused conspiracy theories about rigged 2020 and 2022 elections.

Reality check: Most election procedures are either dictated by state law or the secretary of state's office or are decided by the county's board of supervisors.

  • Election Day operations in Maricopa are run by an elections director who answers to the board, not the recorder.

Zoom in: On Wednesday, Heap said Maricopa County has been plagued by years of election problems, and he accused Richer of diminishing voter confidence.

  • He cited Arizona's notorious delayed results, (which have stemmed from laborious signature verification for early ballots dropped off on Election Day), and hours-long lines at voting centers in 2022 (which were caused by equipment problems).
  • He also noted that Richer created a political action committee to influence races in the 2022 election that his office oversaw.

The other side: Richer tells Axios he's always followed the law as county recorder, citing his successful record in the face of lawsuits against his office.

  • "Some of these things might sound nice, but anyone who's actually worked in this process would look at that and say this person doesn't know what they're talking about. Which is true. But that's OK," he tells Axios.

Zoom out: Heap criticized Richer for some issues that are outside of the recorder's authority.

Between the lines: Heap wouldn't say whether he believed the 2022 election was stolen from GOP nominee Kari Lake, who has filed multiple failed lawsuits alleging she's the rightfully elected governor. He told reporters, "I'm an attorney. I will only make statements I feel I can prove."

  • He also wouldn't say after the press conference whether thinks President Biden won Arizona in 2020, saying he's "not interested in rehashing" what happened in past elections.

What he's saying: "Ensuring that voters have confidence in our elections and that Arizona's election days are run honestly, transparently and securely is the civil rights issue of our time," Heap said.

Flashback: Shortly after taking office in January 2023, Heap asked a lobbyist who'd requested a meeting whether they'd contributed to his campaign, saying, "I need to prioritize which meetings I can take."

  • "And if not, why did you (or your clients) decide not to do so?" he asked.

The intrigue: Several other Republicans have filed to run for recorder, and that could aid Richer by splitting the opposition vote.

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