Economy 19-04-2024 01:02 7 Views

Turning Point Action official resigns after accusation of election-related fraud

PHOENIX — A top leader of the national conservative group Turning Point Action, which has amplified false claims of election fraud by former president Donald Trump and others, resigned Thursday after being accused of forging voter signatures on official paperwork so that he could run for reelection in the Arizona House.

State Rep. Austin Smith (R) — who was senior director at Turning Point Action, the campaign arm of Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point USA — was accused by a Democratic activist of submitting petition sheets with rows of voter names, addresses and signatures that “bear a striking resemblance” to Smith’s handwriting, according to a complaint. Smith “personally circulated multiple petition sheets bearing what appear to be forged voter signatures,” the complaint said.

The complaint was sent to the Arizona secretary of state, who forwarded it to the Arizona attorney general for review. State election officials do not assess the veracity of allegations made against candidates. A spokesperson for the state prosecutor’s office, which runs a team that focuses on claims of voter and election fraud after widespread claims following the 2020 election, declined to comment. Both state offices are overseen by Democrats.

Smith submitted his resignation to Turning Point Action on Thursday, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about it publicly. Smith also publicly ended his reelection campaign.

Smith did not respond to a request for comment.

In a statement, the first-term lawmaker said the allegations against him were “silly” and part of a “coordinated attack” by Democrats and “those unhappy with my politics.”

Smith is aligned with some of the most conservative members of the Arizona House — sometimes referred to as the “Freedom Caucus” of the larger Republican caucus — and he has previously derided signature-verification work by local election officials as “a joke.”

During his time with Turning Point Action, Smith worked to support the candidacies of conservatives who spread false information about elections. At a rally in Washington on Jan. 5, 2021, Smith tweeted a photo of himself speaking to “thousands of patriots.” In that since-deleted tweet, he urged followers “Don’t get comfortable” and to “fight like hell.” The next day, as Congress met to certify the 2020 election results, the U.S. Capitol came under attack.

Smith said the prospect of costly and public fallout from the allegations shaped his decision to drop out of the race.

“The recommendation I received most was that I bow out and live to fight another day,” Smith said in a statement posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “I might be confident of victory, but all it would take is a judge believing any one person, and all would be lost. … To be better protected in the future, if and when I run again for something, I’ll rely exclusively on the online signature system, and eliminate paper petitions from my campaign. Then no one can make up any stories.”

The complaint alleged that Smith submitted multiple pages with dozens of forged signatures that he claimed to have collected, and it contained images of two of those pages.

Smith’s withdrawal drew immediate reaction from members of his own party, some of whom faced death threats and harassment for upholding the will of voters — and Republican losses — during the 2020 and 2022 elections.

Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman (R), who lives in Smith’s district west of Phoenix, cast Smith as a hypocrite. Hickman rejected attempts by Trump to talk to him in the weeks after the then-president narrowly lost the 2020 election. Hickman has faced death threats, threats against his family and protests at his home. On Thursday, he called on Smith to resign from office.

“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,” Hickman said in a statement. “And now he is accused of lying about the signatures he personally collected to get on the ballot again. An investigation will reveal the truth.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post
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