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Meet The Arizona Election Official Combating Misinformation One Tweet At A Time

Election conspiracists haven’t quit since the election, either: A Maricopa Board of Supervisors ended in chaos last month after a group of election conspiracists rushed the dais at the end of the meeting shouting that a “revolution” was underway. Board members had to be ushered out a side door by security guards. Threats and harassment from Trump supporters have driven hundreds of election officials to resign, and thousands more to go silent over fears of being attacked.

This all makes Richer an outlier. Richer has continued to speak out against allegations of election fraud and insecurity, despite on-going threats and harassment. Richer does it, he tells WIRED, because he still believes he’s best-placed to counter disinformation being spread online. And Richer has thrown his hat into the ring once again, and is seeking reelection for Maricopa County Recorder in November. In the Republican primary, Richer faces Justin Heap, a state representative who has been a vocal critic of election administration in Maricopa County and is aligned with numerous election deniers.

“Going online and engaging on Twitter does open you up to a certain amount of return fire, which might not be something that some people want to have in their lives,” Richers says. “Our approach in Maricopa County has been to put out as much information as we can in lots of different mediums and then hope that some of it yields dividends.”

He also knows he has an uphill battle ahead of November. Recently, a survey from the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) found that just 18 percent of Americans look to local election administrators for information. “This is a notable decline,” the report states.

“I do find myself often reflecting, what am I doing here? Am I doing it to correct the record? Am I doing it to win an argument?,” Richer said. “I need to keep in mind is winning an argument is not the same as persuading people.”

Richer, a former corporate lawyer, was elected Maricopa County Recorder in November 2020 following his defeat of Democratic incumbent Adrian Fontes, who is now secretary of state. As Maricopa County became ground zero of the newly-emerging election denial movement, Richer became the focus of attacks, despite having nothing to do with the administration of the election.

After criticizing the so-called election audit approved by the Arizona senate, Richer received a death threat via voicemail, and in 2022 a Missouri man was indicted on federal charges linked to the call. Richer received scores of threatening calls during this period, and says the threats came from people in half a dozen states. Many of the callers, he adds, have now been arrested for making threats, including a man from Alabama who was arrested just last week.

The accusations of election fraud weren’t just anonymous, however: In 2022, Lake accused Richer of sabotaging her campaign for governor by incorrectly printing 300,000 ballots that were subsequently discounted. Richer sued her; Lake’s lawyers tried to get the lawsuit dismissed in December by claiming their client’s comments about Richer were simply “her opinions about the facts,” and therefore protected speech.

Despite this, Richer continues to speak out and continues to tweet. Not everyone hates him: in 2021, he was named “Arizonan of the Year” by the Arizona Republic. In the same year, The Phoenix New Times named him the “Best Republican Politician of the Year” for his willingness to speak the truth about the integrity of the state’s election processes.

And he often thinks about what allegations of fraud are worth responding to and amplifying. “At what point do you engage and then risk promoting it to a larger audience? Or do you just let it die a natural death in another four or five hours because most of the stuff has a pretty short shelf life on social media,” Richer tells WIRED. “The calculus for [responding to Savela’s tweet] was that she’s a political actor who works with a political organization that was seemingly trying to spread this to try to hurt people’s competence in the system, so that’s why I chose to engage.”