Austin Smith drops reelection campaign amid accusations of petition signature fraud

Rep. Austin Smith, R-Surprise, on the floor of the Arizona House of Representatives on April 17, 2024. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Republican state Rep. Austin Smith has dropped his reelection bid after being accused of personally forging more than 100 petition signatures to get on the 2024 ballot. 

And he’s facing a possible criminal investigation into his signatures after state elections officials forwarded his petition signatures to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.

Smith is first-term representative from Surprise, a member of Arizona’s far-right Arizona Freedom Caucus and a top official at Turning Point Action, the campaign arm of the far-right Turning Point USA, which is aimed at young Republicans and run by Charlie Kirk. 

Ironically, Smith is also a member of the House’s Municipal Oversight and Elections Committee, where he decried unproven election fraud in Maricopa County, and has even made jokes accusing county officials of mail-in ballot signature fraud on social media. 

“Signature verification in Maricopa County is a joke,” Smith wrote on Twitter in May 2023. 

But Smith’s own petition to get on the July 30 Republican primary ballot was filled with more than 100 signatures, along with corresponding addresses, that obviously look like they were all written by the same person. And two of his supposed petition signers told the court, in statements submitted along with a lawsuit challenging his nominating petitions, that they never signed the petition. 

Smith announced that he was dropping out of the race on Thursday, just days after the signature challenge was filed by Democratic precinct committeeman Jim Ashurst. 

In the announcement, Smith called the allegations against him “ludicrous” and accused Democrats of creating a “coordinated attack” against him with press releases and social media posts about the legal challenge to his candidacy. 

“If they could convince a judge that any one signature was forged, all of my signatures would be invalidated and I would get kicked off the ballot,” Smith wrote. “And as per Arizona law, I would also be banned from seeking office for five years.” 

Smith took no accountability for the allegedly fraudulent signatures and said that he didn’t want to spend tens of thousands defending himself in the civil elections challenge — as well as a possible criminal case for forgery — because he didn’t want that to impact his new wife. 

“We have our plans and aspirations, and none of them involve starting out tens of thousands of dollars in debt as a once of being involved in public service,” he wrote. 

But Republican Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer Tweeted on Thursday that, if the signatures were valid, the county would put out a report saying so, costing Smith nothing. 

Smith went on to say that, when he runs for office in the future, he’ll exclusively use the online petition signature system, so that “no one can make up any stories.” 

But while Smith was excoriated by the Arizona Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, they were not the only ones who went after him for his alleged behavior. 

Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman, a Republican, called Smith out in a Thursday statement, saying he should resign his seat in the House of Representatives immediately and calling for an investigation into Smith’s signatures. 

“An investigation will reveal the truth, but this episode tells us something about those who have spread falsehoods with such ease since the 2020 Election,” Hickman wrote. “They can’t comprehend that most Americans and Arizonans are honest people. They accuse others of dishonesty so easily because they have no qualms about lying to win a political race or a business deal. Well, I will always tell people the truth… and Austin Smith should leave public service now."

Smith was one of the many Arizona Republicans who claimed that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from former President Donald Trump and says on his campaign site that he was involved in the partisan audit of the race, which never uncovered any fraud. 

“What happened on November 3rd, 2020 in Maricopa County continues to be a national disgrace and embarrassment,” Smith wrote on his website. “Not only that, Austin believes it was criminal and will fight every day in the State Legislature to hold those responsible to account.”

The Arizona Secretary of State, Democrat Adrian Fontes, has already forwarded the allegations of forgery and fraud against Smith to the Attorney General’s Office, along with 12 other election petition signature cases. 

Shortly after Smith announced he was dropping out of the race, the ADLCC criticized him for his decision not to defend his actions in court. 

“Arizona voters deserve the same accountability, transparency, and elections integrity that Smith has long claimed to champion,” Democratic Sen. Priya Sundareshan, co-chair of the ADLCC said in a statement.

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