Why a Lifelong Republican Views Arizona’s Recount as Wrong

For several weeks, Republicans in Arizona have conducted an extraordinary audit into the results of November’s presidential election, drawing scrutiny and widespread criticism for examining ballots without any evidence of fraud, and instead relying on conspiracy theories. The audit is expected to continue for weeks, if not months, prodded on by Republicans in the State Legislature, who have perpetuated former President Donald J. Trump’s falsehood that the election was stolen from him.

One of the most outspoken Republican critics of the audit is Bill Gates, who was re-elected as a Maricopa County supervisor in 2020, and along with other supervisors helps oversee the county’s election procedures.

Mr. Gates is a lifelong Republican who once worked as an election lawyer for the party. He considers himself a loyal member of the G.O.P. and points to former President Ronald Reagan as an inspiration for his interest in politics. But he is horrified at the partisan audit taking place in his district, saying that the recounts Arizona already conducted had sufficiently validated the results of the election.

We spoke to Mr. Gates about the recount, the future of the Republican Party and what he, along with millions of others, calls the “big lie.” The interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

I want to ask you straight away: Do you think the audit should be happening?

The audits that we conducted — I think that those were sufficient. I appreciate that there’s a certain segment of the population who continues to have concerns about our electoral process and the integrity of the election. I don’t believe that this process, the way that it’s played out, is really going to address those concerns. And also this has turned into a recount, and Arizona law has specific instances for how and when a recount is to occur. And also it’s a recount that’s been outsourced to known partisans. So I think for all those reasons, I don’t think this is a helpful exercise.

Having said that, although we’ve been accused of it over and over again, the board of supervisors is not acting to obstruct this exercise. From time to time we have gone to the courts, for example, and we’ve been concerned that people are being asked by the state or actually by the president of the Senate and the Senate judiciary chair to take actions that we thought might have been in violation of state law.

What kind of consequences do you think the audit will have?

Well, first of all, I think that it’s being conducted by a partisan entity. So that means that a majority of the people probably won’t even acknowledge the findings of it.

My fear is that all of this is further tearing at the foundations of our democracy and tearing at people’s faith in our electoral systems. If there were fraud going on, if there was systematic corruption going on, I would be the first to speak out against it. But we have looked at this again and again and again with numerous audits here. These issues have been litigated and relitigated in the courts, both state and federal courts. And there was no basis. And now we’re seeing these conspiracy theories that are being pursued.

If people lose faith in the electoral system, then I mean, where we go from there is very scary, right? Either people just disengage, they stop voting, or they cannot redress the government any further. They pursue what — armed rebellion? These are things that I can’t believe are even coming out of my mouth. This is such unchartered territory.

I want to ask you about the governor, Doug Ducey. What do you think he can and should be doing right now?

Well, I think, you know, for me, he did the most important thing that he needed to do, which was to certify this election. Back in the good old days, that was the sort of ministerial, right? But it was an act of political courage that I give him great credit for. And I think that was the most important thing that he could have done.

How do you convince rank-and-file Republicans, and other Republicans in general, that the election was fair and legitimate?

People ask me about Pennsylvania, Georgia, and what happened there. And honestly, I’m not going to comment on those elections because I wasn’t involved in those. I don’t know. But when we’re talking about Maricopa County, I can tell them how the election was run. It’s a collaborative effort here in Arizona. That’s how it’s set up. We took part in the election or ran it as elected Republicans. So if there was truly fraudulent results in Maricopa County, — the Republicans on the board of supervisors had to be a part of that. That is quite an accusation, to be either involved in it or look the other way; it makes no sense. And when you consider we were on the ballot as well and we were all re-elected. So that’s another thing to sort of suspend belief and say, “OK, it was just fraud in the presidential race, but not in a Republican state house.”

I’ve been a Republican my whole life. I mean, it’s like Liz Cheney: Nobody’s ever questioned her conservative credentials. That’s not what this is about at all. It has become about the big lie. And sadly, I feel like that is now the defining feature of the Republican Party. Whether you believe that the 2020 election results were a big lie.

I just want to clarify: Do you think that the national election was fair and legitimate and Biden won?

Yes, yes, I do. I’m not aware of any basis for that.

So how do you persuade other Republicans to believe the election was legitimate?

I think it’s a real challenge because unfortunately so many of our leaders of the party are telling them something else. I’m concerned that at this point, this is something that is going to take a while. It’s so important that we deal with reality and we’ve gotten away from that. We’re not living in our sort of normal human environment. We’ve all gone into these rabbit holes on social media.

And so there’s got to be this kind of civic reawakening, a belief in democracy. Trying to appeal to those who see that Donald Trump won the election in 2020, that is probably about the worst way to accomplish that. We all know in midterm elections, the party out of power usually does pretty well. And they do it by putting together a clear message that this is what we would do differently if we were in power right now, whether it’s Republicans or Democrats. And the Republican Party is going to have to pivot pretty quickly to get into that position, because right now it’s all about the 2020 election and we’re six-plus months after that.

That sounds pretty far away from where the party is now. What do you think the future holds for the G.O.P., both in Arizona and nationally?

I was someone whose political views were very much shaped by Ronald Reagan, who was the president when I was a teenager. Now my personal view is that we can get back to that, the shining city on the hill, this optimistic view of conservatism. I mean, that’s the successful future. It has to be a multiracial party, where we appeal to all people, regardless of their race or ethnicity. And I think there’s very much a hope of that.

If we don’t do those things, then I think we’re destined to be a minority party. And by that I mean a party that doesn’t win elections.

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