Fountain Hills, Ariz. — Arizona State Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita warned that election security remains a major issue for the state at a local Republican meeting on Saturday morning, largely blaming the Democratic party for an increase in the mistrust of elections.

Ugenti-Rita was joined at the Fountain Hills Community Center by three other Republican candidates for federal and state elections who spoke to the members of the local Republican club about election integrity, the national debt and several other GOP talking points.  

Table centerpieces featured small American flags surrounded by red, white and blue fake flowers, and an American flag and Arizona state flag framed the stage. The candidates spoke before the Fountain Hills Republican Club — a group of largely white, elderly individuals from the community in the northern part of the Phoenix metro area.

“I want and am committed to restoring trust in the outcome of our elections, period. It is that simple. We have to protect our elections,” said Ugenti-Rita, a candidate for secretary of state.

Six candidates are running for Arizona’s secretary of state position this year, including two state representatives — Mark Finchem and Shawnna Bolick — who signed a resolution in December 2020 asking Congress to accept the state’s “alternate” electoral votes for Trump. Arizona is just one of several states where individuals who still believe the 2020 election was fraudulent, though no evidence has proven such, are running for secretary of state.

While Ugenti-Rita called the 2020 election “an abysmal failure,” she and the other candidates largely did not speak about former President Donald Trump’s false election claims. As a member of the Arizona legislature since 2011, she described herself as a leader on election integrity matters and criticized Democratic policies that she argues have “completely eroded our election system.”

Last year, Ugenti-Rita sponsored a bill — later signed into law — that removes the word “permanent” from the state’s Permanent Early Voting List, making it so voters could be removed from the list if they don’t use their early ballot consistently. She also supports HB 2492, a bill that became law at the end of March. The bill requires proof of citizenship to vote in federal elections, though the U.S. Supreme Court previously ruled in 2013 that the state could not do so under federal law.

“This is a no-brainer bill,” Ugenti-Rita said of HB 2492 in an interview on Friday. “This is a bill that’s an easy one to support, and if you care about elections, then you understand that there are criteria to vote.

The change to the early voting list would not occur until after the 2024 elections, and the legislature recently pushed enforcement of the proof-of-citizenship law to 2023. In addition to election issues, the meeting focused on other priorities relevant to the room of retirees.

Congressman David Schweikert, R-Arizona, raised concerns about the Social Security system and Medicare’s contribution to the national debt.

“This weighs heavy on me because this is the reality,” said Schweikert, who described himself as a “right-wing Republican” and “free market guy.

Others candidates who spoke during the event were State Representative Joseph Chaplik, who is running for re-election, and first-time political candidate Alex Kolodin, an attorney for the Arizona Republican Party, who is running for the Arizona House of Representatives.   

“It can be done,” Kolodin said again and again, in regard to the ability of GOP leaders to accomplish their goals on everything from education to abortion.

“It can be done,” repeated an elderly woman, who was otherwise quiet during the meeting, as she sat knitting at the center of the room.