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Russell Pearce Recall in Arizona Marred by Fake Candidate Placed on Ballot

In Arizona, State Senate President Russell Pearce, who authored and was the driving force behind the anti-immigrant SB 1070 last year, faces a recall election next month. He immediately faced some challengers, including Olivia Cortes, a naturalized immigrant from Mexico who used the familiar “Sí, Se Puede!” as a campaign slogan.

Just one thing, though: Cortes was a fake candidate placed on the ballot by Tea Party activists.

Critics of Mr. Pearce’s hard-line approach to illegal immigration collected enough signatures to force him into a recall election in November. But allies of Mr. Pearce, who is one of the state’s most powerful politicians, did not take that humiliation lightly. They recruited Ms. Cortes in what was an effort to split the anti-Pearce vote, particularly among Latinos, a judge later found.

Greg Western, a Pearce ally who is the chairman of the East Valley Tea Party, was a central figure in the scheme and became Ms. Cortes’s campaign adviser. Soon, signs promoting Ms. Cortes’s candidacy appeared on street corners, bearing the motto made famous by Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers: “Sí, Se Puede!”

Ms. Cortes avoided the news media for weeks, and the few interviews she did give showed her to be shaky on the issues. Her candidacy began falling apart after another candidate, Jerry Lewis, who like Mr. Pearce is a Republican, began his own campaign. Allies of Mr. Lewis’s went to court to challenge Ms. Cortes’s election bid as a sham.

The judge, Edward O. Burke of Superior Court of Maricopa County, declined to remove her from the ballot but did say that the evidence suggested that some of her so-called supporters really supported Mr. Pearce. “The court finds that Pearce supporters recruited Cortes, a political neophyte, to run in the recall election to siphon Hispanic votes from Lewis to advance Pearce’s recall election bid,” the judge said in his ruling.

Cortes has since dropped out of the race, though her name will still appear on the ballot, as the judge never took her off it. Election officials plan to post notices at the polling place informing voters that Cortes is not running. I wonder if the notices will only be in English.

The election is on November 8. It’s a heavily Republican district, which is why Lewis, a more moderate Republican, stands the only chance of beating Pearce. The Tea Party activists wanted to ensure that didn’t happen by placing spoilers on the ballot.

After this concludes, Tea Party will go back to whipping up support for expaned voter ID laws and other suppression tactics, on the grounds that groups of ideologues could get together and try to subvert democracy through deception and pretending to be someone they’re not.

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David Dayen

David Dayen