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Pinal County supervisor files claim in lawsuit against top county elections official

A Pinal County supervisor is threatening to sue the county’s top election official for defamation. 

Republican Supervisor Kevin Cavanaugh filed a notice of claim on March 21 against Pinal County Recorder Dana Lewis. 

Cavanaugh cites emails from a so-called whistleblower, someone claiming to work with Lewis, who says Lewis spread rumors the supervisor is secretly recording her conversations.

Cavanaugh, who’s now running for Pinal County sheriff, claims Lewis defamed him by accusing him of making those recordings.

“I think many candidates, if they saw these emails, would be concerned about the way the elections office is being operated,” Cavanaugh said.

Cavanaugh is demanding $456,000 in damages and wants Lewis removed from office. 

Lewis could not be reached for comment. 

The whistleblower’s allegations go far beyond defamation. The emails, obtained by KJZZ, mostly contain claims that the county’s ballot security and tabulation systems are unsecure – and that Lewis allowed the county to use election machines she knew were faulty.

Lewis is not only the county recorder, but also the de facto elections director. Former Elections Director Geraldine Roll resigned in June and said county supervisors had tried to politicize the elections. Since then, Lewis has been the head of all election matters.

“I'm not the only person who has witnessed what I have told you, they simply keep quiet due to fear of retaliation, or the fact that Dana just recently promoted or gave them a substantial pay raise. … My days at the county are numbered,” one email states.

“The issues that have been brought up were potential problems that had to do with machines or equipment, perhaps human error,” Cavanaugh said. “Those things need to be examined.”

Cavanaugh also claims Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer did not thoroughly investigate the whistleblower’s claims after Cavanaugh shared them with the attorney’s office. 

When reached for comment, Volkmer says he can’t say much, and Cavanaugh knows it.

“This is a game I’ve been playing for over a year now where he internationally sets up something where he’s hoping I screw up, I make a comment that I'm not lawfully permitted to make, then he gets to file a bar complaint,” Volkmer said.

Volkmer also said he requested that this issue be discussed openly on Wednesday at the next board meeting.

“At some point I’ll be able to correct inaccuracies in what was relayed to you and verify other things that were potentially correct,” he told KJZZ.

Volkmer and Cavanaugh butted heads over elections in 2023 when Cavanaugh tried to mandate hand-count only elections and do away with machine tabulation. Volkmer warned that was illegal, and would result in a lawsuit the county would lose.

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Camryn Sanchez is a field correspondent at KJZZ covering everything to do with state politics.