The biggest Arizona headlines of 2021, from recycling plant fire to COVID-19 to a partisan election review

·27 min read

After an unforgettable 2020 marked by a worldwide pandemic and a presidential election, many people looked for a return to normal in 2021.

But many of the same issues persisted. The results of the presidential election were challenged in Arizona, and COVID-19 cases continued to surge across the state, nation and world.

Here's a look back at Arizona's top news events in 2021.

Grant Woods, John Conlan and other notables who died

Grant Woods, a two-time Republican Arizona attorney general who frequently bucked his political party to endorse Democratic candidates and causes, died of a heart attack in October at 67.

Woods cut his political teeth as chief of staff to fellow Republican and then-U.S. Rep John McCain in the early 1980s. He ran for office himself in 1990. He campaigned on civil rights issues, openly supporting a state Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and opposing a GOP-backed English-only ballot measure.

Woods was remembered by friends and family during a memorial at the Orpheum Theater.

John Conlan, a religious conservative who spent four years in Congress, died in June at 90.

Conlan was a member of the Arizona Senate for eight years before going to Washington. Despite more than a decade in politics, Conlan may be most remembered for his loss in the 1976 Republican primary for U.S. Senate, a race tainted with religious bigotry and mudslinging between Conlan and fellow U.S. Rep. Sam Steiger.

Woods and Conlan were two of several notable politicians and community leaders who died in 2021. Others included:

Phoenix sees 2nd most rainy days in monsoon ever

Phoenix saw a near-record number of rainy days in 2021 after an unseasonably hot and dry 2020.

Rain was measured at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on 23 days over the monsoon season that runs June 15 through Sept. 30. The most rainy days ever recorded was 24 in 1896.

The rain resulted in recharged reservoirs and brought a much-needed reprieve after a prolific wildfire season but did little to replenish the Colorado River or quell widespread drought conditions.

Massive west Phoenix fire at recycling plant caught everyone's eye

A massive fire at a west Phoenix recycling plant led to the largest fire response in the city’s history.

The fire burned multiple recycling yards at Friedman Waste Control Systems and destroyed nearby businesses near 35th Avenue and Lincoln Street in June. It threatened surrounding homes and the smoke was visible from space.

An investigation by The Arizona Republic revealed the fire wasn’t a one-time accident and that the recycling plant owner and city knew there was a hazard.

There have been at least 20 reports of fires at the facility since 1994.

Hacienda Health Care CEO, rapist sentenced for crimes at care facility

The former CEO of a Phoenix health care facility where an incapacitated woman was raped and gave birth and the former nurse who raped the woman were sentenced for their involvement in various crimes, bringing some closure to the three-year case.

William Timmons, the former head of Hacienda HealthCare, was sentenced in November to three years of supervised probation after defrauding the state of millions of dollars through a complex medical billing scheme.

He was ordered to pay $500,000 in restitution to Arizona’s Medicaid program, plus $274,500 in fines and surcharges.

While Timmons was in charge, a 29-year-old patient at Hacienda’s intermediate care facility unexpectedly gave birth in late December 2018 in a case that garnered international attention. The patient rape put a spotlight on Hacienda and Timmons.

The surprise birth triggered reviews by state agencies, highlighted safety concerns for patients who are severely disabled or incapacitated and prompted resignations at the organization. The Arizona Attorney General’s Office launched a criminal investigation into Hacienda’s finances in early 2019.

Nathan Sutherland, the nurse who raped the woman and was charged with sexual assault and abuse of a vulnerable adult, was sentenced Dec. 2 to 10 years in prison.

Judge Margaret LaBianca said Sutherland was tasked with caring for and protecting the most vulnerable of patients, and his crimes were a serious breach of ethics.

"It is hard to imagine a more vulnerable adult than the victim in this case," LaBianca said.

Arizona Coyotes eye a new arena deal in Tempe

The Arizona Coyotes proposed to build a new arena and entertainment district on the southern bank of the Salt River in Tempe.

The franchise has long wanted an arena closer to its fan base in the East Valley. After negotiations broke down this summer, Glendale said it wouldn’t renew the team’s lease at Gila River Arena after the season ends in April.

The Coyotes have been in talks with Tempe officials for at least two years, and the team submitted a proposal to develop 46 acres of city-owned land near Priest Drive and Rio Salado Parkway.

The $1.7 billion development would include a hockey arena, hotels, apartments and shops that the team says would be financed by billionaire owner Alex Meruelo and private investors.

Tempe's elected officials have been mum as a city committee reviews the bid.

If approved, the team could play its first season in Tempe in 2025.

More Arizona city leaders acting to protect LGBTQ people

The year saw a tide of municipal action to protect LGBTQ rights as more cities passed nondiscrimination ordinances that extend to the LGBTQ community as state and federal lawmakers fail to pass similar proposals.

The Glendale City Council in May unanimously approved an ordinance that prohibits discrimination in public places, housing and many workplaces and extended the protections to the LGBTQ community, becoming the third metro Phoenix city to tackle the issue in as many months.

Mesa and Scottsdale passed ordinances in March and April, respectively.

The votes come seven years after Arizona legalized same-sex marriages and more than 20 years after the first Arizona city, Tucson, passed a nondiscrimination ordinance in 1999.

City leaders have long pressed state lawmakers to provide consistent rules statewide.

Mesa Mayor John Giles, who leads a city that has been ranked the most conservative big city in the country, said without state action it was time for cities to act, saying ensuring civil rights for all is “the right thing to do.”

Grocer Bashas', open since 1932, is sold to California grocer Raley's

Arizona institution Bashas’, which launched in metro Phoenix almost 90 years ago, announced in October that it was selling to California-based Raley’s Holding Company.

Edward Basha, president and CEO of the company, said the pandemic showed the family it was time to sell the grocery chain his grandfather started in Chandler in 1932. The grocer had trouble getting products and filling orders during the pandemic and found that larger stores were faring better.

Joining forces with another family-operated chain in a competitive market would ensure the success of the grocer, he said.

Bashas’ operates 113 stores across Arizona, New Mexico and the Navajo Nation, including its Food City and AJ’s Fine Food stores.

Law enforcement officers killed at least 38 people; 8 officers killed while on duty

The Tucson Police Department quickly moved to fire one of its officers who fatally shot a man in a mobility scooter in late November while confronting him for alleged shoplifting.

The decision came after videos of the shooting from a Lowe’s security camera showed Officer Ryan Remington firing his gun nine times into 61-year-old Richard Lee Richards’ back and side.

Richards died at the scene.

The officer alleged Richards pulled a knife on him. An attorney representing Remington said he “had no non-lethal options.”

Richards was one of at least 67 people shot by law enforcement officers in Arizona in 2021. At least 38 people died. At least 12 of those people were shot by Phoenix police, and eight died.

At least eight law enforcement officers were killed this year while working in Arizona, including Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Michael Garbo, who was shot and killed in Tucson in October when a passenger opened fire on officers who were doing a routine inspection for illegal contraband on an Amtrak train.

Maricopa County sheriff's Deputy Juan Ruiz died after being beaten unconscious by a man he was putting in a holding cell in October.

La Paz County sheriff's Sgt. Michael Rudd was killed when struck by a vehicle after a stop on Interstate 10.

U.S. Border Patrol Agent Daniel Cox died in a head-on crash with another vehicle.

Phoenix police Officer Ginarro New died when his patrol car was struck by a driver who ran a red light.

Chandler police Officer Christopher Farrar was struck and killed by a suspect in a stolen vehicle during a pursuit.

There were two deaths of officers while on off-duty assignments as well. Nogales police Officer Jeremy Brinton was hit by a vehicle on Interstate 19, and Maricopa County sheriff's Lt. Chad Brackman was struck while directing traffic in Scottsdale.

Governor ousts Arizona State Board of Massage Therapy

All five members of the Arizona State Board of Massage Therapy were ousted and replaced in September after a Republic investigation revealed many massage therapists get second chances despite allegations of sexual abuse.

The members of the regulatory board are appointed by the governor and are responsible for licensing the state’s 10,600 massage therapists and investigating complaints against them.

A Republic analysis found that 100 massage therapists faced complaints before the board for allegedly exposing, fondling, sexually abusing or sexually assaulting clients during the past eight years and about half didn’t have their licenses revoked. Others had their complaints dismissed or received only warnings.

Women who filed complaints with the board said the board’s reluctance to discipline therapists put customers at risk.

Gov. Doug Ducey said the board needed to ensure that massage clients were protected. Three of the new members he appointed had experience in victim advocacy and support, Ducey said.

Wildfires leave lasting damage

Wildfires brought devastating consequences statewide in 2021, leaving hundreds of thousands of acres burned, damaged structures and at least two people dead.

The Telegraph Fire, which ignited June 4 near Superior, merged with the Mescal Fire, which began June 1 southeast of Globe, burning swaths of land and becoming the sixth largest wildfire in the state since 2002.

Two firefighters responding to a wildfire northeast of Wikieup, about two hours northwest of Phoenix, died after their plane crashed.

Fires have grown larger and have burned more severely and the fire season is starting earlier as temperatures rise and drought intensifies.

The fires have led to more intense floods during heavy rains and have stunted vegetation, forced wildlife out of their habitats and contaminated the watershed.

Long-running prison health care lawsuit goes to trial, finally

A landmark case in a nearly decadelong battle to determine whether inmates in Arizona’s prison system are getting the basic health care they are entitled to under law finally made it to trial.

Jensen v. Shinn began Nov. 1 in Phoenix after a federal judge scrapped a 6-year-old settlement that required the Arizona Department of Corrections to create and comply with new health care benchmarks. The judge said the state had failed to meet its responsibility despite fines and repeated judicial warnings.

Prisoners in the class-action lawsuit say the medical services they receive are inadequate and constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

The trial could affect the way Arizona administers health care in state prisons and could end with the judge taking control of the prison health care system.

U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver is expected to rule in early 2022.

Hickman fire: 165,000 chickens die

A massive fire in March destroyed two barns and killed an estimated 165,000 hens at Hickman’s Family Farms.

The fire, at the company’s farm in Arlington, about an hour west of Phoenix, destroyed equipment and supplies such as food, conveyor systems, watering systems and lighting. An employee was hospitalized for smoke inhalation.

A company spokesperson said it appeared the fire started while an employee was cleaning the chicken houses on a skid-steer when the equipment malfunctioned and sparked the blaze.

Maricopa County Attorney’s Office under scrutiny

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office came under fire for its apparent mishandling of cases involving protesters and as questions were raised about County Attorney Alister Adel’s management of the third largest prosecutorial agency in the country.

The County Attorney’s Office dropped its case against 15 protesters who faced criminal street gang charges for their involvement in an October 2020 demonstration against the unfair treatment of people of color by police. Protesters were arrested after Phoenix police said they marched in the road, moved barricades and resisted arrest.

Charges also were dismissed against protesters arrested at other demonstrations.

An outside review of the charges, ordered by Adel, found the October gang case was “deeply flawed," with issues involving misleading testimony to a grand jury, prosecutors with potential conflicts and an unreliable police informant.

The independent report also described a breakdown in communication between the case’s lead prosecutor, April Sponsel, and MCAO leadership. Sponsel filed a $10 million claim against MCAO for disparagement and other damages.

Much of this happened as Adel recovered from an October 2020 fall that left her hospitalized for a month and as she dealt with other health issues.

In late August, Adel entered a rehabilitation center. She announced she was seeking treatment for anxiety, which she said had led to “unhealthy coping behaviors including an eating disorder and alcohol use.”

She returned in mid-September.

School boards face heightened political pressure

School board members across Arizona have become a target of parents and outsiders as the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on increased scrutiny of the work boards do. School boards historically were set up to function as nonpartisan entities that deal with the nuts and bolts of teaching and maintaining school facilities, but national partisanship has seeped into the local school environment.

Concerns about pandemic protocols and how race is taught in schools have led to tense board meetings throughout the year that have forced some districts to limit public participation or move meetings online.

This has been most evident in the southwest Valley’s Litchfield Elementary School District and in the Scottsdale Unified School District, where dozens of community members have shown up to protest board policies, school board members have been subject of recall efforts and numerous complaints have been filed for alleged open meeting law violations.

Immigration policy still in stalemate with change in administration

Despite President Joe Biden's campaign promises to reform the country’s immigration system and overturn hard-line and nativist policies from the Trump administration, efforts to address issues from "Dreamers'" status in the country to asylum processing have remained stagnant with the change in administration.

Biden’s proposal to offer a pathway to citizenship for some of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country has stalled in Congress. He has opted to keep or reestablish some policies and programs, such as “Remain in Mexico,” which requires asylum seekers to return or stay in Mexico while their cases work through the court system.

Immigration advocates say Biden set high expectations and has fallen short, leaving many of his pledges unfulfilled.

Redistricting gives state districts a more Republican bent

Arizona's representation in the U.S. House of Representatives is likely to shift to a Republican majority after the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission unanimously approved a transformative, GOP-leaning congressional map on Dec. 22.

The commissioners, who had met for months to create new political districts, also approved a Republican-leaning but balanced map for districts in the Legislature in a contentious 3-2 vote.

Arizona's current congressional delegation is made up of five Democrats and four Republicans. The new map, should it withstand legal challenges, favors Republicans in five — and possibly six — of the state's nine districts.

Republicans hope to flip a congressional seat from blue to red and add to their power in the state Legislature, where the party currently has a slim advantage.

Arizona and all other states redraw their political maps in a once-in-a-decade redistricting process based on the census.

Restored Mesa LDS Temple reopens amid fanfare after more than 3 years

The nearly 100-year-old Mesa temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which closed in May 2018 for major renovations, reopened this fall.

Members of the public were allowed a rare look inside the temple for only the third time in its history before being rededicated and opening just to church members. Church officials allowed hundreds of thousands of people to tour the temple and hoped it brought a greater understanding of the LDS community.

Renovations included new roofing, window replacement, more garden spaces and construction of a new visitors center.

The temple was the first in Arizona and the ninth for the church.

Suns’ great year takes team to NBA Finals, only to lose to Milwaukee Bucks

The Phoenix Suns reached the NBA Finals for the first time in 28 years, uniting longtime fans and new supporters rooting for the hometown team.

Excitement turned into heartbreak when the Suns lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in deciding Game 6. The Suns had not lost more than three games in a row in the season before dropping four consecutive games in the Finals.

Led by Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Jae Crowder, the Suns had home-court advantage and took the first two games of the series. Momentum shifted when the team traveled to Milwaukee to play.

“It hurts. Badly,” Suns coach Monty Williams said after the loss. “But I’m also grateful that we had this chance to play for a championship.”

Sports betting launches in Arizona

Gamblers can now bet on their favorite major sports franchise or on lesser-known sports like table tennis from the comfort of their home or at in-person sportsbooks.

Mobile sports betting launched in September allowing Arizonans 21 and older to place bets from their cellphone or in person.

The new law allows for 20 mobile sportsbook licenses, 10 to Native American tribes and 10 to professional sports venues. The state issued licenses to 18 organizations, and many of those partnered with major operators such as DraftKings, FanDuel and WynnBET.

The Ducey administration worked for years to renegotiate tribal compacts, allowing new games and much higher bets at casinos in exchange for professional sports teams opening a limited number of sportsbooks off tribal land. Proponents of betting said it will generate an estimated $15 million annually in state revenue.

Republic's investigation revealed nursing home's policy led to 15 deaths

Ducey in June shut down the board responsible for licensing nursing home administrators after a Republic investigation showed members approved a license for a convicted felon to run a Prescott nursing home where 15 people died of COVID-19.

The Arizona Board of Nursing Care Institution Administrators and Assisted Living Facility Managers had operated for decades and was tasked with licensing nursing home administrators “of good character.” A legislative bill to reauthorize the board to operate until July 2029 was vetoed by Ducey.

"After this bill was nearly through the legislature, there was a disturbing and heartbreaking investigation by the Arizona Republic ... into this Board that showed the Board is failing in its duty," he wrote in a veto letter. "With this new information, we needed something more than a continuation."

The Republic documented how the board routinely approved a license for Larry Rasmussen in February 2020, despite his two felony fraud convictions and little experience running a health care facility. Four months later, a state investigation found Rasmussen and his management team had forced employees who tested positive with COVID-19 to continue working, which led to an outbreak at Granite Creek Health and Rehabilitation Center where 50 residents became infected with the disease.

Ducey said he would work with the Legislature to shift the board’s work to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Arizona’s ties to Capitol insurrection include Jake Angeli and more

Several state and congressional elected officials from Arizona have been connected to the “Stop the Steal” effort to overturn the presidential election results and were present at the U.S. Capitol on the day of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

U.S. Reps. Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar, both longtime Trump allies, repeated unfounded allegations of election fraud and called for President Joe Biden’s victory to be rejected. Both participated in a Zoom call aimed at convincing Rusty Bowers, speaker of the Arizona House, to reject the results.

As Congress met on Jan. 6 to certify the election results during a ceremonial proceeding, Gosar rose to object to his home state’s certification. He continued to outline his arguments when returning to the chamber after rioters who entered the nation’s Capitol forced members of Congress to take shelter.

The two Republicans were singled out by organizer Ali Alexander for helping to create one of the pro-Trump rallies that preceded the deadly attack on the Capitol. Alexander said he came up with the idea with Biggs, Gosar and Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks to put pressure on Congress.

Biggs has repeatedly denied the claim, and Gosar has refused to address it with The Republic.

Photos and videos outside the Capitol showed familiar faces.

State Rep. Mark Finchem and Rep. Anthony Kern, a Republican from Glendale who lost his reelection campaign, were near the Capitol. Photos show Kern in a throng of people dressed in MAGA hats on the Capitol steps. Both have peddled election fraud conspiracies and say the election was stolen.

Photos showed Jake Angeli, a QAnon supporter who has been a fixture at right-wing political rallies in Arizona, in animal pelts and horns holding an American flag at the dais where then-Vice President Mike Pence had stood moments before people breached the Capitol doors.

Angeli, whose legal name is Jacob Chansley, was arrested and sentenced in November to 41 months in federal prison for obstructing a civil proceeding. At least six other Arizonans have been arrested in connection with the attack.

Court strikes down Legislature's practice of packing the state budget

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper ruled in September that a host of policy measures tucked into state budget bills were unconstitutional.

Cooper said the Legislature violated the Arizona Constitution’s requirements that bills stick to a single subject and that the title reflect the content by including policy issues in the budget package that weren’t related to state appropriations. The ruling applied to parts of the health, higher education and K-12 budget bills and completely struck down a fourth bill.

The decision came after a coalition of education and civic groups, led by the Arizona School Boards Association, filed a lawsuit after a law banning school districts from implementing mask policies was included in the education budget.

The Arizona Supreme Court unanimously upheld the lower court decision.

Arizona’s affordability crisis: Rising home prices, strain on renters

Housing prices have continued to rise across metro Phoenix, setting new records and exacerbating an affordability crisis that had been worsened by widespread job losses and evictions brought on by the pandemic.

Homebuilding across metro Phoenix is expected to hit a 14-year high this year, and apartment construction is at a near-record pace.

Despite the construction, Phoenix still faces a growing housing shortage as more people move to the Valley. That has pushed up home prices and rents.

Metro Phoenix home prices were expected to climb to $425,000 in December. The average rent in metro Phoenix climbed 15% during the past year, almost four times the average U.S. rate, real estate experts say.

That has left many people without affordable options, and the problem is expected to get worse as Arizona continues to draw thousands of new residents each year. Proposals to add additional affordable apartments and houses have faced roadblocks from zoning issues to neighbors opposed to apartments.

Some people also are having a hard time staying in their homes as eviction moratoriums expire and renters and homeowners face mounting bills. Evictions in Maricopa County almost doubled from August to September, the first month since the moratorium ended. The number of renters being locked out was expected to keep climbing.

Sinema’s outsized influence on infrastructure bill, other legislation

U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who has positioned herself as a centrist willing to work with lawmakers across the aisle, was in the national spotlight this year as she played an outsized role on various bills and spending measures.

Her vote, or those of other moderates like Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., could torpedo a bill or boost a bill’s chances in a chamber the Democrats control by one vote.

Sinema was tapped by Biden to help advance negotiations on the trillion-dollar infrastructure package after discussions with Republicans fell apart. She worked with a core group of about 10 lawmakers to help craft and broker the deal that makes historic investments in the country’s deteriorating roads, bridges and water systems, expands broadband internet access and addresses climate change.

She will play a crucial role in the White House’s efforts to pass legislation related to Biden’s social-policy agenda. Though she’s indicated support for many of the plan’s goals, she has pushed to cut the price tag.

An epic water shortage continues: Lake Mead in dire straits

Years of severe drought and rising temperatures have affected water supplies at Lake Mead, which stores water used by Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico.

The water level in the reservoir, the largest in the country formed by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, has dropped about 140 feet since 2000. Lake Mead is just 35% full, nearing record low levels since it was filled.

The decline threatens the water supplies of cities and farmlands across the Southwest.

Arizona joined neighboring states, tribal communities and the federal government in December to agree to reduce the amount of Colorado River water taken from Lake Mead over the next two years in an effort to find solutions to the water shortage.

A buoy rests on the ground at a closed boat ramp on Lake Mead at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Boulder City, Nev., on Aug. 13, 2021.
A buoy rests on the ground at a closed boat ramp on Lake Mead at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Boulder City, Nev., on Aug. 13, 2021.

Recreational marijuana goes on sale in Arizona

Arizonans went out in droves, weathering cool winter temperatures and long lines, to purchase recreational marijuana after dispensaries got the green light to begin sales in January.

Public sales of marijuana, vape pens and edible products such as gummies followed the passage of Proposition 207 in November 2020, which made it legal for adults 21 or older to possess the drug.

The ballot measure allowed Arizona’s 120 or so existing medical marijuana dispensaries to apply to sell recreational marijuana and allows for new dispensaries in rural counties and another 26 shops under a “social equity” program aimed at helping people who have been harmed by historical marijuana prohibitions.

Sales projections released by the state in July show recreational sales boosted the already-legal medical market, with the state on track to sell well over $1 billion in marijuana this year and collect more than $150 million in taxes, outpacing other states like Colorado and Oregon.

DOJ investigation into Phoenix police practices, use of force

The federal government in August announced a far-reaching inquiry into claims against the Phoenix Police Department.

The Justice Department is investigating allegations of excessive use of force, retaliation against protesters, discriminatory policing practices and the department’s response to people who have disabilities or are experiencing homelessness.

The Phoenix Police Department in recent years has faced widespread criticism from criminal justice groups over its practices and has been the subject of media investigations into its high rate of police shootings and disproportionate use of violence against people of color.

COVID-19 continues to rock Arizona with delta surge, omicron variant

Arizona hospitals remain strained with high patient loads for COVID-19 and other illnesses amid fears that the rapid spread of the new omicron variant will further drive up infections.

Arizona's seven-day COVID-19 death rate per 100,000 people ranked second in the nation out of all states and territories as of Dec. 22, behind only New Mexico, after ranking first earlier in December, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After becoming a pandemic hot spot in 2020, Arizona hoped to chart a different course in 2021.

Vaccines rolled out through late winter and early spring and seemed to signal a new phase of the pandemic after a deadly winter surge.

In late March, Gov. Doug Ducey lifted remaining restrictions on Arizona businesses and large events, citing expanded vaccine distribution and declining case numbers.

A new strain, the delta variant, changed the state’s trajectory by midyear.

More than 5,500 deaths have been reported since June, and state data suggests the vast majority of recent deaths were among people who were unvaccinated. The number of people who died from COVID-19 in 2021 surpassed that of 2020, with the known death tally as of Dec. 16 reaching 12,915, up 24% from 10,395 COVID-19 deaths reported last year.

Arizona's rate of fully vaccinated people out of the total population is 56.6%, which is behind the national rate of 61.7%, according to the CDC as of Dec. 22.

Arizona election review: Pressure to subvert democracy continues

Months after the election results were certified and President Joe Biden was sworn into office, efforts continued in Arizona to overturn the results.

Arizona, one of a handful of swing states that voted for Biden, was an easy target because of Biden’s small margin of victory and because then-President Donald Trump had so many allies here.

It only took a small group of people, including Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, R- Prescott, to launch a formal election challenge.

The monthslong partisan review of ballots cast in Maricopa County led by Florida-based Cyber Ninjas, a company with no prior experience in election reviews, captured international attention.

The process was rife with mistakes and partisanship and was targeted by opportunists from across the county seeking to bank on the doubt that had been sowed.

After several counts and various inspections, Cyber Ninjas found that Biden won the election, and its report did not claim any widespread fraud. Still, the team raised doubts about the county’s election procedures and mail-in voting.

The review cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the results don’t appear to have assuaged those who believe the election was stolen.

But it’s likely to have a lasting effect on Arizona’s highly divided political landscape, including the introduction of several bills at the Legislature next year to address concerns over election integrity.

Reach reporter Paulina Pineda at paulina.pineda@azcentral.com or 480-389-9637. Follow her on Twitter @paulinapineda22.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Top 2021 Arizona stories compiled by The Arizona Republic

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