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Homecover story“Hyper-partisan attack”: Arizona GOP advances new voting bills inspired by conspiracy theories

“Hyper-partisan attack”: Arizona GOP advances new voting bills inspired by conspiracy theories

Arizona’s Republican-controlled state legislature advanced bills last month that they claim will improve election transparency — but voting rights advocates worry will actually have the opposite effect. 

The state House elections committee last week voted to pass House Bill 2308 – a bill that would bar any future secretary of state from overseeing and confirming the results of an election if they are a candidate. The bill comes after then-Secretary of State Katie Hobbs won the gubernatorial election in November.

“There’s a lack of confidence from some of my constituents in the election itself,” Republican state Rep. Rachel Jones of Tucson, who presented the bill, said during the committee meeting. “I think the optics of that – of a secretary of state running their own election for governor and then certifying that election was a major concern.”

State Rep. Melody Hernandez, a Tempe Democrat, questioned why the bill was being presented now but wasn’t a concern when GOP Secretaries of State Ken Bennett and Michele Reagan were on the ballot in 2014 and 2018.

Jones countered that the environment changed after the 2020 election and claimed that “there’s a lack of confidence in our election process” now, which brought the issue to the forefront. 

When state Rep. Oscar De Los Santos, a Democrat from Laveen, asked her if she had “any concrete evidence that there were any misdeeds from the secretary of state in the 2022 election,” Jones responded saying “It was more just the optics.”

“It was instilling a lack of confidence in the results of the election,” she added.

While there has been no evidence of corruption in the election process, Arizona Republicans have continued to sponsor bills they claim will instill faith in the election system for voters. Citing a survey from Rasmussen Reports, which has a history of Republican-leaning polling, Jones shared that 71% of U.S. voters stated they believed the midterms were “botched” during the committee meeting. 

But voting rights organizations raised concerns that advancing such bills can create more uncertainty around the election system and even increase threats against election administrators. 

“These are the same people who brought you the ‘fraudit’ following the 2020 election,” a Democratic source who asked to remain anonymous told Salon. “So, it just continues to be more bad-faith conspiracy theories and, frankly, I think voters are tired of it. This has been going on now for two years. And because of it, we’ve seen so much of violent rhetoric, resulting in threats to the safety of secretaries of state and election administrators up and down the ballot.”

The Maricopa County elections office recorded nearly 140 threatening and hostile communications against election workers between July and August of last year, according to Reuters.

Many of these threats stemmed from conspiracy theories related to the 2020 presidential election that were promoted by former President Donald Trump and his allies.

The threats asserted false claims of fake ballots, fixed voting machines and corruption among election officials in the county during the 2020 election.

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The same efforts that were used to sow doubt about the election system after the 2020 election are being repeated now, said Hannah Fried, executive director of All Voting is Local and All Voting is Local Action.

“Despite the fact that our elections were overwhelmingly proven to be secure, reliable, trustworthy, there are still going to be efforts to drive mis- [and] disinformation from 2022, and use that as a pretextual basis for passing new laws, and that is exactly what we are seeing in Arizona,” Fried added.

The Arizona legislature also passed three other bills, two of which the committee split along party lines.

House Bill 2319 would tell judges to “aggressively” favor an election-law interpretation that provides greater transparency and HB 2322 would put observers appointed by each party in charge of voter signature verification. 

Observers would have the ability to challenge the decisions of election workers at polling places, voting centers and other counting facilities.

“Signature verification processes, often, the way they’re carried out can be to the detriment of older voters,” Fried said. “For example, people whose signatures have changed, you really want to be mindful of any kind of change because it can have a really direct impact on people’s right to vote.”

Beyond Arizona, other states are also enacting similar efforts to “chip away” at the opportunities that have helped more people access voting, she added. 

If these efforts continue to advance in other states, it will allow legislators to strip power from people they didn’t agree with, which defeats the purpose of having separate branches of government, a Democratic source told Salon.  

“This is a hyper-partisan attack based on the fact that they don’t like election results,” said Kim Rogers, the executive director of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State. “And I think that Arizona, frankly, has one of the strictest voter fraud guidelines already in the country.”

Republicans have pushed out unproven claims of voter fraud when it comes to in-person early voting and voting by mail. Many candidates even made the centerpiece of their campaigns promising to ban some of these efforts.

Republican Arizona gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake said she would support slashing early and mail-in voting citing unsubstantiated or disproven claims of widespread voter fraud. When she lost to her Democratic opponent Katie Hobbs by just over 17,000 votes in the midterm election, Lake refused to concede and instead filed a lawsuit against Hobbs and Maricopa County election officials claiming election fraud.

While her suit was dismissed in court last month, her efforts to sow doubt in the integrity of the election system have continued. 

Lake came under fire recently for posting photos of voters’ signatures on Twitter. Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes asked Attorney General Kris Mayes to investigate her for potentially violating a state law that prohibits “records containing a voter’s signature” from being used by another person who isn’t the voter. 

Even after election workers in Maricopa County were forced into hiding after receiving threats related to the 2022 midterms, Lake has continued to peddle conspiracy theories.

Now, the Republican-controlled Arizona legislature is passing bills fueled by such election conspiracy theories, which Fried pointed out has been a concerted effort to undermine election integrity for the last couple of years.

“There are points of connectivity between all of this,” she added. “It’s not happening by accident… people who are trying to break our systems are getting smarter about it, and the really kind of over-the-top stuff that we sometimes see getting replaced with things that look reasonable on the surface are not reasonable.”

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