Hobbs gives $2M to election efforts, orders departments to ramp up voter registration

Gov. Katie Hobbs on Thursday announced she was dedicating $2.3 million to improve Arizona elections, and she issued a trio of executive orders that are aimed at bolstering elections in the Grand Canyon State.

The $2.3 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act will go toward paying for some of the 16 proposals that came out of Hobbs’ Bipartisan Election Task Force, which released its final report Nov. 1. 

Those include $1 million for a statewide elections fellowship program, as well as for temporary employees and expert consultants to help counties that lost local expertise and institutional knowledge over the past several years. Turnover in county recorder and election official positions in Arizona has been high over the past couple of years as they became targets of harassment and threats from people who believe that elections are rigged. 

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Another $700,000 will go to maintaining Access Voter Information Database, or AVID, a statewide voter database that serves all of the counties in the state and is the only system used in 13 of 15 counties. (Maricopa and Pima counties have their own voter registration systems.)

An additional $600,000 will pay for 2024 election administration needs, such as election security at the county level, the creation of a guide for ballot reconciliation best practices, resources to better support voters with disabilities and poll worker recruitment. Ballot reconciliation is the process of tracking each ballot that is printed and issued to a voter. 

Recruiting enough election workers to staff polling locations has been an ongoing issue in Arizona, especially since teams of Republican and Democratic workers are required to work together on certain tasks, such as transporting ballots. 

One of the most important proposals from the task force — made up of elections officials and legislators from both parties and advocates from across the state — will require the state legislature to change the law. 

That proposal addresses the fallout of a recent change in the law that lowered the threshold for election recounts in Arizona, with an automatic recount now triggered if the difference between the top two vote-getters is one-half of 1% or less. The change makes recounts much more likely, especially since many races in Arizona in the past several years have been close. 

“There is a significant risk that county and state election administrators will not be able to complete required recounts in time to meet mandated federal and state statutory deadlines,” the task force wrote in its report. 

The task force recommends a change back to the old recount margins of one-tenth of 1%, as well as moving up some election deadlines. 

It’s unlikely that the Republican-controlled state legislature will agree to revert back to the old threshold since the law change was prompted by Republicans and signed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey in 2022. 

While some of the proposals that the task force created can only be realized by new laws created by the state legislature, Hobbs kicked off some of them with the three executive orders she issued Nov. 1.

“As Secretary of State I oversaw the most secure elections in Arizona history, but I know we must continue to improve Arizona’s elections ahead of 2024,” Hobbs said in a statement. “Election officials and voters are facing new challenges when it comes to administering elections and participating in our democracy. I am thrilled to immediately address some of the problems identified by the Bipartisan Elections Task Force to ensure Arizona voters can make their voices heard.”

One of the executive orders tells the Arizona Department of Administration to amend the Arizona Administrative Code to provide state workers with civic duty leave to volunteers at the polls and to attend poll worker training. It also tasks the department with informing state employees of poll worker opportunities prior to every statewide election. 

Another executive order instructs the Department of Administration to work with state agencies and counties to find government buildings that can serve as voting or ballots drop off locations. 

Earlier this year, members of the state Senate Elections Committee proposed forcing government entities, like school districts, to host polling places in their buildings, but no such proposal was ever signed into law. 

Through another executive order, Hobbs instructs a lengthy list of state departments, including the Department of Child Safety, Department of Transportation, Department of Health Services and the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry to bolster voter registration access for the people they serve.

This includes providing links to the state’s voter registration portal on their websites, making voter registration forms available at their offices and to find other potential opportunities to help increase access to voter registration. 

“State agencies have opportunities to better utilize their resources to support voter registration,” the order says. 

The Department of Health Services, Department of Economic Security, and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System are already designated as voter registration assistance agencies by federal law through the National Voter Registration Act and are required to distribute voter registration forms, assist applicants in completing them, and accept completed forms. But the executive order instructs them to identify areas of improvement to their voter registration processes. 

There are around one million Arizonans who are eligible but are not registered to vote, according to Hobbs. 

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