Hobbs skips out on final election task force meeting
Gov. Katie Hobbs’ Bipartisan Election Task Force, which she chairs, voted Tuesday to approve numerous voting and election change proposals to recommend to the legislature. But the governor didn’t stick around for the vote, instead leaving a member of her team to vote in her place.
Republican state Sen. Ken Bennett, of Prescott, expressed frustration that Hobbs made brief remarks at the start of the meeting and then left before any voting, leaving her general counsel, Bo Dul, to vote on her behalf.
“I just want to express my deep disappointment that the chair of this committee, the governor herself, was not able to join us personally,” Bennett told the committee. “I can think of few things more important than election integrity in the state of Arizona. And if the chair of the committee doesn’t have 45 minutes to be here at the meeting, I think we should have had it at a time that she could have made it.”
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Hobbs did not explain why she didn’t stay for the duration of the meeting, and her spokesman, Christian Slater, said the governor would not respond to Bennett’s comments.
The task force is made up of election officials and advocates, with Tuesday’s meeting led by Vice Chair Helen Purcell, former Maricopa County Recorder, who served in that role for 28 years.
The goal of the committee was to make proposals to improve elections in Arizona and that would garner bipartisan support in the legislature, so 75% of the group had to agree on each proposal for it to move forward.
The task force did not open up its first several meetings, beginning in April, to the public. Fontes said this was to allow members of the committee to be “candid” with their opinions.
Following are brief descriptions of the proposals that will be included in the task force’s final report, which will be published Nov. 1. Purcell said that some of the proposals would be implemented in the form of policies and procedures and others would have to be submitted to the legislature for proposed changes to state law.
Voting Rights Restoration
This was the only proposal that did not receive unanimous approval from the task force, with Bennett in opposition. It would automatically allow those convicted of felonies to be eligible to register to vote after they are released from incarceration. Bennett told the Arizona Mirror that he voted against the proposal because he believes that those convicted of felonies should serve out their probation and pay any required restitution to victims before being allowed to register to vote.
Secretary of State Adrian Fontes told the committee that his office would form a committee to create policy language to submit to the state legislature for this proposal.
“Once you’re out being a productive citizen, you should have the right to vote,” Fontes said.
Election Timeline Amendments to Ensure Timely Recounts
The task force is recommending several possible solutions to timeline issues caused by a new lower threshold for recounts in Arizona. That new law was signed by then-Gov. Doug Ducey in 2022, and makes recounts more likely, which could cause election officials to miss state and federal elections deadlines. The proposal recommends changes to some election deadlines, possibly pushing up primary dates, as well as the possibility of nixing the new recount law altogether.
Fontes said that the decision to lower the recount threshold was based on lies and conspiracy theories about election systems in Arizona.
“The notion of raising that standard back up to where it was really validates the good work that’s been happening in Arizona for a very, very long time,” Fontes said. “It’s fact-based. It’s reality-based. And that’s really where we want to operate.”
Bennett countered that he did not believe the current legislature would vote to roll back the lower recount threshold.
Funding for the state’s Access Voter Information Database
This voter registration database costs around $1.3 million per year to maintain, but does not have a dedicated funding source. This proposal would put the cost of maintaining the system on the state, instead of using funds cobbled together by the counties. Thirteen out of 15 counties in the state rely on this system solely for voter registration, and Maricopa and Pima counties also use it, even though they maintain their own registration databases.
Disability Resource Liaison
Creation of a disability resource liaison within the Secretary of State’s Office to provide resources and training to election officials and workers.
Emergency Voting to Final Weekend Voting
A change in the way voting during the final weekend before Election Day would work. Currently, in-person early voting ends the Friday before Election Day, and those wishing to vote in person the weekend prior to the election must fill out an affidavit saying that they can’t vote on Election Day because of an emergency. This proposal would expand eligibility for voting during that weekend and get rid of the need for an emergency affidavit, which task force members said causes confusion for voters and election workers about who is eligible to vote.
Ballot Return Interference
This proposal addresses concerns about groups of people, some of them armed, staking out ballot drop boxes and intimidating voters, which led to a lawsuit in Arizona last year. The task force is recommending a new state law that extends voter intimidation protections to all voters, no matter how they return their ballots.
Poll Worker Communication Platform
The creation of an online communication platform, via a cell phone application, for poll workers, who now often rely on spreadsheets to document issues, which committee members described as cumbersome. This would allow those running the elections to communicate with all poll workers at once.
Incentives to Improve Poll Worker Recruitment
This proposal works to address ongoing difficulties in recruiting poll workers and getting enough workers from both major parties to work in bipartisan teams. The task force recommends that government employers provide paid time off for their employees to train for and then work the polls. It also encourages private companies to allow their employees to take time off to serve as poll workers and to offer incentives like free child care to those serving as poll workers.
Annual Election Officer Certification Trainings
Arizona law currently restricts election officer training to every other year, with no training during election years. This proposal would allow election workers to be trained every year, and would allow city and town officials to attend these trainings for free, instead of reimbursing the Secretary of State’s Office for them.
Election Fellowship Program
This proposal aims to help counties recruit future election officials, in a time when there has been a lot of turnover in those positions across the state since 2020, with election officials the target of harassment and threats. The committee recommends that counties implement paid fellowships for recent college or graduate school students to gain elections experience and possibly obtain a job in the county recorder or election department afterward.
Comprehensive Website for Voter Information
Expansion of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission website, which already contains information about voting and state and federal races, to include local races. This is an effort to give voters one place to access information about all races on their ballots.
Reconciliation Best Practices Guidelines
Creation of a toolkit for election workers to help them troubleshoot problems with the ballot reconciliation process, or the process by which they keep track of each ballot that is printed and issued to a voter.
Election Security Advancements
This proposal recommends tech and process improvements to election equipment, security standards for that equipment and the creation of a fund for physical security. The task force did not provide specifics on what these advancements would entail.
Election Worker Code of Conduct
Would require all election workers, as well as staff who support them, to sign a code of conduct similar to the one that election officials already have to sign.
Provisional Ballot Form as Voter Registration Form
Would make provisional ballots, deposited by people who aren’t registered to vote, into voter registration forms so the eligible people who deposited them would be registered ahead of the next election. Many counties across the state already do this, but the committee proposes codifying the practice and making it mandatory.
Cross-County Voter Registration
Would allow voters who are already registered in an Arizona county to update their registration address in another county up to and on Election Day.
“This will probably save the votes of thousands of eligible people” who forgot to re-register after moving from one Arizona county to another, said task force member Alex Gulotta, state director of All Voting is Local.