Threats to democracy are the ‘most comprehensive’ in Arizona

Election denial. Ballot initiatives that would make voting more difficult. Extremist groups watching ballot drop boxes. Efforts to derail election certification processes. These are some of the most worrying threats to democracy in Arizona listed in a new report by the Defend Democracy Project. 

Among the seven states the project profiled, Arizona was at the top of the list, facing the most comprehensive threats to democracy, according to Defend Democracy.

“We want people to understand that these complaints about elections are not rooted in fact, but part of a plan to disinform people on purpose and make them lose faith in elections,” said Rodd McLeod, a spokesman for Defend Democracy. 

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While all of the points mentioned in the report have already been publicized, the project sought to bring all of the information together in one place to show just how dire they believe the situation is in Arizona. 

The Defend Democracy Project was created in response to rampant denial of the true outcome of the 2020 presidential election by supporters of former president Donald Trump. Its objective is “that American voters determine the outcome of elections.”

To create the report, the group’s representatives said they spoke to Arizona grassroots organizers and reporters, as well as legal analysts. 

Top threats listed in the report were the 35 bills passed by the state legislature this year that create barriers to ballot access, including House Bill 2237, which bans same-day voter registration — something that was already not allowed under Arizona law. 

Republican state Sen. Kelly Townsend had justified the new law by saying that disallowing same-day registrants to vote would reduce fraud, adding that a person who just registered might be given a provisional ballot and be able to circumvent the traditional registration process. But voting experts said her claims are unfounded, since provisional ballots are thrown out if the voter can’t verify their identity or if their voter registration is inaccurate or incomplete. 

Townsend did not respond to a request for comment on the report. 

Other laws that the Defend Democracy Project sees as threats to democracy include Senate Bill 1260, which makes it illegal for an Arizonan to help someone register to vote if the new registrant is registered to vote in another state and House Bill 2243, which requires county recorders to cancel a voter’s registration if they receive information that the voter isn’t qualified, or have reason to believe that they are not a U.S. citizen. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey had previously vetoed a nearly identical bill, calling it vague and saying that anonymous complaints could “seek to falsely allege a voter is not a qualified elector.”

“This is part of an unrelenting assault on the basic right of us as a people to choose our own leaders,” McLeod said. 

Arizona is unique because of people running, they’re on the extreme edge of election denialism, and the potential implications for future elections are dire.

– Rebecca Parks, Defend Democracy Project

The report excoriates the state Senate’s partisan “audit” of the 2020 election in Maricopa County that was conducted by the now-defunct firm Cyber Ninjas. The audit, which the report called “severely flawed,” found no evidence of voter fraud, was initiated by Republican Senate President Karen Fann. Maricopa County said nearly all of the findings in a report that came out of the audit were “inaccurate, misleading or patently false.”

“This is a report put out by a liberal source just like the Az Mirror,” Fann told the Mirror in an emailed response to a request for comment on the Threats to Democracy report. “It’s difficult to ever answer your questions because the liberal bias prevents the readers from ever hearing the actual honest facts. It’s truly a shame the media didn’t do their own homework on the audit but only mimicked what Maricopa wanted you to see and report on.”

Four of five Maricopa County Supervisors and the county recorder, who oversees elections, are Republicans. 

Fann did not answer a follow up question asking for details of the “honest facts” she said the media had gotten wrong, but she did say that “many of the republican legislators feel it’s a waste of time to talk to Az Mirror since it is a Democratic media outlet.”

She then stopped responding to messages asking for her side of the story. 

Last week, Fann wrote on Twitter that the Senate’s partisan election review “proved there were so many mistakes the election never should have been certified.” However, the “audit” and its contractors never made that claim — and many of the supposed problems they identified were flatly incorrect or were normal election activities that they didn’t understand.

The report also highlights two lawsuits from Kelli Ward, the chairwoman of Arizona’s Republican Party, aimed at ending mail-in voting in Arizona ahead of the midterm election.  

Arizona has been using mail-in voting since 1991, and around 90% of its voters use that system. Both of the suits were dismissed. 

Another lawsuit mentioned in the report was filed by Kari Lake and Mark Finchem, the GOP nominees for governor and secretary of state, respectively, seeking to ban voting machines and tabulation equipment in Maricopa and Pima counties, which would have forced those counties to tabulate votes by hand. 

Neither Lake nor Finchem responded to a request for comment on the report. 

Another issue threatening democracy in Arizona, according to the report, is harassment directed at elections workers that has caused some to resign. The most prominent resignation due to harassment was Republican Yavapai County Recorder Leslie Hoffman, her deputy and the Yavapai County elections director. 

Hoffman resigned in July after receiving a constant stream of hateful messages from people who believed that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 presidential election, even though Trump actually won Yavapai County by more than 41,000 votes. Before facing such harassment, Hoffman said she had planned to continue in the recorder job until she retired. 

In five of Arizona’s 15 counties, there are new election directors this cycle, according to the report. 

The report also mentions plans from extremist groups in Arizona to watch ballot drop boxes, with the potential of voter intimidation. Voter intimidation was already reported to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Arizona Attorney General’s office this week, after a voter said they were followed after dropping off their ballot at a drop box in Mesa. 

“This is new territory that we’re seeing, in terms of the relentlessness of the threats to democracy,” said Rebecca Parks, research director for Defend Democracy. 

Defend Democracy also issued reports on threats to democracy in Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. 

“Arizona is unique because of people running, they’re on the extreme edge of election denialism, and the potential implications for future elections are dire,” Parks said. 

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