Hobbs, Fontes take steps to bolster up Arizona’s election systems ahead of 2024

Hobbs, Fontes take steps to bolster up Arizona’s election systems ahead of 2024

By Steven Cohen

November 14, 2023

One year from now, Arizona will again be ground zero for its citizens’ fundamental right to vote.

In an effort to ensure the state’s elections systems are up to the challenge, Gov. Katie Hobbs has announced $2.3 million in funds and three executive orders to secure and improve Arizona’s elections ahead of the 2024 elections.

“Election officials and voters are facing new challenges when it comes to administering elections and participating in our democracy,” Hobbs said in her news release. “I am thrilled to immediately address some of the problems identified by the Governor’s Bipartisan Elections Task Force to ensure Arizona voters can make their voices heard.”

Turnover of Election Officials 

One pressing problem Hobbs, the former Secretary of State, aims to address is counties’ ability to retain essential election workers. Hobbs is allotting $1 million to a statewide elections fellowship program, as well as temporary staffing support and expert consultants for counties, particularly those facing significant staff turnover.

By the Nov. 2024 presidential election, at least 12 of the state’s 15 counties will have new election officials. In four out of the six biggest counties, both the elections director and county recorder will be new, according to two separate reports from Issue One and Voting Rights Lab.

“The loss of institutional knowledge that accompanies such high turnover can mean that election officials are less aware of resources that can assist them in securing and running our elections,” Elizabeth Howard, from the Brennan Center for Justice, told a US Senate committee Nov. 1. “And large numbers of resignations can also result in more administrative mistakes which can in turn fuel conspiracy theories and threats continuing the cycle that has led to resignations in the first place.”

Stress Test

Despite the fact that Kari Lake and other Trump-backed election-deniers all lost in Arizona’s statewide races in 2022, the former president has already claimed, without any evidence, that Democrats are scheming to steal the next election from him. Those baseless accusations have led to threats against election workers from Trump supporters—and they have taken their toll, according to Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes.

“As a former county recorder myself, I can attest that the pre-2020 world for election administrators is gone,” Fontes testified to the Nov. 1 committee hearing. “We don’t feel safe in our work because of the harassment and threats that are based in lies.”

Fontes estimates that Arizona had collectively lost 176 years of expertise since the 2020 election.

“We’re going to do everything that we can, and we continue to work real hard with talented people to shore up our systems,” said Fontes, who has shepherded an update of the state’s Election Policy Manual.

Rural Counties More Problematic

At this point, the Secretary says he is more confident that Arizona’s larger counties are in better shape than its rural counties—like Cochise, where Trump’s allies have spread misinformation about electronic voting equipment sought to require the hand-counting of ballots.

That idea was finally extinguished on October 18 when an Arizona appellate affirmed a lower court ruling that determined that Cochise County could not conduct a hand count audit of all early ballots for the 2022 midterm elections nor future ones.

“The problem [of retaining election workers] is not that we can’t train the people to do what they need to do,” said Alex Gulotta, Arizona State Director of All Voting is Local and one of 17 members of the Elections Task Force. “The biggest problem is those people who say, ‘We should throw out the efficient way we’ve been running our elections because we don’t like the results we’re seeing, and so we should have a new way of conducting our elections.’ ”

Fortunately, Gov. Hobbs has been a reliable backstop to the Republican legislators’ most dangerous ideas intended to interfere in election administration, in addition to her issuing executive orders and earmarking funds.

To date, the Arizona Legislature has sent at least 37 election-related bills to her desk. Of these, Hobbs had signed just two, vetoed 28, and had yet to take action on seven, based on data from Democracy Docket, a voting rights media platform that tracks election litigation.

Cautiously Optimistic

While Fontes appears reluctant to make any bold predictions about the 2024 election, he did forecast relatively smooth sailing, at least compared to the state’s last two national elections:

“There are going to be a hell of a lot of Arizonans who are very satisfied with their work in administering elections and the very hard work they will have been engaged in for the prior year, which starts now,” he said. “The work of the Task Force, the Governor’s Executive Orders and the much-needed $2 million in election support will be critical in building towards smooth and successful elections in 2024.”

And I think we’re going to be able to be proud of the work, in spite of a possible couple hiccups here and there. All in all, given what we’ve been given to work with, we’re going to do very well.”


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