Arizona officials brace for election problems

Two years after former President Trump sought to recoup his loss to Joe Biden, the electoral process remains in the shadow of the 2020 election, plagued by threats against poll officials, attempts to misinform or intimidate voters, and the rise of far-right candidates who have made repeated false allegations of voter fraud.

Nowhere is the new paradigm more evident than in Arizona, where election officials in Maricopa County, home of Phoenix, have received hundreds of threats and have been forced to tighten security around the office where absentee ballots are counted. Last week, a federal judge banned a far-right group from sending armed people to patrol ballot boxes and watch voters.

One of the state’s most popular Republican candidates, Trump-backed gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, has expressed doubts about the last election and wasn’t sure she would accept defeat in this election.

Arizona GOP gubernatorial candidate Karie Lake greets supporters as she takes the stage for a campaign rally

Arizona GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake makes an appearance Monday in Phoenix.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Despite these trends, election officials have expressed optimism and pride in the work they have accomplished through Tuesday. In Maricopa County, which has 2.4 million registered voters, officials have received and verified the signatures of more than 974,000 early ballots and processed most by Monday night. The bureau answered more than 8,000 calls and 3,000 emails from voters last week, according to Stephen Richer, the county’s top election official.

“Arizona, and truly Maricopa County, is at the center of the universe in terms of the democratic process that makes this country so beautiful,” Richer told reporters Monday.

Richer and other Maricopa officials held a news conference on the eve of the election to dispel misrepresentations and conspiracy theories, including allegations that the counting of all ballots on election night indicated fraud or that counting machines were faulty, compromised, or lead to inaccurate results.

For years, Arizona has allowed any voter to request an absentee ballot without giving a reason. Election officials are allowed to begin processing these ballots a few weeks before the election, and ballots must be received by the close of polling stations. In a highly competitive race, the results may not be available for a few days.

It could also be days before close elections are counted in other key states like Michigan and Pennsylvania. In California, where a handful of key US home races could determine the chamber’s margins, the final count of mailed ballots will likely take weeks.
Election officials are concerned that misinformation and threats of political violence will spread in the time between the polls closing and the counting of final ballots. Protesters flocked to ballot-counting centers in swing states in 2020 as Trump urged poll workers to stop counting ballots that had been sent in the mail in a timely manner.

That year, far-right Trump supporters rallied outside the Maricopa County Elections Office, shouting to insiders that they were there to “stop the theft.” Since then, officers have increased security, with new fences and cameras, and more coordination with the sheriff’s department.

“For us, it’s about ensuring the balance between what could possibly happen and the safety of the ballots and everyone here in the Elections Department,” said Megan Gilbertson, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Elections Department.

Arizona has been a hotbed of election misinformation since the 2020 presidential election, when Biden became the first Democrat to win the state in more than 20 years. Audits and lawsuits found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Supporters of Arizona GOP gubernatorial nomination Kari Lake are waiting for her to emerge

A rally for Lake, who has said she will only accept the results of Tuesday’s election if she wins.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Still, conspiracy theories have flourished surrounding the state’s election process, where Republican candidates in key races have helped fuel Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.

Arizona is one of the states starring in “2000 Mules,” a discredited film by right-wing conspiracy theorist Dinesh D’Souza, who claims cellphone data shows thousands of so-called “mules” stole the 2020 election by stuffing boxes full of states with fake ballots.

For the past month, armed and masked members of far-right groups, including the Oath Keepers and Clean Elections USA, have appeared at ballot boxes in Maricopa and nearby Yavapai counties, photographing, filming and monitoring voters and their cars.

A federal judge limited Clean Elections USA’s ability to monitor Dropboxes and ordered the group’s founder, Melody Jennings, a QAnon devotee, not to post misleading information about who could return an early voting. Under Arizona law, relatives, roommates, and carers can return a ballot on behalf of another person.

Democrats and pro-suffrage advocates have warned that the Republican candidates could turn the state’s election process upside down if they win Tuesday.

“Kari Lake is as ardent an election denier as Donald Trump, and unlike him, she’s actually on the ballot,” said Norm Eisen, an election and political law expert who served as President Obama’s ethics czar. “If she succeeds and becomes governor, she will be able to implement this dangerous ideology not only as a false conspiracy theory about the past, but also about the present and the future.”

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ campaign, the Democratic nominee for governor, has made that warning a central part of her messages against Lake, a former local news anchor.

Katie Hobbs(C) candidate for Arizona's Democratic gubernatorial election

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs is running for office in Phoenix Monday.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Hobbs, who rallied supporters in Tucson on Sunday, said it was perhaps the most important gubernatorial race in the state’s history.

“I know that every time we choose, we say that this is the most important choice in our lives,” Hobbs said. “This may be the last election of our lives if we don’t vote the right people, if we don’t stop the abstainers on the ballot who are far more focused on the 2020 election than this one.”

Steve Brown, a 73-year-old retired teacher who attended the Hobbs event, told The Times he thinks a Republican stripe at the top of the ticket is “the next step down the slippery slope to authoritarian government”.

Adele Allyn, a 57-year-old administrative assistant, attended the event with her daughter, 37-year-old registered behavioral technician Adele Baker, and two grandchildren.

Allyn wore a t-shirt she made ahead of the 2016 election that read, “If we value our democracy, we must vote.”

“This could be the last election that’s not just about lying and hurting people and preventing people from voting,” Allyn said. “We are losing democracy out of joint.”

“The election deniers can’t be anywhere near our elections. They just can’t because our democracy will never recover from something like this,” Baker said. “We simply cannot afford anyone in our electoral process not to accept an election result if it doesn’t fit their idea of ​​how it should be.”

Arizona’s Republican statewide candidates have presented a united front in the campaign ahead of Tuesday’s election, unlike their Democratic challengers.

They have spent the last few days on an America First bus tour, accompanied by local candidates and conservative figures. Aside from a big rally with Obama earlier this month, Democrats haven’t held many high-profile events to bring together candidates from the party’s list.

During a Sunday night rally, Lake, Senate candidate Blake Masters and Attorney General hopeful Abraham Hamadeh were joined by Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelly Ward; Rick Grenell, who was acting Director of National Intelligence under Trump; conservative commentator Jack Posobiec; and Stephen K. Bannon, a former senior adviser to Trump.

Several speakers mocked the Democrats for saying that democracy was at stake in the election.

Supporters cheer as Arizona GOP gubernatorial candidate Karie Lake takes the stage for a campaign rally

Supporters cheer at Lake’s rally.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

“The media wants to say, ‘Oh, it’s going to be terrible, we’re fascists.’ … This is so silly, we have to stop this,” said Melissa Katz, a volunteer with the grassroots organization Mighty American Strike Force, which sends volunteers across the country to help Republican candidates.

Lake has said she will only accept Tuesday’s election results if she wins. Asked Sunday whether she had faith in the state’s electoral system, she criticized Hobbs for not stepping away from overseeing the election as secretary of state and blamed her for issues with recent county-level elections, such as: . B. False ballots and ballot shortages. Although the issues have been resolved, critics have attempted to point to the bugs as evidence of widespread problems.

“How unethical to even be involved in this election,” Lake told reporters after Sunday’s rally. “We have to change the laws so that something like this doesn’t happen again.”

A similar controversy occurred in Georgia in 2018 when Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a Republican, refused to step down from overseeing the gubernatorial election in which he defeated Stacey Abrams, the former leader of the Democratic minority in the state house. Abrams, who is in a rematch against Kemp this year, has been criticized by Republicans for claiming the last election was stolen due to voter suppression.

Lake said Sunday Arizona was “the key state” ahead of the midterms.

“Everybody watches what’s happening in Arizona,” Lake said. “We’re at zero when it comes to the border, we’re at zero when it comes to the fentanyl crisis, we’re at zero when it comes to electoral integrity, crime — whatever.” Arizona officials brace for election problems

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