Amy Chan stumbled upon the intricacies of election law nearly two decades ago as a state Senate staffer. She moved up the ranks to become the state’s elections director, one of the top positions in the Secretary of State’s Office under Ken Bennett, and now serves as one of five commissioners on the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.
How’d you get into politics?
I started my career at the Capitol in 2001. I was still a baby lawyer. I’d been doing immigration law for about a year-and-a-half, and I had been an intern when I was in undergrad at the state Senate, and always had been interested in going back. There was an opportunity to apply for a research analyst position… I was hired on as the judiciary analyst for the majority research staff in 2001… I was there for about three years. Being assigned to judiciary, that’s kind of how I got my introduction to election law. They had added elections to the Judiciary Committee’s subject matter before I got there. A lot of criminal stuff, a lot of Department of Corrections-type stuff.
Why did election law pique your interest?
Honestly, I think it was just the most positive part of being the Judiciary Committee research analyst. … It’s one of the most fundamental parts of our government. I think it’s one of our most important things to exercise, when you’re allowed to vote. It was just a really positive experience.
Why is that so important to you about elections?
I think we all see the news every day, and it’s always about our elected officials, and those people become the focal point of all of our policies, because those people are the ones who are implementing policies and passing laws. But really, one of the first issues I handled as a research analyst was these two ladies, I think from Fountain Hills, who had inadvertently come together and, without knowing it, made themselves a political committee, and so they had violated the law because they hadn’t followed the paperwork… There was a bill that was intended to help people like that, the little guy who wants to make political speeches. But they’re not thinking about making political speech. They’re talking about, hey, vote yes on this or vote no on this. And if it’s you and your neighbor, that’s a political committee under our law. They had a horrible experience, they felt like they were treated shabbily, they didn’t understand why the law was like that. And so balancing that importance of disclosure while trying to make it so that it’s not so hard for people to speak.
How did you find that balance as the state’s elections director?
One, knowing the election laws is really important when you’re in that job. And when you’re dealing with constituents who may or may not be as aware as you are, just helping them walk through it and understand why this is important. Sometimes people don’t understand the why, or their role in the process, and when you can give them a bigger picture, they understand. But always, [Bennett’s] goal as secretary was to help people understand the process, help people participate. At the time there was a big Tea Party presence, where we had a lot of conspiracy theorists from that corner of our kind of political universe that would come to us oftentimes and say we have all these registered voters at different addresses. They would find addresses where there were four or more registered people or something like that, and they automatically assumed it would be voter fraud. And when you’re the election director and you have that experience, you know that’s not voter fraud. We actually went through and went through a sampling… of the houses they gave us, and just said, look, these are people that live here.
After you left the Secretary of State’s Office in 2013, why’d you come back to serve on the Clean Elections Commission?
It was actually a really tough decision, just because both of my kids were really little. They’re both on the spectrum, the autism spectrum, and so there’s a little even more layering there than just having little kids. But obviously my heart’s with elections, and I had always had a lot of respect for the Clean Elections Commission. I feel like they always did great work with regard to campaign finance investigations. I felt like they had an important role to play, even when my boss kind of was on the other side of the “v” with regard to court cases with them.
You’re a Republican, but you were appointed by a Democrat. And you’ve got a favorable view of Clean Elections, which not all the state’s Republicans share. Does politics shape the commission and your role?
I actually don’t think it plays into my job. I’m grateful for the opportunity. I feel like I’m doing a great job, because I feel like my heart is in it, you know? … I think when you come from a regular life and you’re appointed to this commission and it’s dealing with elections, you may not realize — and I know not everybody shares this opinion — how important a role you play with regard to voter education, clean elections funding. If you’re not in that walk of life, where you’re a candidate or a voter who’s taking advantage of our education programs, you may not realize how much the commission is doing. I was excited to get to take part in it. And you know, I respect (Secretary of State) Katie Hobbs very much. She’s the one who appointed me. But I’m obviously very independent minded.
What’s the most important goal for the commission to achieve heading into the next election year in 2020?
From my perspective as a Clean Elections commissioner, I just think increasing transparency of political campaign spending, making sure that people, voters, are getting to vote. It was exciting in 2018 seeing the increase in the number of people that participated in the elections. I mean, especially in an off-year that’s huge. I’d like to think that Clean Elections played a small role in that at least, because Gina Roberts is our voter education person. She is, with Tom [Collins’] blessing and support, she has really just made it such a huge strong program for us, for the state. She came from the Secretary of State’s Office with relationships with all the counties and the community outreach people, too. To me, those are the biggest issues: Voter education, the campaign finance transparency and just making sure the Clean Elections is just as vibrant as it can be with regard to how we’re exercising our powers based on the Constitution and the statutes.