Hobbs rejects 2 GOP election bills

Gov. Katie Hobbs at the grand opening of Homebase in Surprise on Feb. 4, 2023. raised in a challenge to her election. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Hobbs rejects 2 GOP election bills

Gov. Katie Hobbs on Friday vetoed two measures which directly relate to the issues now being raised as her election is being challenged.

Hobbs rejected HB 2305, which would have ensured that representatives of both political parties could challenge the decisions made by the election workers determining whether a signature on an early ballot was valid.

That is significant because, while it would have affected only future elections, it parallels the bid being made by Kari Lake to overturn the results of the 2022 race.

She claims that Maricopa County election workers were verifying invalid signatures. And current law does not permit political party observers who believe a signature does not match to force it to be reviewed by anyone other than the election worker.

Separately, Hobbs vetoed a measure to force her successors as secretary of state to do something she refused to do voluntarily when she was running for governor last year: not perform any duties in a race in which that person’s name also is on the ballot.

That follows arguments by Republicans that the secretary of state, as the state’s chief elections officer, has an inherent conflict of interest. And Lake herself charged that Hobbs used her office to force supervisors in several counties to certify election results that they had questioned, though courts upheld her actions as legal.

The two new vetoes on Friday were just part of 14 measures approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature that Hobbs found unacceptable. That brings her total now up to 86 since the session began.

More than a handful have involved changes in election laws. Rejected measures included making it easier to remove people from the active early voting list if they don’t use it every election cycle, requiring all parts of election equipment to be manufactured and fabricated in the United States, and codifying the standards for signature verification on early ballot envelopes.

Her veto of HB 2305 on greater oversight of the signature review process relates to that last issue.

Cory McGarr

“What we have seen with most of the elections we have had recently is a growing distrust from ordinary, regular people, not hyper-partisan, where the outcome for them becomes in question,” Rep. Cory McGarr, R-Marana, told colleagues in pushing his legislation.

“There’s a severe lack of trust that can grow when you see an instance where someone literally draws a snowman and then that snowman passes as a signature when you see that signature right next to it,” he said, though McGarr did not say where he saw that image. “And so you can have instances where the public begins to doubt the circumstances of the voting process.”

Maricopa County officials have disputed such claims. They said while a signature on a ballot envelope may not appear to match a voter’s registration form, their reviewers have multiple other examples of a voter’s signature to use for comparison purposes.

And as a last resort, they – and all counties – can try to contact the voter to see if the person whose name is on the envelope actually is the person who sent it in.

Lake has claimed for months that her loss was tainted by mismatched signatures.

At last week’s trial, however, Lake’s attorneys did not present examples.

That’s because her case is based not on specific bad signatures but the larger contention that it was not possible for election workers to have properly reviewed and verified them in the time taken. That includes more than 240,000 signatures Lake’s legal team said were verified in fewer than three seconds.

Judge Peter Thompson is deciding whether that claim has any validity – the report used by the person who Lake brought to court as a signature expert was never admitted into evidence  – and whether there is enough evidence for him to overturn the results of the race that saw Hobbs defeat Lake by 17,117 votes.

The governor, in her veto message, addressed none of that.

Instead, Hobbs said that what is in HB 2305 “creates unnecessary burdens for election administrators.”

She also said there are “meaningful privacy concerns for Arizona voters.”

Only thing is, the measure was amended before it reached Hobbs to prohibit the observers that McGarr’s bill would have allowed from noting, transcribing or disclosing the personal information they see, ranging from dates and places of birth to phone numbers, driver license numbers and a mother’s maiden name. But gubernatorial press aide Christian Slater, in explaining the veto Sunday, said that wasn’t enough to satisfy his boss.

“We believe the bill still contains privacy concerns, even after the amendment,” he said.

Hobbs’ other election-related veto goes to the question of the role of people who serve as secretary of state, as she did until the end of last year.

Rachel Jones

HB 2308 was sponsored by Rep. Rachel Jones, R-Tucson. It sought to bar the secretary of state from personally performing any aspect of operations in an election in which that person is a candidate for office.

And the 2022 election was clearly on her mind.

“I think the optics of that, of a secretary of state running their own election for governor and then certifying that election was a major concern to some of my constituents,” she said.

Jones acknowledged that the Republican-controlled Legislature never pursued similar measures when Hobbs’ predecessors  – all Republicans going back to 1995  – were running either for reelection or a higher office. And her proposal also comes as the current secretary of state, Adrian Fontes, is a Democrat.

But Jones said those were different times.

“I think the environment then, I don’t think it had become such a topic of conversation until after 2020,” she said. That was the year of claims that Republican gubernatorial hopeful Donald Trump had been cheated out of the state’s 11 electoral votes when official results show he was outpolled by Joe Biden.

“There is a lack of confidence, all in all, in our election process,” Jones said.

During the 2022 race, Lake and other Republicans had called for Hobbs to voluntarily recuse herself. She refused, saying this has never been an issue before.

“I’m not going to recuse myself from the job that voters elected me to do,” Hobbs said.

In her veto message, the governor said that the position is elected and that the duties make the secretary of state Arizona’s chief election officer.

“There is no reasonable basis to believe that Arizonans should not trust the secretary of state to do their job impartially,” Hobbs wrote.