Bill to force voters to keep addresses with state agencies up-to-date dies

Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff (Photo by Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services)
Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff (Photo by Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services)

A House bill that would require voters to have the same address on file with the Secretary of State and the Department of Transportation or face a civil penalty failed in committee.

HB2397 would have required the person to update their address with ADOT within 10 days or register to vote using the address on file with the department. If they failed to do so, they could face a $25 fine and have their driver’s license suspended.

The measure failed in the House Federalism, Property Rights and Public Policy Committee, which sponsor Rep. Bob Thorpe chairs, by a 4-5 vote, with Republicans Noel Campbell and Travis Grantham joining their Democratic colleagues in voting to kill the bill.

But even Republicans who voted in favor of moving the bill out of committee said that if it passed, they would not support the bill without amendments.

Opponents of the bill said it was a way for the Flagstaff Republican to silence voters. Last year he sponsored legislation to ban students from using their dorm addresses to register to vote. That bill was declared likely unconstitutional by House attorneys and died without ever receiving a committee hearing.

Joel Edman, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network, said the legislation undermines the voting rights of students, low-income voters and active duty military members who move often.

“At AZAN, we believe registering to vote should be encouraged,” he said. “Exposing someone to potential criminal liability because they register to vote is, to state the obvious, just the opposite.”

However, Thorpe said in committee that the bill had nothing to do with voting or where a person registers to vote. The bill, he said, seeks to ensure that the voter database and the Motor Vehicle Department database are consistent.

He added that there is already a law in statute that requires people to update their address with the MVD within 10 days of moving or be subject to a penalty.

“It’s not an issue of where you’re registering to vote,” he said. “It’s an issue that you’re now telling a government agency that you live someplace else that doesn’t match your driver’s license so that shows that you’re in violation of statute.”

HB2397 would require the Secretary of State or county recorder to provide ADOT a summary of the voter registrant’s information “for the purposes of validating the registrant’s residence address.” It would only apply to voter registrants who provide their driver’s license or state identification number on their registration form.

ADOT would then be required to determine if the person’s address on file with the Motor Vehicle Department is the same as the address listed on the Secretary of State’s summary.

If it isn’t, the department is required to notify the person in writing that they must either update their address with the department within 10 days or register to vote using the same address on file with MVD.

Thorpe said the idea was brought to him by a county recorder. The Arizona Association of Counties and the county recorders opposed the bill.

He added that the Secretary of State’s Office told him that address inconsistencies have proven to be a problem for the agency, with about a third of the election literature sent to voters being returned as undeliverable.

However, Deputy Secretary of State Lee Miller told the committee that the agency was concerned about how the bill would affect the state’s youngest and oldest voter demographic. He said that there were also concerns about how much it would cost to implement this change.

Instead, Miller said, the agency and county recorders have a “better solution” to ensuring the voter registration rolls are accurate: by continuing to do what they are already doing.

Miller said Arizona joined at least 20 other states this year in becoming a member of the Election Resource Information Center. The nonprofit organization helps states improve the accuracy of their voter rolls by cross checking the state’s voter rolls against those of other member states and the private sector.

“They can accomplish the same thing without additional costs,” Miller said. “We think that is the best way we know how to keep the voter roll up to date.”

Faced with hostility, election officials are resigning

In this Nov. 3, 2020, file photo, voters deliver their ballot to a polling station in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

After a decade serving as Yavapai County recorder, Leslie Hoffman announced her resignation this week and said the hostility directed toward her and her office during the past two years played into her decision to leave.

“I’ve been accused of corruption, giving out false numbers,” Hoffman said. “Look at Twitter today, and you will see some of the nasty things that have been said. ‘We’re watching you,’ ‘Do better,’ ‘Lawyer up.’”

Leslie Hoffman

In Arizona and across the country, threats and negativity toward election officials are taking their toll, speeding up retirements or prompting career or job changes.

Yavapai County Elections Director Lynn Constabile, who has been in her position 18 years, is also resigning. Constabile, an independent, said after the 2020 election, she never got the sense of accomplishment and relief that had kept her going after each election cycle.

“It feels like that election is still not over,” she said.

Constabile described a meeting last year where she and Hoffman came to answer questions about the election and were met with hecklers.

“When we get yelled at for how people voted and then accused of being corrupt, that was it for me,” Constabile said. “I was like, ‘No, I have to find something else to do. I’m not going to be able to do this for the rest of my life.’”

Hoffman is a Republican in a solidly Republican county where Donald Trump and Martha McSally won handily in 2020. Still, she said she gets emails through ProtonMail with messages like: “Leslie Hoffman is a fraud owned by the corrupt government.” Constabile said when they point out Trump and McSally won in their county, they’re met with, “Well, they should have won by more.”

While Hoffman said that while most comments they receive are not direct threats, sheriff’s deputies patrol her house periodically anyway. Constabile said she installed security cameras around her home.

Lynn Constabile

Despite all of that, Hoffman said she would have stayed, had she not received a job offer that she couldn’t pass up. She declined to share where she’ll be working next, but said the offer felt like a sign. The new position is not in elections.

“It is really hard, considering the climate, when you get a really good position offered to you,” Hoffman said.

Constabile also has a new job lined up: a remote position at a nonprofit based in California, which she said was “elections adjacent.”

Tammy Patrick, senior adviser to the elections team at the Democracy Fund, testified to the U.S. Senate in May that the election administration field is “on the precipice of a mass exodus of election professionals.” Patrick previously worked as the federal compliance officer for Maricopa County.

She noted in her testimony that 74% of chief local election officials in the U.S. are older than 50, and 25% are older than 65. She said 35% of local officials are eligible to retire before the 2024 election.

“In this moment where everyone is being attacked and their families are being threatened, it has spurred many people who probably would have stayed on through at least one or two more presidential elections to leave the field even before this midterm,” Patrick said in an interview with Arizona Capitol Times. 

In addition to Hoffman, Yuma County Recorder Robyn Stallworth Pouquette, who has held that position since 2008, is taking a new job within the county, resigning effective July 18. At least six of Arizona’s 15 counties will have new elections directors this election cycle, including Pima, Pinal, Coconino, La Paz, Santa Cruz and Yavapai. Pouquette told ABC 15’s Garrett Archer that she was not resigning because of the “2,000 Mules” film or the county’s investigation into election fraud. The Yuma County Recorder’s Office is working with the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office on the investigation, according to the sheriff, who has also said the investigation was not prompted by the film.

Ken Matta, a longtime employee of the Secretary of State’s Office, left the office in May after nearly 20 years, working most recently as the state’s information security director. In a Twitter thread discussing his departure, Matta said that he started carrying a gun when he would go to Veterans Memorial Coliseum to observe the Arizona Senate’s election review last year and said he had the responsibility of triaging threatening messages sent to the office.

“I’ve seen the worst in people as they respond to misinformation spread by a political party – that is still going on today,” he wrote on Twitter.

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer said he thinks other recorders will retire soon.

“I would imagine there’s a whole number of recorders, I’m thinking at least four, who are probably going to retire this term,” he said.

Patrick, of the Democracy Fund, said there are two main concerns with longtime elections officials leaving: a loss of institutional knowledge and the question of who will fill the vacancies.

In some regards, Arizona is in a better position than many states when it comes to the first issue, because of the state’s Elections Procedures Manual, which provides a step-by-step how-to guide to administering elections. The manual is currently the subject of litigation, as Attorney General Mark Brnovich accused Secretary of State Katie Hobbs of not producing a “legally compliant” manual. While a Yavapai County Superior Court judge threw out the suit, Brnovich has since appealed.

“The procedures manual is so important because in most places in this country, when you become an election official, there’s no manual,” Patrick said. “There’s no guide. There’s nothing that tells you how … you do all of the things that you need to do in order to conduct an election.”

With the vacancies, Patrick said there’s a worry that someone running on a platform of election conspiracy theories could be elected or appointed instead of a nonpartisan election professional.

“We might get people put in these positions or elected into these positions that have a different motivation than the person that they’re replacing,” Patrick said. “That’s very problematic and deeply troubling.”

While many of these positions are elected through party primaries, Patrick said the history of election administration is that those individuals serve all voters.

Hoffman and Constabile said they had confidence in the Yavapai Board of Supervisors to appoint people who are just as neutral as they and their staff are. Hoffman shared the concern about institutional knowledge, noting the community of people with the skill set for the position is small.

“And, right now it’s hard to hire people because they see a job that has anything to do with elections, and they’re not as likely to apply,” she said.

Constabile’s resignation is effective July 1. Hoffman will step down July 22. In the meantime, Hoffman plans to prepare for the August 2 primary.  Hoffman said she’s proud of the work her office has done over the past 10 years and credited her staff, who she said were “wonderful, brilliant people.” Constabile echoed the sentiment.

“I feel really bad for the people we’re leaving behind that have to run the election,” she said. “I basically handpick my department, and they’re the best people in the world. I feel bad that I’m leaving them in the lurch. But I can’t – sometimes you just have to look out for No. 1.”


Judge refuses to disqualify signatures for energy ballot measure

Gavel and scales

Arizonans can’t be blocked from voting on a renewable energy proposal solely because organizers may have violated some state election laws, a judge ruled Tuesday.

But it remains to be seen whether the state’s largest electric company can prove some other way that the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona initiative should be kept off the November ballot.

In an order late Tuesday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Daniel Kiley said it is possible that initiative organizers did not comply with state laws that require all ballot measures to list a “sponsor” before gathering signatures.

And attorneys for Arizona Public Service contend that even after a sponsor finally was named, it was not the legally correct one. They contend petition signers should have been told up front virtually all the money was coming from NextGen Climate Action, the political action committee formed by California billionaire Tom Steyer.

But Kiley said none of that matters.

Kiley said if this actually violates some state election law – something he is not deciding – only the Secretary of State’s Office has the legal authority to do something about it. And the most that could happen, the judge said, is the campaign could be fined if it did not come into compliance.

What all that means, Kiley said, is APS and Pinnacle West Capital Corp. have no legal right to try to enforce the election law. And, more to the point, that means the utility has no grounds to argue that the missing or improper sponsor name is grounds to disqualify all the 480,000 signatures collected, a move that would have made the initiative drive go away.

In his 17-page ruling, however, Kiley said that the utility remains free to try to prove its contention that three-fourths of the signatures gathered are invalid, most of those based on allegations that the signers were not registered to vote or that names, signatures or addresses do not match. The judge already has scheduled a five-day trial for later this month on the issue.

But Kiley rejected a demand by APS to have the state’s 15 county recorders do the company’s investigation.

He said the only duty of recorders is to check the 5 percent sample each gets of the total signatures submitted. Based on that sample, state election officials decide if there are at least 225,962 valid signatures on the petitions to put the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot.

And Kiley said there is nothing in state law that requires — or even authorizes — county officials to perform such a line-by-line review. He said it’s up to the utility to make the case on its own – without county help – that there are insufficient valid signatures.

The initiative, if it makes the ballot and is approved, would mandate that 50 percent of electricity generated in Arizona come from renewable sources by 2030. That would override existing Arizona Corporation Commission rules which mandate only that renewable energy hit 15 percent by 2025.

Officials at APS and allies in the business community argue that such a high mandate would increase power costs, a contention disputed by initiative backers.

Nothing in either the existing commission standard or the initiative would affect Salt River Project, which supplies power to much of the Phoenix metro area.

Taking politics from SOS to protect the ‘sacred right’ to vote


First and foremost, to the people of Arizona, thank you. I’m grateful for the confidence you’ve placed in me to do this job which, I believe, is at the core of our democracy: protecting the right to vote and ensuring every eligible voter – whether Republican, Democrat, independent, Green or Libertarian – can cast a ballot with confidence that your vote counts and your voice matters.

Katie Hobbs (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Katie Hobbs (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Throughout my career, as a social worker and in the Legislature, my singular focus has been to make government work better for all of us. Whether it was collaborating with Governor Jan Brewer to pass Medicaid expansion, providing health care to thousands of Arizonans, or with Governor Ducey to clear the backlog of untested rape kits, I have placed problem-solving above politics. I will bring that same pragmatic, results-oriented approach to the office of Secretary of State.

When my campaign began 18-months ago, we started with a significant list of issues we knew needed to be addressed. We made this campaign about the elections themselves and listened as you, the voters, told us precisely what you expect.

You want to remove politics from the office and from the way we manage our elections. I pledge not to endorse candidates or ballot measures.

You want us to rebuild relationships with all 15 county recorders and fully support them so they, in turn, can effectively manage elections in their areas. A key step toward achieving this goal and among my highest priorities is working collaboratively with them to update the Elections Procedures Manual.

You want us to make it easier, not harder, for eligible voters to vote. To that end, I will work with members of the Legislature, identify the most promising ideas and work to pass the laws necessary to implement them. I will also oppose efforts by those attempting to place additional restrictions on your right and opportunity to vote.

You want to make sure that your personal information and our election machines are safe from hacking. Cybersecurity is a 24/7/365 challenge. I will create a cybersecurity task force to ensure we are taking every step to protect your information and keep our democracy safe.

Throughout the campaign, I spoke about making elections secure, fair and efficient. Indeed, that is my pledge to every Arizonan: to restore trust to the office and, for the sake of our state and our country, increase citizen participation at every level of government. In return for your trust, I expect you to hold me accountable at every step.

The next several weeks will see a whirlwind of activities as I assess the current operation, make critical hires and create a framework to support your expectations and mine. Nothing about this will be easy, but all of it is essential. Voting is a sacred right. I am proud to protect that right; proud to serve; and proud to have the opportunity to continue to make government work for the benefit of all Arizonans.

— Katie Hobbs is secretary of state-elect.


The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.