‘It was a nightmare’: Pinal County builds new elections space after cramped quarters contribute to errors

“This article was originally published by Votebeat, a nonprofit news organization covering local election administration and voting access.”

(Coolidge) “You can’t even imagine,” Geraldine Roll said, standing in the room where the mistakes were made. “You really, really can’t.”

Picture a dozen people, she said, weaving around one another in a room the size of a two-car garage, wheeling stacks of ballot boxes and carrying armloads of ballots to and from scanners set up on folding tables. It was loud. A machine shuffled ballots straight, shaking the tables. All night, the cramped space just kept getting hotter — 86, then 88 degrees, Roll said. More ballot boxes just kept arriving from polling locations. There was nowhere to put them, and with stacks covering the tables, it was hard to track them. Workers stacked boxes in the narrow hallway outside the door.

“It was a nightmare,” said Roll, who was in training to be Pinal County’s elections director at the time. “It was traumatic.”

Like trying to count ballots “in a mine,” said Supervisor Jeffrey McClure.

In the chaos, hundreds of ballots voters cast on Election Day went uncounted. Later, county officials would say a lack of experienced leaders, poor ballot tracking, and worker mistakes led to the errors, which were eventually corrected in a statewide recount.

Like many other counties across the U.S., Pinal County faces high elections staff turnover and a lack of clear, documented procedures, leading to mistakes. But here — more than most places — the county’s explosive growth has exacerbated the problem.

Pinal County, on the southeast edge of the Phoenix metro area, is the fastest-growing county in Arizona and one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation, according to a Votebeat analysis of U.S. Census data. The number of ballots moving through the elections center, a pair of buildings totaling 12,000 square feet in downtown Coolidge, has doubled since the county started conducting elections there less than a decade ago — from about 73,000 ballots in the 2014 midterm to about 146,000 in November. But the space, and the staff, has remained mostly the same.

There is simply not enough room for all those ballots. But there will be soon.

Construction is under way on a $29 million, 53,000-square-foot elections center in the nearby county seat of Florence, which will have more than enough room to keep voter registration, early voting, and Election Day activities under one roof. The space for tabulating ballots will increase from the garage-size, 416-square-foot room to a room that is more than triple the size. Workers processing early ballots will have three or four times more space. Tractor trailers carrying ballots from the post office will be able to unload them directly into a giant warehouse, instead of the county recorder guiding couriers back and forth from the street.

The plan is to move in by May, before the August 2024 primary. County leaders fear any delay — they say they can’t imagine conducting a presidential election in the current space.

Elections departments are building out not just here but across Arizona, one of the fastest-growing states in the country.  More people means more ballots, equipment, and staff, driving the need for more space.

This summer, Maricopa County is starting to tear down walls and add storage racks to its elections center in downtown Phoenix to make more room for counting ballots, verifying voter signatures on early ballots, and storing equipment. Meanwhile, the county is preparing to start designing an entirely new elections center — one that could potentially open by 2026. And Yavapai County, the high desert area north of Phoenix that includes Prescott, is renovating to expand, too, while planning for new space in the future.

Staffing and space fails to grow with county

In the past few decades, Pinal County has grown as Maricopa County’s rapid growth sprawled past its southern border into the San Tan Valley, the city of Maricopa, and other booming Pinal County cities and towns. Pinal County is growing even faster than Maricopa County — nearly three times as fast — and lately it’s attracting large employers, not just retirees, as it has in the past. The new jobs and residents are reshaping the politics — registered independents just surpassed Republicans on the voter rolls, according to Recorder Dana Lewis.

It’s an expansive county, larger than Connecticut, so as you drive farther south, miles of undeveloped land still separate its many rural towns. But more and more, construction is coming. The population has more than tripled since 2000, to 460,000 today, and grew by more than 16,000 last year alone.

While many government offices are in Florence, elections operate out of an old public health complex on Main Street in Coolidge, a smaller town a dozen miles southwest down a two-lane highway. Elections moved here in 2014, after a fire started in the old elections center in Florence, destroying most of the county’s equipment.

The number of people in the elections department has remained at about five, even as the county grew. With such a small staff, and as two election directors left in quick succession, the strain led to problems that affected voters.

For the primary election last year, the county misprinted ballots and failed to order enough for polling places. An outside investigator recommended better written procedures but also said the county needed to expand its available space and staff as soon as possible.

The investigator wrote that the county didn’t have enough space for staging polling place setups or storing ballots or equipment. He recommended thousands more square feet for both, as well as a proper loading dock accessible by large trucks. He also recommended a building large enough to contain all activities related to elections, including voter registration, early voting, and Election Day preparation.

The county’s plans were accelerated in November, when more mistakes happened, in part due to the cramped quarters that led to disorganization while counting. A Votebeat investigation found that election officials had documented glaring errors with the results prior to the election being certified. The elections director at the time, Virginia Ross, accepted a $25,000 bonus and retired before the recount.

By March, the supervisors had designed the building, set aside money for the project, and construction had begun. The new center is being built on the site of the old county hospital, which was already demolished, and the old public defender’s building, which will be razed soon to make way for the parking lot.

New building, more space, fewer errors

The circumstances in the old building aren’t ideal, but Lewis is used to them.

Lewis was appointed county recorder to replace Ross after working in elections and early voting for years. Her early ballot processing building is just across an outdoor walkway from the elections building in Coolidge. Walking between the two buildings earlier this month, she laughed and said, “Oh my gosh” when asked how many times she thought she made the trip in November. Lewis lives in her high heels, she said, but not during an election.

Lewis’ team verifies signatures on early ballots in a modular building the county added on last year. It helped, but the recorder’s new space will be much larger, and include 10 times the room voters use for early in-person voting.

Pinal County Recorder Dana Lewis stands in the modular space the county added on for processing early ballots. The new building will give the county, projected to hit 1 million by 2050, room to grow. (Photo by Jen Fifield/Votebeat)

The county rolls early ballot boxes in locked cages between the buildings once voter signatures on them are verified. Lewis has stories of lugging the cages between the buildings in the rain, in the middle of the night — whatever it takes to get them in and counted.

The county now has nearly a half-million people, but the elections staff in Pinal still operates in the hands-on, everyone-in way that a small town might. Lewis said she likes it that way. But it is a lot, the leaders admit, and as the county continues to grow and add staff, it is already changing.

Roll, now elections director, is attempting this summer to bounce back from the county’s election woes by clearly documenting proper procedures, hiring talented staff, and training them well. “It’s all from the ground, up,” she said.

Counties are building while facing questions about the security of elections and the elections process, so transparency is top of mind.

In Pinal’s election complex now, there’s a small window that allows the public to observe activity in the tabulation room from the adjacent hallway. But there’s little room for anyone to stand watch there as ballot boxes are being wheeled around and stored.

In the new space, there will be a near-360-degree public observation room that the county is calling its “fishbowl,” with windows into three separate work spaces. The public lobby will allow observers to watch workers verifying signatures on early ballots, removing ballots from envelopes, and tabulating ballots. Video cameras in the room will show activities in other areas of the building.

“What’s so cool is you get to see the whole process,” Roll said.

And it’s more secure. The ballots won’t be stored in hallways on election night but behind locked doors that only certain staff can enter. There will be a public bathroom accessible from the observation room, so there will be no need to take guests into secure spaces. The complex will be surrounded by a gate, and the parking lot will also be enclosed, and there will be bollards around the perimeter.

Lewis said staff will feel much more secure in this “envelope of security.”

The county is looking at what Maricopa County does to protect its building and staff as it considers projections showing Pinal will continue to grow, and increasingly be politically purple — which could lead to more conflict. The blueprints show room to add more workspace inside the building as needed, and the large lot the county owns could allow for additions.

By 2050, this old farming and mining county is expecting to hit 1 million people.

“How do you build for the future?” McClure asks.

Jen Fifield is a reporter for Votebeat based in Arizona. Contact Jen at [email protected].

Votebeat is a nonprofit news organization reporting on voting access and election administration across the U.S. Sign up for our free newsletters here.

‘Why don’t you listen to what I have to say?’

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, tries to speak above the heckling crowd at “Rally to Protect Our Elections” hosted by Turning Point Action at Arizona Federal Theatre in Phoenix. Ugenti-Rita spoke for only 75 seconds before she exited the stage. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/THE STAR NEWS NETWORK
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, tries to speak above the heckling crowd at “Rally to Protect Our Elections” hosted by Turning Point Action at Arizona Federal Theatre in Phoenix on July 24, 2021. Ugenti-Rita spoke for only 75 seconds before she exited the stage. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/THE STAR NEWS NETWORK

Not even five seconds into her speech at a rally to support former-President Trump and his agenda is when the boos and catcalls began for Arizona State Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita.  

She lasted at the podium for 75 seconds before she hustled off stage like a comedian who had bombed her set. 

The event, hosted by Turning Point Action – the fundraising arm of pro-Trump organization Turning Point USA – took place at Arizona Federal Theatre in downtown Phoenix on July 24, and all Republican candidates for the governor, secretary of state and U.S. Senate races were invited to speak. 

The crowd’s treatment of her raised the question of whether the Arizona Republican Party is doomed in the 2022 general election if this crowd was going to turn on one of the most conservative lawmakers in the state, someone who has passed more bills to tighten election laws than practically anybody else. 

Ugenti-Rita was one of two Republican candidates for the chief election officer job who showed up. Two others did not attend. The event surrounded the topic of election integrity – something Ugenti-Rita has built a career on over the course of a decade in politics. 

Ugenti-Rita’s record includes things conservatives have boasted about. She wrote the bill to ban ballot harvesting that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of on July 1. She also passed a bill this year to revamp the state’s early voting list, changing it from being permanent and laying out a process to remove registered voters who don’t return their ballot by mail. 

The indoor venue, formerly called Comerica Theatre, has a great sound that carries through the 5,000-seat auditorium, but during its usual concerts, the sound is coming from the stage, not the audience. 

Before she left the stage, Ugenti-Rita barely got through two full sentences as the heckling and hollering drowned her out and she shouted: “Why don’t you listen to what I have to say?” 

Two Republicans deeply tied within the grassroots of the state party were critical of the crowd’s treatment of her. 

Kathy Petsas
Kathy Petsas

Kathy Petsas is the Republican chairman of Legislative District 28 – one of Arizona’s strongest swing districts that houses some of the most prominent politicians in the state.  

She told Arizona Capitol Times she doesn’t agree with Ugenti-Rita on most issues, but that it was a “shame” nobody came to her defense to let her speak. 

“Ugenti-Rita deserved every right and every respect and courtesy to provide her message and it was a shame that party leadership like Kelli [Ward] didn’t speak up for her to say she deserves the right to speak,” Petsas said.  

She added that Ward, the two-time controversial chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, stood up for Daniel McCarthy, the failed U.S. Senate candidate in 2020 who was incredibly critical of Ward, during the state party meeting in January, but she didn’t extend the same courtesy to Ugenti-Rita. 

“If the party wants to win general elections, then they have a responsibility to allow all their candidates the platform,” Petsas said. “I don’t know that she’s the person I’m going to end up voting for. Maybe she is, but she sure did have every right to be there and speak.” 

Petsas said if there’s a candidate like Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley or Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, up against one of the Democrats for secretary of state, there’s a good chance Republican voters will not vote for that race rather than vote across party lines like what happened in Arizona in 2018 and 2020 on the top of the ticket. 

“If you don’t like either, all of a sudden you’ve got 75,000 Republicans who don’t vote,” she said.  

Nearly 36,000 people “undervoted” for the U.S. Senate race in 2020. 

Trey Terry
Trey Terry

Trey Terry, a Republican member on the Agua Fria School Board and a state committeeman in Legislative District 13, didn’t go as far as Petsas, but said it depends on how much longer Republicans are talking about the Senate’s audit of the 2020 election.  

“When it comes to a general election, this mindset that we saw at the rally is disastrous for Republicans moving forward,” Terry said. “Republicans in Arizona need conservatives like Ugenti, [House Speaker Rusty] Bowers, [County Supervisor Clint] Hickman, [Maricopa County Recorder Stephen] Richer, etc., if we want any chance at winning statewide or competitive elections.”  

He said winning a Republican primary is easier from what was seen at the rally, but general elections need independent voters to win statewide. Republicans far-and-wide have been appealing to Trump in hopes to win competitive races among their party.  

“Mark Finchem participated in the January 6 riot,” Terry said. “He would get crushed in a statewide general election. I think Shawnna is in a better position, but we just don’t know. I think if Republicans are still talking about this audit and the 2020 election in the 2022 general election, we are going to get crushed. If we are able to put this audit behind us and learn from our mistakes in 2020, there is a lot of history showing that Republicans can have a very good year.” 

Petsas said the crowd, which seemed to support another potential Trump presidency in 2024, would be better off supporting someone like Ugenti-Rita. 

“[She] is a legitimate conservative, with bona fides to prove it, which is a lot more than I can say for Trump,” she said. 

It’s believed that the boos for Ugenti-Rita were because she wouldn’t hear election bills from Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction. Ugenti-Rita, who chairs the Senate Government Committee with Townsend as vice chair, repeatedly said throughout the session that the bills were bad. 

“There is no shame in voting against something that is bad policy,” Petsas said, adding that it’s still no reason to boo her off the stage before she can lay out her platform. 

Terry said Ugenti-Rita has been the most effective legislator over the past decade when it comes to conservative changes on election integrity, but she could be criticized on other issues and he doesn’t support her candidacy or anyone else in that race.  

“But to criticize her on alleged unwillingness to ‘support election integrity measures’ or whatever, is intellectually deranged.” 

Ugenti-Rita in turn went home to immediately criticize the Senate’s audit of the 2020 election for the first time publicly and took a swipe at Senate President Karen Fann for her leadership, two moves that could hurt her chances in the race, which is still more than one year out.  

“I’ll put my record of fighting for election integrity up against anyone. What I won’t do is vote for ‘show’ legislation that does nothing to strengthen election integrity and introduced for self serving reasons,” she wrote in a Twitter thread immediately after the rally. 


4 Republican lawmakers line up for race to run House

Rep. Rusty Bowers (R-Mesa)
Rep. Rusty Bowers (R-Mesa)

At least one candidate for speaker of the House hopes the crowded race plays to his advantage.

Up until the August 28 primary election, the speaker’s race appeared to be a two-way contest between Reps. Darin Mitchell and Rusty Bowers.

But with Mitchell’s defeat in the primary, several other candidates have declared their intentions to run for the chamber’s top position.

Republican lawmakers will meet right after the general election to elect the new speaker and other leaders. Democrats will also meet to elect their leadership team.

The speaker’s race is now shaping up to be a four-way contest. Bowers, who previously served as majority leader in the Senate in the late 1990s and helped lead budget and water policy discussions this session, is joined by Majority Whip Kelly Townsend, Rep. Mark Finchem, a prominent member of the most conservative faction of the House, and Rep. Noel Campbell, who hopes members look to him when they can’t come to a consensus on any of the other three candidates.

Townsend, a three-term lawmaker from Mesa, said she is interested in running for speaker to continue building off of what current House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, has done in the past two years.

Unite the caucus

As speaker, Townsend said she would work to unite the GOP caucus and build an effective team that utilizes all House members’ strengths to push through legislation that will positively affect Arizona residents.

She said she has always been inclined to lead the chamber and this being her last term in the House, she jumped at the opportunity. She said she has proven she is a strong leader through her work as an aviation mechanic in the U.S. Navy, as whip the past two years, and as the lead organizer of the Arizona Balanced Budget Amendment Planning Convention last fall.

Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa)
Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa)

“If you want to know Kelly Townsend and how I run as a leader … if you want to see how I would be like as a speaker, look at the convention,” she said. “I put everyone to work. It wasn’t the Kelly show. There were a lot of people involved in making that a success.”

If Townsend is elected speaker, she will become only the second woman to hold that position. Jane Dee Hull served as speaker from 1989-1992.

But her decision to seek the speakership comes after a tumultuous tenure as majority whip. In February, Townsend said rumors of an effort to oust her as majority whip were true. She said at the time that several of her colleagues were unhappy that she called for Don Shooter’s resignation following the release of the House’s sexual harassment report, and that some of her colleagues felt like she was “protecting” Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, whom they felt should have been reprimanded for having a relationship with former House staffer Brian Townsend.

In March, The Arizona Republic published a story about an inappropriate comment Townsend accused Mesnard of making about Ugenti-Rita’s clothing, which opened the door to a renewed effort to oust her as majority whip.

Finchem said he is running for the chamber’s top spot with Mitchell’s blessing, and that the move was part of a contingency plan that the Liberty Caucus, a self-identified group of conservative members, had in place in the event that any of its members who were seeking a leadership position weren’t re-elected.

The Oro Valley Republican had previously announced that he was running for majority leader. Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, who had also announced he is running for majority leader, has said he will not jump into the speaker’s race, which Finchem said made him the “natural” choice to replace Mitchell.

He said while Bowers boasts a lot of support, he believes he can get the necessary votes to win.

‘A solid bloc’

Rep. Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley)
Rep. Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley)

“I already have a solid bloc of votes that are hard ‘yesses,’ some from elected members, some from candidates yet to be elected. And I think there is a pathway for me to collect enough votes to become the next speaker,” he said, adding that some of the votes are from people who were supporting Mitchell.

If elected speaker, Finchem said two of his major goals are to improve the image of the House and develop members’ and staffs’ skills. He said he would be a pragmatic leader who could appease both conservatives and moderates.

Campbell, of Prescott, said that while he thinks his candidacy is a longshot, he views himself as the “compromise candidate” and he hopes other members see him in the same light.

“Between you, me and the fencepost, it’s not very likely to happen. But if things get drawn out, I’d like the members to know that they can look at me and consider me for the position,” Campbell said. “The way I look at it is if it’s not him, and it’s not that guy, maybe it’s Campbell, the compromise candidate.”

Campbell said he isn’t actively campaigning for the speakership or trying to line up votes.

Both Campbell and Finchem said with Mitchell out of the picture, it has opened up the speaker’s race and given members more options.

A healthy discussion

Rep. Noel Campbell (R-Prescott)
Rep. Noel Campbell (R-Prescott)

Campbell said the crowded race will lead to a healthy discussion among members about who will best lead the chamber, rather than having the position come down to a two-way race or it being a “slam dunk” as it has been in the past.

He said the competition will force candidates to present their case for why they should become speaker rather than just lobbying their friends for support.

“Whoever wins, wins and I’ll support them,” Campbell sid. “I know what I bring to the table. I’m not the smartest guy and I’m not super knowledgeable about all of the procedures, but I bring common sense. I get along with people and I can understand their viewpoints. And that comes from being an old guy. I would hope that I can do it well and I just thought there should be more of a choice for the members.”

Though at the moment it appears to be a four-way race, the field could be narrowed down by the November general election as candidates begin to line up votes. And the speakership could again be upended if any of the candidates fail to be re-elected.

It’s also not unlikely that other members might jump into the race leading up to the general election. Rep. Jill Norgaard, R-Phoenix, denied rumors that she is seeking the speakership, though she didn’t completely rule out the idea.

“It’s not something I’m thinking about right now,” she said, and added that she is focused on her re-election bid in Legislative District 18. “Frankly, I’ve gotten a lot of inquiries from members and from constituents about running for speaker, but at this time, I’m not interested in running for speaker. Granted things might change. It’s still months away.”

AG sues to end Tucson’s odd-year election cycle

In this Feb. 16, 2016, photo, the sun shines behind buildings in downtown Tucson. Attorney General Mark Brnovich is trying to force the city to align local elections with regular state balloting. ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES FILE PHOTO
In this Feb. 16, 2016, photo, the sun shines behind buildings in downtown Tucson. Attorney General Mark Brnovich is trying to force the city to align local elections with regular state balloting. ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES FILE PHOTO

Attorney General Mark Brnovich is asking the Arizona Supreme Court to force Tucson to align its local elections with regular state balloting.

The lawsuit filed August 26 follows a conclusion by Brnovich in July that cities have no legal right to maintain their own election dates when turnout is low.

Tucson officials disagree and have refused to budge. So now the attorney general hopes to force the issue.

But it remains to be seen whether Brnovich will have any better luck in court than he had before.

At the heart of the battle is a 2012 law that declared that all elections must be conducted in even-numbered years, and only on dates spelled out by the Legislature. But the state Court of Appeals concluded that there were no legislative findings to support the action overriding the decisions of charter cities like Tucson.

Mark Brnovich (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
Mark Brnovich (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Undeterred, lawmakers returned with a 2018 version containing the same requirement – but with a twist. This law applies only when turnout for local elections is at least 25% lower than what happened at the most recent statewide vote.

As it turned out, the turnout for the city’s 2019 vote was 39.3%, compared to more than 67% for the 2018 statewide race.

Not only did the city refuse to change its election date, the council earlier this year specifically set the 2021 primary vote for August 3, with the general election for November 2, 2021.

So Brnovich wants the state’s high court to rein in the city, declare the ordinance void and put city elections on an even-year cycle.

Assistant Attorney General Linley Wilson acknowledged that Tucson is a “charter city,” empowered by the Arizona Constitution to enact its own laws and ordinances on matters of local concern. But she said there are limits to that, particularly when the Legislature decides to impose state laws.

“Allowing cities to legislate without prior state approval is not the same thing as allowing cities to override state law,” Wilson wrote. “The (Arizona) Constitution expressly provides that the powers of the charter cities are subject to this constitution and laws of the state.”

What that means, she said, is when there is a conflict between state law and a local charter, as there is in this case, it is up to the court to determine whether the matter is “of purely municipal concern” and whether state law supersedes the local enactment.

Tucson has won some other battles in that conflict between state and local laws.

The Supreme Court has ruled that Tucson is entitled to maintain its own unusual “modified ward” council system, where candidates are nominated from each of the city’s six wards but have to stand for general election on a statewide basis.

And Tucson has successfully defended having partisan city elections despite a state law requiring that local elections be conducted on a nonpartisan basis.

There was no immediate response from city officials.

Anthony Garcia: Gathering signatures is a prayer answered


Anthony Garcia, a veteran signature gatherer, said the lucrative business of circulating petitions helped him stay out of jail.

When he first got started in 2008, Garcia was living in a men’s shelter and needed to find a job to stay in the program. What started off as just a regular job soon turned into a vocation for the West Valley native.

With the money he earned from petition gathering, he said, he was able to buy his first car straight off the lot, his wife was able to go to school, and he had the opportunity to spend a month working in California, the first time he and his family had visited the state.

But Garcia, 39, said despite it being a well-paid position, it’s hard work, and it’s only getting harder with changing signature-gathering laws. Bad apples in the business, he said, are also making it more difficult to collect signatures, an issue he’s all too familiar with.

This year, Garcia, who works in construction framing houses, wound up testifying in court during an election challenge hearing after someone impersonated him and used his name to fraudulently gather signatures for a candidate seeking election to the Senate.

Cap Times Q&AWhat attracted you to signature gathering?

I was in Church on the Street and they said when you’re in Church on the Street you gotta have a job to stay in the mission. I was in recovery in the men’s home. I called my old foreman and he said I could have my old job back but I had to go to orientation. Orientation was at like 5 o’clock in the morning. I had to leave the mission at like 3 in the morning and ride my bike from 43rd and Van Buren to 99th Avenue and Lower Buckeye to get to orientation on time. It was over at like 10 and I rode my bike to 91st and Encanto to catch the free shuttle to Maryvale. When I got there, I started praying. I just said, “God, show me something different because what I’m doing is just wrong and I’m going to be with the same people and I don’t want that anymore. I want something different.” As soon as I got done praying, I promise you, this guy starts walking up to me with petitions in his hand. We started talking and he told me he was about to go to the college and hire and fire some people. I asked him if he owned his own business and I told him I wanted to work for whoever he worked for. He asked me if I was a registered voter and I said yes, and then he asked me to sign his petitions and he gave me the number to his boss. The number was for Pastor Jim, and right off the bat I knew that was God’s answer to my prayer. I went to meet with him and he gave me the lowdown on how it all works. His office was like right down the street from my grandma’s house and everybody there had lived on that block forever and they were all registered voters. So I went straight over there and I got everybody on the block to sign. It was like two hours. I rode my bike back over to his office and the guy gave me a check for like $350 and I was hooked.

Do you circulate petitions for candidates and initiatives?

I go wherever the money is at.

What are some of the big names you’ve circulated petitions for?

Doug Ducey, Kyrsten Sinema, Ruben Gallego. I did a couple justices of the peace.

What’s the secret to getting someone to sign a petition?

If you’re walking down the street and someone’s waving at you, and I wear a lot of gold chains, so you’re walking down the street and you see this guy with gold chains waving at you, you’re going to be like what’s this guy all about. So I’ll do that. Or once I have someone, I’ll talk loud and people are nosy and if they hear something that catches their attention they’ll stop. If you can get just one person to stop, a lot of people will stop because it’s monkey see, monkey do. Or you make a silly sign. You know what gets a lot of people’s attention, if you spell something wrong because everybody will try to correct you. Or compliment them on their shoes or their hat. People are self absorbed so if you talk about them they’ll come talk to you. But it’s always 50-50. There’s people that will ignore you and people that will talk to you. You just have to talk to everybody. The more people you talk to the better your odds are.

Do you have a favorite spot where you usually collect signatures?

I usually go to the DMV on 51st Avenue and Indian School. That used to be my spot but there’s a lady, Darcy, and she kind of took the spot over so I’m kind of stuck walking around that area. But that’s a good spot, you get a good response.

What’s the most signatures you’ve ever gotten in a single day?

My biggest, it wasn’t a single day, it was Comic Con. I got 1,500 signatures in three days. … Festivals are the best.

What’s the most money you’ve made in a single day?

I made like $1,500 in three weeks. That’s when Bonita (Burks) was around and there was competition. That was the best part, when there was competition and we worked as independent contractors, like freelancers, we could go wherever we wanted and make more money.

It’s not every day that someone gets impersonated. How was it to learn someone was using your name professionally?

Oh man, you feel terrible. It’s messed up. I was worried. I’m still wondering why, why would someone do that? I lost a lot of sleep over that.

Do you think the incident will affect how you decide who to gather signatures for in the future?

It will just make me more cautious in who I associate with and what petitions I do. I guess I won’t so easily pick people off the street and say here I’ll do your petitioning because that’s what I did and look what happened.

Do you think the bad apples in the business tarnish the reputation of seasoned and reliable signature gatherers?

It definitely messes with the reputation of good petition gatherers. One example, the smear campaign they’re trying to do with the Clean Energy petitioners. Now people don’t want to sign my petition. It’s going to be harder to get signatures and it’s already hard to get signatures.

Do you see yourself working as a circulator for years to come?

Oh yeah. I have kids and they’re young. But when they’re older and they go to college I plan on traveling throughout the country doing petitions. I can’t afford to travel, I don’t have retirement, so I’m going to work my butt off until the day I die.

Arizona governor’s election task force recommends new laws

A governor’s task force meeting behind closed doors approved recommending changes to election laws, a secrecy decision defended by a top aide to Gov. Katie Hobbs.

“We want people to vote in a very private manner and speak their minds freely,” said gubernatorial publicist Christian Slater. He said that’s why reporters were not invited to attend Thursday’s session – the second full meeting of the Governor’s Bipartisan Elections Task Force – a meeting at which vice-chair Helen Purcell said they approved 20 of 22 proposals put forward.

Instead, the governor’s office made task force members available for several questions after the session.

Anyway, Slater said, there is no reason for the public to be concerned that measures are being adopted behind closed doors.

“It’s just the first step in advancing the policy recommendations,” he told Capitol Media Services. “It’s not as if these are the final things that are coming out of the task force.”

Yet what emerged from Thursday’s meeting as already approved appears to be specific.

For example, one seeks legislation to address interfering with voters while they are dropping off their ballots.

That became a big issue when a group called Clean Elections USA, which contends the 2020 election was fraudulent, had volunteers, some wearing full tactical gear and bearing arms, monitoring ballot drop boxes. It took a federal judge issuing a temporary restraining order to shut down some of the group’s activities by forbidding anyone from taking videos of those dropping off their ballots and requiring anyone openly carrying a weapon or wearing body armor to remain at least 250 feet from any drop box.

Also among the recommendations mix are standards for voting-related equipment aside from what already is required for ballot tabulators.

Much of the argument presented by failed gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake about why her loss to Hobbs should be overturned was that printers at vote centers were producing ballots at a different size than the tabulators could read.

Other proposals that advanced include:

– Considering amending the law to deal with restoring voting rights for individuals who have had felony convictions;

– Ensuring a “consistent funding source” for the statewide voter registration system;

– Allowing people already registered to vote who move before Election Day to cast a ballot in their new county;

– Setting specific deadlines to conduct recounts when they are necessary.

Helen Purcell, vice-chair of the task force, which Hobbs chairs, said the meetings were scheduled in secret because “I’m following the advice of the governor’s office.”

But Purcell, a Republican and former Maricopa County recorder, said she does not believe that the closed-door meetings will undermine public confidence in what the panel ultimately recommends when it meets again in October.

“We’ve had a lot of frank discussions between people from not just sort of the election world but people who are around that world,” she said.

“We’re trying to come up with solutions,” Purcell continued. “Some of it may be legislative. Some of it may be best practices.”

And Purcell said she agreed with the governor’s decision to start the process behind closed doors.

So will any of this ever be open?

“Could be,” she responded. “I don’t know at this point.”

Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, a Democrat like the governor, said he understands the desire for closed-door discussions.

“While I’m a big fan of transparency almost all the time, sometimes you’ve just got to have those hardscrabble discussions among folks when you’re talking about what you think might or might not get through the Legislature, and why,” he said.

“Some of those opinions, you just hold them closer,” Fontes said. “But among trusted professionals we’ve got to have those open and frank discussions.”

Anyway, he said, legislation is not being proposed “at this time.” Ditto, Fontes said, for changes to the Elections Procedures Manual, a guide for election officials adopted by the secretary of state that has the force of law.

“It’s not just a question of ‘trust us,’ ” he said. “It’s a question of where are we at in the process.”

As it turned out, even though the meeting was billed as closed and Slater told reporters they could not come, there actually was one in the room.

Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic told Capitol Media Services she simply walked in. And while members were told there was a reporter present, she was allowed to stay for the more than two hours of the meeting even though Pima County Recorder Gabriella Cazares-Kelly raised a question about her presence.

Slater blamed it on “staff error” but would not say why Pitzl was allowed to stay – or why he did not notify other reporters who had been told not to come because the meeting was closed.

Pitzl’s presence apparently did not deter the panel from discussing and approving the various proposals.

Cazares-Kelly said much of what is before the panel is how to ensure that elections are free, fair and secure.

“Every proposal that we have been discussing have either been talking about … the expansion of the transparency or security of the process,” she said. “We’ve also been talking a lot about the resources and additional things we want to provide to support our elections departments and our recorders’ offices.”

Sen. Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, also on the task force, said the question of money cannot be overstated.

“One of the hot-button issues has been resources,” said Bennett who formerly served as secretary of state. “I don’t think we spend enough money on elections to make sure that they are the quality and kind of elections in Arizona” that the state needs.

And then, he said, there’s the question of getting the necessary votes from a Republican-controlled Legislature – including some GOP lawmakers who continue to insist the 2020 and 2022 elections were rigged – and a Democratic governor.

“Money and politics,” said Bennett.

Not everything the panel was considering was approved.

Task force members rejected a proposal that would have required public facilities, including schools, to serve as polling locations when certain other conditions were met. They also did not adopt asking for creation of a special performance audit division for elections be created within the state Auditor General’s Office.

Also failing to get enough votes was a plan to require background checks for all permanent or long-term temporary staff who handle ballots, are involved in tabulation, or provide computer technical support.


Ballot measures could hamper cash flow in crowded election year

Vote concept; handdrawn ballot box on a green chalkboard
Vote concept; handdrawn ballot box on a green chalkboard

With multiple high-profile ballot initiatives in Arizona this year and a slew of other high-priority statewide and legislative races, donors could be asked repeatedly to open their wallets this election cycle.

Among the ballot measures are proposals to boost renewable energy sources, hike income taxes on Arizona’s top earners and shine sunlight on dark money, the term given to campaign dollars spent by groups that don’t have to disclose the source of their money. Pundits already expect key players will spend millions to fight and defend these contentious initiatives.

But will that leave major donors cash-strapped when statewide and legislative candidates come calling?

It could be too soon to tell.

Ballot measure campaigns turned in their signatures last week. Now, the initiatives are trapped in procedural limbo as the Secretary of State’s Office scans the thousands of petition sheets into its electronic system. Some, if not all, of the ballot initiatives will likely face legal challenges in the coming weeks.

Among the more contentious ballot initiatives are the Invest in Education Act, Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, Stop Political Dirty Money Amendment and Save Our Schools Arizona.

The number of ballot initiatives vying for the ballot this year is more than Arizona saw in the past two election cycles.

Garrick Taylor
Garrick Taylor

Packed ballots mean advocacy organizations have to strategize on how they want to deploy their resources, said Garrick Taylor, spokesman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“Crowded ballots make for tough decisions,” he said. The chamber is leading the charge against the Invest in Education Act — a ballot measure to boost income taxes on wealthy Arizonans to pay for the state’s public education.

In 2016, and facing two major ballot measures — one to boost minimum wage and another to legalize recreational marijuana — the chamber focused its efforts on defeating the marijuana proposition despite opposing both measures.

Looking back, Taylor said the business community bet correctly in fighting the marijuana measure. But voters approved the minimum wage increase. If the chamber regrets anything now, it’s that it didn’t have more resources so it could fight both proposals, he said.

“There’s not an endless supply of money, especially when you’re in a political season with very high profile candidate races alongside ballot measures,” he said. “So you have to be judicious in the way you spend those resources.”

Taylor said it’s too soon to tell if the ballot measures and the decisive U.S. Senate race, which is sure to attract millions of out-of-state dollars to Arizona, will crowd out candidate spending.

Jim Barton, an attorney at the Torres Consulting and Law Group, said he’s sure advocacy groups like the chamber, Arizona Public Service and others will have to expend money and resources to fight the clean energy, dark money and education ballot initiatives.

Barton represents the clean energy and Invest in Education campaigns, but was not speaking on behalf of those groups. He characterized the fight as an uphill battle for conservative-leaning groups because they’re going against public sentiment.

More than 90 percent of Tempe voters called for increased transparency in political spending, and education funding is the issue of the year after “Red for Ed,” Barton said.

But on Election Day, it’s not about the money. Voters will cast their votes based on what they believe in, Barton said.

“Sometimes, we get so cynical and think ‘Oh, it just matters who has the most money.’ Well, who has the most money matters, but it’s not the only thing that matters,” he said.

Of course, money does play its part, and financing could be more of a challenge for Democrats than Republicans, according to Zachary Smith, a regents professor of politics and international affairs at Northern Arizona University.

“Generally speaking, … they’re going to be stretched a little thin,” Smith said. He later added, “to the extent that liberals with money are watered down, that’s going to happen, because there’s just more to do.”

But the types of donors that finance big ticket items like ballot initiatives are traditionally different from donations fueling legislative races and the state’s top two political parties, said Kory Langhofer, an attorney at Statecraft.

Ballot measures will be relying on wealthy, often out-of-state donors — the clean energy initiative, for instance, is backed by billionaire mega-donor Tom Steyer — while down ballot races will rely on smaller, more local donors, he said.

“It’s kind of like IE financing — big checks from a few very interested parties, and not the sort of ma and pop contributions that parties and candidates live on,” Langhofer said. “They’re just different buckets of money.”

Given that one ballot measure wants to ban dark money, Smith predicted a wave of dark money from sources that want to protect their anonymity.

In 2012, there was an effort to replace Arizona’s separate party primaries with a “top-two” model, meaning the two candidates who garner the most votes in the primary move on to the general election, regardless of their party affiliation. Smith attributed a surge of dark money spent against the ballot measure to aiding its defeat.

“When dark money came in, they did a big push and flooded the state to kill it, and of course they did,” Smith said. “These people that are benefitting from Republican legislative majorities are not going to risk it.”

Behind the Ballot: Challenge accepted



Producer’s note: After this episode was recorded, the state Supreme Court ruled that Democratic candidate for secretary of state Leslie Pico must be removed from the ballot. 

Numerous candidates have found themselves swept up in legal battles on their way to the ballot.

First-time candidates and incumbents alike have gone to court fighting for their chance to continue on the campaign trail, facing allegations of everything from too few signatures to forged ones.

Their troubles have left Maricopa County courtrooms bustling – and the Capitol, too.

The August primaries are right around the corner, and our reporters are keeping a close eye on the rash of challenges plaguing these campaigns.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes.


Music in this episode included “Little Idea,” “Funky Element” and “Energy” by Bensound.

Billionaire Tom Steyer to spend $2 million on AZ youth vote initiative

Tom Steyer is interviewed on Cheddar on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Monday, April 2, 2018. Steyer, the billionaire hedge-fund magnate-turned-liberal activist, has committed at least $31 million this year to what is believed to be the largest youth vote organizing effort in American history. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Tom Steyer is interviewed on Cheddar on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Monday, April 2, 2018. Steyer, the billionaire hedge-fund magnate-turned-liberal activist, has committed at least $31 million this year to what is believed to be the largest youth vote organizing effort in American history. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Hoping to incite a blue wave in Arizona, billionaire mega-donor Tom Steyer will pour at least $2 million into state elections this year.

Steyer’s youth vote program will focus on keeping Democratic control of Arizona’s 1st and 9th Congressional Districts and flipping the 2nd Congressional District seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, a Republican running for U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat.

Steyer is also aiming to propel Democrat Kyrsten Sinema to victory in the open U.S. Senate race and unseat Gov. Doug Ducey, who is up for re-election this year.

While Steyer has poured money into Democratic causes for several election cycles, this will mark the first year Arizona will be included in Steyer’s youth organizing movement NextGen Rising. Steyer is investing $30 million in 10 states to push Democrats to victory in the midterm elections.

“We’ll see if we’re right, but we think that there is an aura around Arizona being a bright red state that is out of date,” Steyer said in an interview with the Arizona Capitol Times.

Steyer’s strategy is to get young voters, largely those on college campuses and those between the ages of 18 and 35, registered to vote and politically engaged. Polls show President Donald Trump is especially unpopular among young voters, who tend to skew more liberal.

The Democratic activist, who made his wealth managing a hedge fund, may have political aspirations of his own. Steyer’s campaign to impeach President Donald Trump and his recently launched series of town hall meetings with voters have boosted speculation that he may run for president in 2020.

NextGen Arizona already has 19 paid staffers on the ground, and they expect to have 55 in the state by November. In addition to targeting nearly 800,000 young voters through direct mail and digital advertising, NextGen will work on 24 Arizona college campuses, including 12 community colleges and Diné College.

Arizona GOP spokeswoman Ayshia Connors called Steyer’s plans a waste of money.

“We are aware that he’s doing this and launching campaigns here to try and butt in, but every time he sticks his nose into business in other states it hasn’t paid off for him,” she said.

The conservative Koch Brothers have their own youth organizing group called Generation Opportunity, a sister organization to Americans for Prosperity. But the Arizona chapter has no plans to get involved in 2018 elections at this time, said Chalon Hutson, the group’s field director.

NextGen prides itself on using new digital strategies and unique tactics to appeal to millennial voters.

On Tuesday, the group will hold a music festival at Northern Arizona University and host a petting zoo at Arizona State University to entice students to register to vote.

But NextGen doesn’t forsake traditional get-out-the-vote strategies. The group plans to knock on at least 43,000 doors, and will focus on issues such as immigration, access to affordable healthcare, making higher education more affordable and climate change.

Funneling young voters’ passion on the issues incites them to vote in large, statewide races, but also gets them fired up about down ballot races and initiatives, Steyer said.

“The great thing about doing grassroots [organizing], particularly for young voters, is it’s really a turnout question to a great extent,” Steyer said. “If you get people into the issues, if you get people engaged in the political process and they subsequently participate at the polls, then they’re going to vote in every single one of those elections.”

Steyer has seen mixed results with his NextGen program. While the organization saw great success in Virginia in 2016, the group has suffered political losses in some redder states.

In Virginia last year, the youth vote program helped catapult Democrat Ralph Northam to victory in the governor’s race and played a role in electing an unprecedented number of Democrats to Virginia’s House of Delegates — drastically altering the makeup of the state legislature. Young voters, who are typically fair-weather voters, turned out in record numbers.

NextGen will base its Arizona strategy off what they did in Virginia, but the progressive political group will have more time in this state. NextGen embedded in Virginia approximately four months before the general election. Seven months out from the general election, NextGen is already making its presence known in Arizona.

Tom Steyer is also pushing a renewable energy ballot initiative that would force Arizona utilities to get half their energy from renewable sources by 2030. Getting the 225,953 valid signatures by July 5 to put the measure on the ballot will likely cost millions, but climate issues are near and dear to Steyer’s advocacy. He initially formed NextGen Climate (now NextGen America) as an initiative to fight climate change.

But Arizona utilities are putting up a fight against Steyer’s Clean Energy for Healthy Arizona Amendment. The state’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service Co., worked with lawmakers to pass legislation that would essentially nullify the ballot measure by reducing the fines on utility companies failing to comply down to a minimum of $100 and a maximum of $500.

APS also crafted it’s own ballot initiative that on paper, looks nearly identical to the clean energy amendment, but gives electric utilities an out because it prohibits the Arizona Corporation Commission from implementing the renewable energy mandate should it have any effect on customers’ bills.

“Obviously, it’s a very confusing time because of what APS has done,” Steyer said. “They’re making this a very confusing thing.”

Steyer’s initiative would tie the commission’s hands, but the opposing ballot measure empowers the corporation commission to do what they were authorized to do by evaluating energy projects and regulating utilities, said Arizonans for Affordable Energy spokesman Matt Benson.

The APS-backed measure is still making its way through the legislature.

“I think the point is to give voters a choice and to highlight for voters the unintended consequences of approving Tom Steyer’s initiative, Benson said.

Should both initiatives make it on the November ballot, the one with the most votes will become law.

Boyer, with help, nixes six election bills

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, speaks at an event hosted by Arizona Talks at Greenwood Brewing in Phoenix on March 1, 2022. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Senate President Karen Fann pleaded with her chamber on March 9.  

“I am hoping that a couple more people might change their votes,” the Prescott Republican said as the chamber voted to kill Senate Bill 1629. “I believe that this is a good bill, and it’s a good bill for all the right reasons.” 

Senate Bill 1629 is one of the most wide-ranging election bills that the Senate voted on earlier this week. But it turned out to be a frustrating few days for the Republican Senators who’ve talked for months about using the 2022 legislative session to make substantial changes to Arizona election laws in the wake of the 2020 election audit. 

Several of the bills that failed this week were opposed by the Senate Democrats plus Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale. The GOP’s 16-14 Senate majority means Boyer’s willingness to play spoiler is enough to kill legislation on its own. 

Michelle Ugenti-Rita

But Boyer was also joined by, at different moments, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, and Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, in nixing election laws supported by most of their caucus. Rogers declined to comment on her vote. (Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, voted against one of her own election bills but said she did it so she can bring the bill back for reconsideration.) 

On March 7, Fann couldn’t muster the votes for three bills that would have added rules about the pens used by voters, the way hand audits are conducted and the Attorney General’s election enforcement powers. 

Boyer alone blocked Senate Bill 1475, which sought to give the AG enforcement authority over federal elections. (For now, the office is tasked with enforcing the law just for state elections.) Ugenti-Rita and Boyer voted down Senate Bill 1478, which would have prohibited counties from handing out pens that could bleed through ballot paper, and Senate Bill 1358, which would have added some additional leg work on hand-count audits in counties that use voting centers. 

On March 9 the Senate considered another slate of election laws including Senate Bill 1629. 

The bill was introduced in late January, on the same day that House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, killed another piece of election legislation in dramatic fashion. House Bill 2596 would have all but eliminated early voting, required a hand count of ballots, and given the legislature power to accept or reject election results. Bowers assigned the bill to all 12 House committees, effectively ensuring the full chamber would never even get the chance to vote on it. 

Senate Bill 1629 was received as a potentially more moderate approach to election legislation that still would have pleased fans of last year’s partisan election audit like Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, who was the prime sponsor of the bill. Another 12 Senate Republicans co-sponsored the bill, which would require more frequent election audits, add regulations on ballot drop boxes and change how election officers are trained. In Maricopa and Pima counties, it would require biannual audits by the Auditor General’s Office – and the bill includes a $4.6 million appropriation to the office for election audits. 

Boyer said he supported provisions of the bill relating to ballot images and voter roll maintenance but couldn’t stomach the time and resource costs of the additional audits. “I would like to see the other two pieces move forward if that’s possible, but as far as it stands, because of the auditor general piece, I can’t support this, so I vote no.” he said. 

In total, nine election bills came to the Senate floor and died there this week, but that doesn’t mean we’ve seen that last of them. Borrelli and Townsend are both committed to bringing back their election bills this session. It’s possible they can get Ugenti-Rita on board. 

Ugenti-Rita said after the vote that her objection to the election bills is that the language in some seem to overlap or contradict one another.  “You don’t just throw a bunch of stuff on the board haphazardly,” Ugenti-Rita said. “How these things are drafted, the unintended consequences, how they’re going to be implemented matters, and I care very much about the quality of the policy.”  

She confirmed that if the language is cleared up to her satisfaction, she could swing to a ‘yes’ vote, but Boyer is seemingly set on his ‘no’ votes and can continue to kill these bills without other Republicans in his corner. 

On March 9, Fann waited about 10 seconds after her plea for Senators who’d voted ‘no’ to switch to ‘yes’ on Senate Bill 1629. Then she decided that it wasn’t going to happen. “It appears I have no one changing their vote,” she said with a resigned chuckle. “It’s a sad day. I’m sorry that we could not make these changes for the benefit of the voters.” 


Campaign season officially kicks off – let the games begin

It’s election season once more, and this cycle starts with a few curveballs.

May 30 marked the deadline for candidates to submit petitions to run for legislative, statewide and congressional offices. Unlike in previous election cycles, few legislative races are uncontested.

In addition to incumbents, a few familiar names popped up, including a surprise primary challenger for Gov. Doug Ducey, a bid by recently-expelled former Yuma Rep. Don Shooter to reclaim his old state Senate seat, and former House Speaker David Gowan, who was accused of misuse of state vehicles, likewise is running for the state Senate.

So, pop some popcorn and settle in for an entertaining election season.

U.S. Senate

Sen. Jeff Flake
Sen. Jeff Flake

The race to fill the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Jeff Flake, who is retiring, is expected to be the biggest contest in Arizona this year.

Republicans face a contentious primary with U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, former state Sen. Kelli Ward and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio duking it out in the primary.

Likely Democratic nominee U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema also qualified for the ballot. She faces first-time political candidate Deedra Abboud, who is also a lawyer, in the primary.


Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Gov. Doug Ducey (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

State Sen. Steve Farley and educator David Garcia, who ran for superintendent of public instruction in 2014, will face off for the chance to take on Gov. Doug Ducey. Also on the Democratic primary ballot is Kelly Fryer, a first-time political candidate who is CEO of the YWCA of Southern Arizona.

But Ducey won’t get to coast to the general election. A last-minute addition to the governor’s race, former Secretary of State Ken Bennett gathered 7,828 signatures in about six weeks to qualify for the Republican primary.

Ducey’s campaign seems unfazed by the competition. “It would not be an election cycle without Ken Bennett on the ballot,” said J.P. Twist, Ducey’s campaign manager.

Ducey’s campaign war chest sits at $3 million on hand, which means Bennett, who is hoping to use Clean Elections funding, can’t compete financially. But Bennett, who came in fourth in the six-way Republican primary contest for governor in 2014, is undaunted by Ducey’s formidable cash advantage and is preparing to hit the governor on his record.

“Four years ago, he ran on a bunch of promises,” Bennett said. “Many of those promises turned out to be not true. We’re in this race because the truth matters.”

Secretary of State

Michele Reagan at her 2015 inauguration (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting)
Michele Reagan at her 2015 inauguration (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting)

In the secretary of state’s race, Republican Steve Gaynor takes on incumbent Michele Reagan. A wealthy businessman, Gaynor has vowed to self-fund his campaign to take out Reagan, who some Republicans fear may be vulnerable in the general election.  Democrats in the race are Sen. Katie Hobbs, Leslie Pico and Mark Robert Gordon.



Four Republicans and four Democrats are hoping to get their party’s nod for the congressional seat that McSally is vacating. This could be the most competitive congressional race, not only because of the open seat but because history shows the 2nd Congressional District is a true tossup district.

A similar situation exists in CD9, the seat occupied by Sinema, with three Republicans and two Democrats vying for the nominations. But that district leans slightly more Democrat in performance than southern Arizona’s CD2.

And in CD8, Republican Debbie Lesko, who just won a special election to replace Trent Franks, will have to defend her seat in the primary. Former Maricopa County School Superintendent Sandra Dowling, who pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor to end felony bid-rigging charges years ago, wants to be the GOP nominee in the heavy Republican district. Democratic candidate Hiral Tipirneni, Lesko’s opponent in the special election, is also gunning for a second chance at the seat.

Arizona Senate 

LD6: Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, who is termed out after serving eight years in the House, is looking to unseat her seatmate, Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake. The Republican winner will face off against Democrat Wade Carlisle in the general election.

LD23: Tim Jeffries, who was fired as head of the Department of Economic Security, is running in a four-way GOP primary that includes Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who is termed out of the House. Jeffries was ousted amid reports that he fired hundreds of state employees and used a state plane to travel to Nogales to drink with employees who gave up their job protections.

LD27: As Sen. Catherine Miranda, D-Phoenix, steps down to run for Congress against U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, her nephew, Cipriano Miranda, aims to keep the family name in the Legislature and has filed to run for the open seat, but so has House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, who hopes to make the switch to the Senate.

LD28: Mark Syms, husband of Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, is challenging Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, in a move that could jeopardize the GOP’s hold on the critical swing district. Running as an independent, Mark Syms’ candidacy has some Republicans worried that his campaign will throw the race to Democratic candidate Christine Marsh. Mark Syms had jumped into the legislative race after Republican Kathy Petsas, who is viewed as holding more centrist views, filed to compete for a House seat.

LD30: House Reps. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix, and Ray Martinez, D-Phoenix, are facing off for the seat.

Arizona House

Teachers: A handful of teachers inspired by the “Red for Ed” movement are running for legislative seats. Middle school teacher Jennifer Samuels qualified to run for the House in LD15 and is one of three Democrats in the race. Bonnie Hickman, a teacher in the Gilbert Unified School District, is competing in a crowded field of Republicans gunning to take out Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, in LD16. Several other teachers are seeking legislative seats.

LD2: Former state Rep. John Christopher Ackerley, a one-term Republican who held a seat in the predominantly Democratic district, is attempting a comeback. Ackerley pulled off an upset victory in 2014 but lost to Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, two years later. Ackerley will face off against Anthony Sizer, an engineer also seeking the Republican nomination. Hernandez and Rep. Rosanna Gabaldon, D-Green Valley, have also filed to run.

LD5: Incumbents Paul Mosley, R-Lake Havasu City, and Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, face two primary challengers – businessman Leo Biasiucci, who ran as a Green Party candidate in 2012, and Jennifer Jones-Esposito, first vice chair of the La Paz County Republican Committee. The two GOP winners will face off against Democrat Mary McCord Robinson in November. The race, however, recently turned ugly after Biasiucci and his allies accused Mosley of stealing his nominating petitions from a Lake Havasu City gun store. Mosley denied the allegation and instead accused the gun store owner of having thrown away his petitions. Though Cobb said she isn’t running on a slate with any of the three other candidates, she said she urged Biasiucci to get into the race and run against Mosley.

LD16: Five Republican candidates are looking to fill the seat being vacated by Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction, or to unseat Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, a vocal opponent of the “Red for Ed” movement. Townsend consulted with lawyers about the possibility of a class-action lawsuit on behalf of those affected by the walkout.

LD24: Democrats, including incumbent Rep. Ken Clark, of Phoenix, faces a seven-way primary for the district’s two House seats. Rep. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, is termed out and is running for the Senate.

LD28: Democrats abandoned their single-shot strategy as they seek to capitalize on an expected “blue wave” in November. In addition to Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, Aaron Lieberman, also of Paradise Valley, has filed to run for the Democratic nomination. This is the first time since 2002 that Democrats have fielded two House candidates in the district. Two Republicans are also gunning for the House seats: Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, and Kathy Petsas, the district’s GOP chairwoman and a longtime Republican activist. While Petsas is ostensibly running against Butler and Republicans are hoping to get three for three in November, Petsas could unseat Syms instead. Syms has struck a decidedly conservative tone in her famously moderate district, while Petsas boasts more moderate credentials.

 Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.

Clodfelter out, DeGrazia in for LD10 House

Rep. Kirsten Engel (D-Tucson)
Rep. Kirsten Engel (D-Tucson)

The single-shot strategy did not pay off for Republicans in the Legislative District 10 House race this year.

Early ballot results put Republican Rep. Todd Clodfelter in third right away, and he stayed there behind Democratic newcomer Domingo DeGrazia, a juvenile court trial attorney, and Democratic Rep. Kirsten Engel who got the most votes.

Clodfelter’s loss was not entirely shocking. The single-shot strategy paid off for him in 2016 when he was first elected, but the number of registered Republicans in the district has since shrunk. Democrats outnumber them by nearly 6,900 voters.

The district now returns to the status quo before 2016. Clodfelter lost election bids in 2014 and 2012 when the district was represented by two Democrats in the House.

DeGrazia was one of at least three Democratic newcomers who overcame Republican incumbents in the House. Jennifer Jermaine ousted Rep. Jill Norgaard in Legislative District 18, and Aaron Lieberman outdid Rep. Maria Syms in Legislative District 28. Those outcomes narrow the party split in that chamber to 32-28.

And Dems could gain a fourth seat. Rep. Jeff Weninger won his re-election bid in Legislative District 17, but the race for the second seat was too close to call. Weninger’s fellow Republican Nora Ellen was behind Democrat Jennifer Pawlik by 1 p.m. Wednesday, but just about 400 votes separated the two.


LD10 House by the numbers

Early votes


Todd Clodfelter 29 percent


Kirsten Engel 35 percent

Domingo DeGrazia 30 percent


Joshua Reilly 6 percent

County recorder calls process to vet petitions into question


For decades, Arizona courts have relied on county recorders to review signatures legislative candidates submit to qualify for the ballot. Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, who is heading the office in an election year for the first time, isn’t satisfied with that decades-old system, and he hasn’t been shy about saying so.

Fontes testified in a June trial that the recorder’s role in the process is a “courtesy” to the courts, one that’s “been in place too long and I’ll probably stop it.”

“This is a custom or a tradition, or I don’t know what it’s called because there’s no statute that defines it, that goes back over 30 years,” Fontes told the Arizona Capitol Times following the trial.  “There are folks who believe for some reason that, first of all, it is the right thing to do, and second of all, the legal thing to do. And just because we’ve been doing it for a long time doesn’t mean that it’s either.”

Fontes’ statement at trial caught the attention of elections attorneys and officials at the Secretary of State’s Office, like Elections Director Eric Spencer. He warned that the system by which candidates are vetted before their name can appear on the ballot would be thrown in disarray were it not for the help of the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office and recorders in counties throughout the state.

The Arizona Supreme Court also took notice, and now the justices have essentially asked the state Legislature to set the record straight on what responsibilities recorders have when a candidate’s qualification for the ballot is challenged.

Fontes says he’d rather do things his own way, outside the scope of the Legislature. He proposes working through the courts, with input from candidates, elections attorneys and other county recorders, to find ways to streamline the process for reviewing signatures in challenges like the one in which he was called to testify.

There’s a general sense among county recorders, Fontes claims, that starting a discussion about ways to improve the process is a good idea. A newly-elected Democrat as of 2016, Fontes said his first experience in the system has convinced him that there are flaws that need fixing.

“I don’t like that it’s completely unpredictable. I don’t like that we have to unexpectedly tap into resources that aren’t readily available to us. I don’t like the fact that some of the complaints (from defendants) are legitimate complaints,” Fontes said.


To get their names on the ballot, would-be candidates for the Arizona House or Senate must collect a certain number of signatures from registered voters in the district they hope to represent. Those signatures are submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office, which does nothing to verify whether the signatures, known as nominating petitions, are valid. They accept the candidates at their word.

But just about anyone can accuse a candidate of failing to qualify for the ballot by scrutinizing those petitions and suing in court. There were 30 such challenges at the legislative, statewide and federal level in 2018, roughly double the average of past election cycles, according to Spencer.

A vast majority of those lawsuits wind up in Maricopa County Superior Court, where judges rely on a review of the scrutinized petitions by the County Recorder’s Office to decide whether a candidate’s name should be on the ballot.

That’s what happened in the case of independent candidate Mark Syms, the husband of Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley. Mark Syms utilized paid signature gatherers to collect 2,156 signatures in just 10 days, an extraordinary feat that immediately drew scrutiny from another candidate in the race, Sen. Kate Brophy McGee. Brophy McGee’s husband filed a challenge alleging that hundreds of those signatures were invalid, a legal maneuver that triggers extra work for Fontes and his election team.

The Syms case was just one of many like it that had Fontes and his staff working overtime to review thousands of signatures, on top of the work they’re already putting in preparing for the primary election on August 28. There’s nothing in state law that explicitly required Fontes to do this, he has argued.

“Let’s be honest. If I had decided to, I could’ve said no to all of this. I could’ve said no to this in February,” Fontes said. “I could’ve said, we’re not participating, and you’re going to have to get a court order to make that happen.”

At least for this election, Fontes went along with the system as is, and of the 1,930 signatures Syms submitted that Fontes’ office reviewed, 1,675 signatures were found to be invalid for various reasons.

Jeremy Phillips, Syms’ attorney, painted the process by which the recorders verify signatures as vague and undefined – he made a point to note that only one review of Syms’ signatures was conducted, while in other instances two or three rounds of reviews take place – and questioned the reliability of Fontes’ work.

Fontes testified at trial there was nothing unusual about how his office reviewed Syms’ signatures, and that a second or third check wasn’t needed in this case because Syms’ was nowhere close to having the necessary signatures to qualify. But Fontes later said he understood the frustration with a process that has been shaped more by time, tradition, and common practice than by the law.

“There’s one thing with these guys, there’s a small theme sort of, one of the many themes in here that they hit on, that I share the concern,” he said. “And that is, it appears as though there’s no real roadmap.”

Predictability in the form of a clearly defined process would benefit defendants like Syms, and all others involved in the legal process, Fontes said.

“The question ends up becoming, do I want to maintain the status quo of essentially a glorified paralegal who’s working for a candidate verifying signatures, or do we want to somehow more formalize this role and make it something that’s planned and thought through and more well established?” he said.


Election attorney Joe Kanefield said even though there isn’t an explicit mandate in state law requiring recorders to review the veracity of nominating petitions, it’s a process that the Legislature and the courts have alluded to and acknowledged for years.

“They’ve done everything but say, ‘The recorders have to do this,’” Kanefield said.

There are laws on the books that don’t make sense without the implicit understanding that the recorders help judges make decisions in election challenges, like a law that allows a county recorder to recover legal fees and costs if it turns out an election challenge was filed without substantial justification. And by law, the county recorder in the district in which a candidate is running must be named as a defendant in court filings. “If you don’t name the recorder, you’re going to get dismissed,” Kanefield said.

That makes sense given the wealth of information the recorders have at their disposal, he said. No one has more access to voter signatures, voter files and other records that can be used to verify a nominating petition than the recorders.

“I talked to (Fontes) personally about it. I get it,” Kanefield told the Capitol Times. “I understand that the burden that was placed upon him, and the frustration that he no doubt felt by having to undertake, to verify all these signatures in a short period of time when he had multiple other election related tasks that he was working on… But the reality is that it’s critical.”

Without the recorders, election challenges would be at the mercy of a plaintiff to bear the burden of reviewing each signature and proving that petitions are fraudulent.

It would also be a burden on the defendants to find proof that the signatures they gathered are valid.

“It would be almost impossible for a plaintiff to kick a candidate off the ballot because they would never be able to gather the evidence they would need to prove there weren’t enough valid signatures that were needed,” Spencer said.

While there could be room for change, Kanefield cautioned against Fontes’ assertion in court that he might simply stop verifying signatures when challenges are filed.

“Not doing this is not the right answer,” Kanefield said. “What you need is more resources that should be provided to you by the state or the county to do your job.”

Fontes said he recognized this, and that’s why he didn’t simply put a stop to the process this election year. “What kind of position would the entire set of folks who have these expectations in my office be in? That would’ve been unfair,” he said.

The state’s Supreme Court justices seem to feel the same way. In their opinion barring Syms from the ballot, Vice Chief Justice Robert Brutinel took time to point out the “significant role” county recorders play in petition challenges, and how concerned the justices were by Fontes’ assertion that he’d “probably stop” verifying signatures in the future.

The justices were “troubled by the opaqueness of the process evidenced by Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes’ testimony in the case… The candidates, petition challengers, and the courts, as well as our democratic system as a whole, would benefit from a far clearer process with defined statutory roles for the county recorders.”


Brophy McGee, a Phoenix Republican, said she’s willing to take up the justices’ call for legislation to clarify the recorder’s roll in candidate challenges.

“I think it’s important that we make sure that it is outlined in statute, that somebody needs to verify from an independent party, and historically that’s been the county recorders,” she said.

Brophy McGee also wants to make candidates more responsible for the signatures they submit, an idea that could lessen the burden on recorders like Fontes who verify signatures.

She’s convinced that Syms’ case was just one of several races involving pervasive signature forgery and fraud, which had it not been challenged, would have resulted in some candidates illegitimately appearing on the ballot. There may be something to that – Spencer has said the Secretary of State’s Office is preparing to ask the attorney general to investigate fraud allegations in four races, including Syms. (A trial court judge found Syms was not actively involved in any fraud scheme or that he was not aware of bad signatures before he turned them in).

If a candidate with fraudulent signatures “is not challenged, it opens the door to anybody else following that line,” Brophy McGee said. “And anything I can do going forward to keep that from happening, I will do.”

It’s also incumbent on candidates to vet their own signatures before submitting them, Brophy McGee said.  That was the case with Rep. Mark Cardenas, who briefly ran for state treasurer but didn’t file nominating petitions because the people he hired to collect signatures provided fraudulent signatures the day before the filing deadline.

Both Brophy McGee and Spencer pointed to Cardenas, a Phoenix Democrat, as an example of a candidate taking responsibility for their signatures and not unnecessarily burdening the elections system.

“It is not enough to call yourself a victim of fraud,” Spencer said. “Candidates aren’t victims here.”

Brophy McGee said signatures for candidates should be held to the same standards as signatures for initiatives and referenda. Unlike with candidates, the Secretary of State’s Office takes an active role in reviewing the validity of signatures submitted when people propose or challenge laws via the ballot, as do county recorders.

That’s all spelled out in the law, whereas the law is vague for candidates.

“The idea being that we need to hold ourselves at least as accountable for the product we submit in support of our candidacies as any initiative,” Brophy McGee said. “We tend to rule ourselves out as politicians from the rules we hold others to, and that’s something that’s bothered me very much.”

Court orders Mark Syms to pay $50,000 in attorneys’ fees

Dr. Mark Syms, an independent candidate for the Arizona senate, sits in Judge Christopher Coury's court room accused of submitting numerous forged signatures on his nominating petitions for the ballot. (Photo by Arizona Republic/Pool Photo)
Dr. Mark Syms, an independent candidate for the Arizona senate, sits in Judge Christopher Coury’s court room accused of submitting numerous forged signatures on his nominating petitions for the ballot. (Photo by Arizona Republic/Pool Photo)

Likening Mark Syms to an ostrich with its head stuck in the sand, a judge ruled that the failed Arizona state Senate candidate must pay attorneys fees to the man who bumped him from the ballot.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury’s order means that Syms, who sought to run as an independent in Legislative District 28, owes more than $50,000 to cover the legal expenses of Robert McGee, who successfully challenged the validity of the signatures Syms’ filed to qualify for the ballot.

Attorneys for McGee — the husband of Republican Kate Brophy McGee, the district’s incumbent senator — had argued that Syms fought court rulings barring him from the ballot despite evidence that his ability to qualify was never a “close call.”

Close to 80 percent of the signatures Syms submitted were deemed invalid, leaving him with a mere 493 valid signatures and far short of the 1,250 he needed to qualify.

“Defendant Syms ignored and consciously disregarded the likelihood that he had submitted a significant number of invalid signatures, and plaintiff incurred attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses as a result,” Coury wrote.

Syms’ attorney, Mark Goldman, filed a notice of appeal against the ruling, and said he expects the decision to be overturned. Goldman noted that the Arizona Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court’s decision barring Syms from the ballot, also denied McGee attorneys fees in an August 8 ruling.

In a previous ruling, Coury noted that Syms was not actively involved in any fraud scheme or that he was not aware of the bad signatures before he turned them in.

But that didn’t absolve Syms from ignoring the obvious, Coury wrote.

Given the facts, “no rationale candidate in defendant Syms’ position could reasonably expect that he or she had submitted a sufficient number of signatures,” the judge wrote.

Coury described Syms as “playing ‘ostrich’” when faced with media reports of possible forgery, and noted the fact that even Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s mother had her signature forged on Syms’ petitions.

Syms’ defense relied on criticism of the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office. Jeremy Phillips, one of Syms’ attorneys, painted the process by which the recorders verify signatures as vague and undefined.

Coury wrote that such a defense was “implausible and unreasonable.”

“No evidence was presented that suggested any further review or validation process would have made a material difference,”the judge wrote. “Defendant Syms knew this, or had good reason to know this.”

Through his attorney, Syms declined to comment.

In a separate ruling, Coury also referred Goldman to be scrutinized by the State Bar of Arizona for unprofessional conduct, citing an email Goldman sent to attorneys for McGee. The State Bar is responsible for investigating whether a violation of the rules of professional conduct for attorneys occurred, though that determination would ultimately be up to the Arizona Supreme Court’s disciplinary panel.

“I have a great respect for the ethical rules applicable to attorneys and diligently follow them as evidenced by the fact that in thirty years of being a lawyer, I have never had a bar complaint, let alone been found to have violated an ethical rule, and thus my impeccable thirty year record speaks for itself,” Goldman wrote in an email.

Cyber Ninjas skewered in Congress

Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan, center, Ben Cotton, right, founder of digital security firm CyFIR, and Randy Pullen, left, the former Chairman of the Arizona Republican Party and Arizona Senate Audit spokesperson, depart after announcing their findings to the Arizona Senate Republicans hearing review of the 2020 presidential election results in Maricopa County at the Arizona Capitol Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Phoenix. The final report of the election review in Arizona’s largest county found that President Joe Biden did indeed win the 2020 presidential contest. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Republican Maricopa County Supervisors Jack Sellers and Bill Gates testified to Congress October 7 that the county’s 2020 general election was secure and that the months-long review spearheaded by Arizona Senate Republicans undermined democracy. 

The Arizona Senate hired Florida-based contractor Cyber Ninjas to audit the county’s election results earlier this year. The contractors and its subcontractors presented its results September 24, finding no widespread fraud but insinuating impropriety on the part of the county. 

The Democrat-led U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform held the hearing to assess Cyber Ninjas’ review and “how this and similar audits undermine public confidence in elections and threaten our democracy.” 

Sellers and Gates spoke out strongly against the audit in their testimony and response to the committee’s questions. Gates told the committee that the 2020 general election was “the best election” ever run in Maricopa County because it was the most scrutinized. He called the efforts to delegitimize or decertify the election “the biggest threat to our democracy” in his lifetime and slammed Cyber Ninjas’ lack of experience and pursuit of conspiracy theories in its review. 

“I don’t have a problem with audits. I had concerns with this particular audit,” Gates said. 

Sellers said he was “naive” to think he could just sit down with Senate Republican leadership to answer their questions and address their accusations following the election.  

“It’s become clear there are those who don’t care what the facts are — they just want to gain political power and raise money by fostering mistrust of the greatest power an individual can exercise in the United States: their vote,” Sellers said. 

David Becker, with the Center for Election Innovation and Research, and Gowri Ramachandran, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, also testified. The two elections experts said the Cyber Ninjas’ election review has undermined democracy and led to laws that will make elections less secure. 

“Tens of millions of Americans, sincerely disappointed that their candidate lost, have been targeted in a scam to keep them angry, divided and donating,” Becker said. 

Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan, left, a Florida-based consultancy, and former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, right, talk about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Phoenix. The equipment used in the November election won by President Joe Biden and the 2.1 million ballots were moved to the site Thursday so Republicans in the state Senate who have expressed uncertainty that Biden’s victory was legitimate can recount them and audit the results. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Rep. Cori Bush, D-Missouri, asked Ramachandran if the Cyber Ninjas review has paved the way for more “election subversion laws,” even though it found no widespread fraud. 

“Cyber Ninjas’ review has laid the groundwork for these laws because they’ve made insinuations of fraud,” Ramachandran said, noting that “a whole host of laws that make it harder to vote have been popping up all over the country.” 

Ramachandran gave the example of an Arizona bill from Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, that would have given the Legislature the power to pick electors for president that were not the ones voters selected. 

Former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, the audit’s liaison, testified as a minority witness, defending the months-long review. In responding to questions, Bennett said Joe Biden was legitimately elected and that alternative interpretations of the audit were incorrect. He said the hand-count results lends legitimacy to the review.  

“Despite months of warnings from the county, secretary of state, election experts and most of the media that the auditor’s procedures were imprecise and unreliable, the most significant finding of the audit is that the hand count of the physical ballots very closely matches the county’s official results in the president and U.S. Senate races,” Bennett said. 

Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan turned down the committee’s invitation two days before the hearing. Instead of testifying, Logan spoke October 7 on a program hosted by Joe Oltmann, the founder of far-right group FEC United. It was entitled “Cyber Ninjas CEO Tells Congress to Fork Off and Joins Us Instead.”  

“Mr. Logan’s refusal to answer questions under oath is just one more sign that the dark money-fueled audit he learned never should have happened in the first place,” Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, said. 

Maloney and Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Chair Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, first reached out to Logan in July, requesting all documents showing how the Arizona Senate hired Cyber Ninjas, the company’s financial interests and communications related to the audit, among other records. 

Cyber Ninjas repeatedly refused to turn over requested information, instead submitting about 330 pages of already public documents. The company’s attorney told Democratic committee leadership that the inquiries were vague and overbroad and carried a “patently partisan and prolix tone.”   

Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs
Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs

Arizona Republican Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs sit on the committee. They both used their time during the hearing to argue the review was warranted and to allege fraud in the 2020 election. Gosar and Biggs were among the 147 Republicans who voted to overturn the election results on Jan. 6. 

Raskin asked Biggs, “Who won the election in Arizona?” 

“We don’t know,” Biggs responded. 

Biggs repeated the statement later, claiming the audit raised “questions and anomalies” that haven’t been addressed. 

“I think there are legitimate concerns; I’m not sure that the audit revealed those,” Biggs said. “But I can tell you that both sides are further entrenched today than they were six, eight, 10 months ago in Arizona.” 

Elections experts and the county have refuted many of the Cyber Ninjas claims in their report. Bennett acknowledged in his testimony that the county has said it has “answers and explanations” to the contractors’ findings. 

“We welcome those answers,” Bennett said. 


Daniel Ruiz: Election expert’s climb to the 9th Floor


Daniel Ruiz has spent his entire adult life working for the government in some shape or form. Since his first job at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office in 2002, the West Valley native has moved his way up to the Executive Tower, where he was recently promoted to interim spokesman while Daniel Scarpinato takes a leave of absence to work on Gov. Doug Ducey’s re-election campaign.

Cap Times Q&AHow’d you get your start working for the government?

My very first job out of high school was at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Elections Department, stocking ballots in the warehouse. At that time they had a facility on 16th and University… it was a summer job. I was still trying to figure out what I was going to do next, and what I was going to major in — I thought it was going to be journalism. And I just had this great opportunity to be a temporary employee there, and I just loved it. It was a really good team. A lot of camaraderie. A lot of long hours. And so it sort of changed the path for me. I thought, maybe public administration is the better route for me to go, and I kinda stuck with it. I did that for four years, then spent most of my 20s at Clean Elections.

What’d you love about the recorder’s office?

I’d always thought of Election Day as the start and stop of the political process, in a lot of ways. You don’t really think of the work that goes on behind the scenes. And so getting to see all the nitty gritty of the election administration world was really compelling, but also learning from people like former recorder Helen Purcell. She’d been in office since 1987. She really ushered in a lot of change and had a lot of really good stories to tell. And her elections director was Karen Osborne, who of course was the assistant secretary of state when Rose Mofford was secretary of state, and continued to be a close personal adviser throughout Governor Mofford’s life. And they would just have these great stories, and there were really no boundaries. These people at the top were working with the temporary employees to make sure that we got all the ballots that we received in the mail scanned in so they could be forwarded for tabulation. And it just felt like home. It felt like a really good place that I wanted to stay at. So I applied for a job, a permanent position, which was a data entry position in voter registration, and sort of worked my way up to be a campaign finance adviser.

When did you make the switch to the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission?

There was a campaign finance manager position open at Clean Elections, and I really didn’t know what Clean Elections did at the time. Campaign finance was something that I was doing at Helen’s office, and I thought it was something that was worth a shot. And I ended up spending, as I said, most of my 20s there, from the time I was 22 to almost 30.”

Clean Elections doesn’t necessarily have the best reputation among Republicans at the Capitol.

I remember when I first told folks I was considering going to Clean Elections, they all cautioned me and told me that it wasn’t a good place to go. But I decided to take the risk. I did enjoy it, and I always joked that I had every job in that office because I did. I was the campaign finance manager, sort of overseeing the candidate funding and disbursement, budgeting for campaign finance funding, and then overseeing enforcement for candidates who weren’t abiding by the Clean Elections Act. And ultimately leading an investigation that got one legislator (Doug Quelland) removed from office.

When did you get more into the communications side of the job?

I remember having to explain one of these campaign finance cases to the commission. (Former Clean Elections Executive Director) Todd Lang at the time gave me that task, and he told me that I had a really good way of framing a complex issue in an easy to understand way, and said I should consider going into a communications field, which was sort of appealing to me because of my interest in journalism that dated back to high school. And there was an opportunity to be the voter education manager, which is media relations and then crafting really a statewide voter education campaign, marketing and things like that. So it was a really cool opportunity that I took advantage of, and I served as deputy director and even as executive director when we were trying to find an attorney to replace Todd Lang in Tom Collins.

Did that help prepare you for your communications gig with the governor?

I was deputy director at Clean Elections, and that was probably the best experience that I’ve had. It really prepared me for this job even, because you’re organizing and managing the operations of one of the most scrutinized and hotly contested agencies. Constant fishbowl. And you really need to make sure that every decision you make is strategic. That really helped frame the way I deal with things now.

You briefly went back to the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, but how’d you get pulled up to the Executive Tower in 2015?

I thought I was going to be (in Maricopa County) for a while, and then I got a call from Daniel Scarpinato, who heard my name from Mike Liburdi. He at one point sued Clean Elections when I was there, but we always had a positive relationship, and we worked with each other throughout my election experience… They really presented this picture of a really, I think, transformative office, one that was difficult to say no to.

What’s it like to blend communications and policy? Is it a valuable mix?

I think the best part of having a communication lens when you’re dealing with operational issues and policy issues is you’re going to be thinking through how is the public going to perceive this, which is really why we’re here. How are the people that hired us to do these jobs going to react? Is this going to benefit them? Should we be doing it differently? Is there a process that we can improve? And if you’re making decisions with that perspective in mind, I think you’re going to really satisfy your responsibility to serve the public.

Dem in lead in LD4 House race

The House of Representatives building on Nov. 30, 2019. Photo by Rosemarie Mosteller

Democratic newcomer Laura Terech holds a lead over both of her Republican challengers in Legislative District 4 for a seat in the state House of Representatives after Tuesday’s initial voting results. 

Terech is running against GOP candidates Maria Syms and Matt Gress. The early voting results indicate Terech is leading with 39.40% of the votes in the district as of 10:15 p.m. Gress is in second place with 31.44% of votes and Syms has 29.16% of votes.  

Laura Terech

Gov. Doug Ducey appointed Gress as the director of the Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting in 2017. Republicans have spent big money on his campaign, only being outraised by Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, among state legislative candidates. Gress raised $530,737 and received $483,447 in independent expenditure spending. 

Gress is the primary target among outside groups against him, as they’ve spent $103,760 against him and only $9,141 against Syms, who raised $160,646 and saw $31,704 in independent expenditures spent for her.  

Syms previously represented Legislative District 28 from 2017 to 2019 and lost in the 2018 general election to former Democratic Rep. Aaron Lieberman and Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley. Lieberman lost the Democratic primary gubernatorial candidate race and Butler is running for the Maricopa County Community College Governing Board, leaving two House vacancies for the redistricted area. 

Republicans are already poised to pick up an additional House seat after the two Democratic vacancies and Democrats are running Terech as a single-shot candidate to try to prevent the district from being fully represented by Republicans in the House.  

Terech raised $299,752 and had $135,707 in independent expenditures spent for her by outside groups. Another $110,313 was spent against her by outside groups.  

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission labels District 4 as a highly competitive district. The district had a 3.4% vote spread (the difference between average Republican and average Democratic votes) in nine previous state elections. 


Democratic SOS spurs talk of change in line of succession

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

The election of a Democrat as Arizona’s next secretary of state has renewed some Republicans’ interest in the line of succession.

That’s because if anything were to happen to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey – be it resignation, impeachment or an untimely death – Democrat Katie Hobbs would be next in line to serve as the state’s chief executive.

Given the lengthy history of Arizona governors who don’t serve full terms in office, some lawmakers want to shake up the gubernatorial line of succession by inserting a new player – a lieutenant governor. But they’ll have to convince voters, who’ve routinely rejected the idea, to go along with it.

Arizona is one of only seven states in the country that doesn’t elect a lieutenant governor.

Twenty-six states elect governors and lieutenant governors as a slate, according to the National Lieutenant Governors Association. Seventeen elect lieutenant governors in separately. In only three states, including Arizona, does the secretary of state serve as next in line.

GOP proposals to create a lieutenant governor in Arizona err on the side of electing the governor and his or her lieutenant as a team. Electing the positions separately could create the same problem Republicans are trying to avoid: A situation where a Democratic politician assumes the Governor’s Office in the middle of an elected Republican’s term.

It’s not an uncommon situation in Arizona. Five secretaries of state have become governor. Four of those instances have occurred since 1977.

And twice since the late 1980s, the governor of one party was replaced by a secretary of state from a different party.

Sen. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills)
Sen. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills)

Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said voters aren’t aware of what’s at stake when they elect a secretary of state – that they’re the proverbial “heartbeat away” from becoming governor. A lieutenant governor would clarify who’s second-in-command.

“It would be like the president. The same box would provide you with that team. The two would run as a team,” Kavanagh said.

There’s also the argument that being secretary of state doesn’t prepare you to be governor. The roles are too different, say Republicans like House Speaker J.D. Mesnard of Chandler. It’d be better if the gubernatorial nominee for each party could pick a running mate to serve as their lieutenant governor.

There’s a hurdle to those plans, however. The line of succession is enshrined in the Arizona Constitution, and only the voters can decide if that should change.

Voters have overwhelmingly rejected the idea, twice in the last two decades – first in 1994 by a 2-1 margin, then again in 2010 by a roughly 59 percent majority.

Republicans are also aware of the perception of proposing a lieutenant governor in the wake of the 2018 election. For more than two decades, Republicans have occupied the Secretary of State’s Office, meaning in recent memory, there’s never been the fear of having a Republican governor replaced by a Democrat.

In fact, the last time a governor resigned, the transfer of power worked in the GOP’s favor. Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano resigned from office in 2009, and was replaced by Republican Jan Brewer.

To assuage any concerns that their motives might be political, Kavanagh and other Republicans say that any effort to create a lieutenant governor must have a delayed effective date. That’s exactly what Mesnard proposed in 2015, and he may simply reintroduce that legislation. This time, he’d push the date a lieutenant governor would first be elected until 2026.

That would ensure that Hobbs, as the recently elected secretary of state, could serve at least two full terms in office without being affected.

As for what the role of a lieutenant governor would be, there are differences of opinion. Kavanagh said he sees the role as a fill-in for the governor – someone who can speak on the governor’s behalf, travel to events on his or her behalf, and most importantly, serve the state while the governor is traveling abroad.

Kavanagh also suggested the lieutenant governor could assume some of administrative duties of the secretary of state. And perhaps the secretary of state could be eliminated altogether, Kavanagh said, replaced by a gubernatorial appointee.

“You could simply make the Secretary of State’s Office a full time civil servant,” Kavanagh said.

Mesnard said it’d be a mistake to turn the secretary into an appointed role.

“The Secretary of State’s Office needs to be an elected position. It’s true that it’s mostly an administrative position… but no matter who is in that position, it’s going to be political,” Mesnard said. “At least if it’s an elected position, they answer directly to the people.”

Instead, Mesnard’s proposal would put the lieutenant governor in charge of the Arizona Department of Administration, a role in government operations that would better prepare a lieutenant to become governor if needed.

If approved by the Legislature, voters would have a final say on any lieutenant governor proposal in the 2020 election.

Democrats need to focus on real issues


Following a series of challenging, if not disheartening, elections for the Democrats, it’s clear to all except perhaps the party’s own leaders that the party needs to reassess its efforts when it comes to reaching voters, keeping voters and attracting new voters.  

Democrats, much like their Republican counterparts, are far too focused on issues that benefit elite Washington circles and campaign donors rather than our hardworking, everyday American families. Those of us working to support our families are thinking about how economic decisions at the top will affect us at the street level, such as impending environmental impact concerns, how we will attain quality health care for our kids and elderly, and ensuring equitable access for our children to quality education. Meanwhile, top Democrats have instead been spending their time debating the merits of antitrust legislation for reasons that many of them associated with partisan political outcomes and not for what it may mean for the common person and their safety.  

Ryan Winkle

While I believe that our top multinational technology and data companies should strive to create value and ensure safety for individuals with comprehensive checks and balance systems in place, legislators are acting to the detriment of their own campaigns. Market power, data privacy, disinformation, and hate speech should absolutely be addressed, but breaking up these large technology companies at this time could serve undue harm on our economy, particularly our small businesses. After a year of adapting to a primarily online environment, businesses have never been more reliant on the tools and services provided by tech companies – including e-commerce shops, mapping services, rapid delivery services, and social media platforms.  

As a knee-jerk reaction to the recent situations that came as a result of systemic problems in a polarized two-party political system, electioneering, and generational inequitable health, housing, and economic policies, Democrats and Republicans are aligning themselves to shift blame and to punish anyone but themselves for the outcomes of past, present, and possible future decisions.  

While Democrats could be distancing themselves from Republicans to re-establish the party as the down-to-earth, hardworking, people-focused political party, they are instead joining ranks with Republicans whose motivations are questionable at best. If the party wants to reach voters effectively and prove that they understand the needs of the people, they need to re-assess their strategy and shift to a bottom-up, equitable approach, led by communities with lived experience. Should leadership wish to change Democrats’ trajectory – which I hope they do as I believe the party is currently headed for a string of losses in 2022 – the key to success will be identifying and sticking to the issues that truly matter to real working people in real working neighborhoods.  

It’s time to refocus on the kitchen table issues – building a future economy that all communities can be a part of, building a working environment that is just and allows people to get a leg up, building an American health care system that everyone has access to while getting the pandemic fully under control, building the infrastructure that promotes a clean environment and safe educational spaces where our children can actually dream of a future that isn’t painful to live in.  

Ryan Winkle is executive director of Rail, Arts, Innovation, and Livability CDC in Mesa, is a former Mesa City Council member, and can be reached at [email protected] 


Disenfranchising voters is not ‘election reform’

Vote in a political campaign concept with a graphic element icon of voting as a jigsaw puzzle that is complete representing democratic elections organisation and campaigning for government positions of power between conservatives and liberals.

Arizonans have an election system that is safe, secure, and convenient. Through the hard work of election officials and leaders from both parties, our voting system serves as a national model.  Despite this success, we are now witnessing legislative efforts aimed at not only undoing this carefully crafted system, but actually attempting to suppress the votes of Arizonans. These efforts are misguided and must be defeated. 

And as private-sector business leaders who lead the Public Policy Committee of an organization of CEOs at the helm of hundreds of thousands of employees in Arizona, it is incumbent upon us to speak out against proposals that could interfere with any Arizonan’s right to vote.

Sharon Harper
Sharon Harper

In this legislative session, dozens of proposed bills would adversely affect the way that Arizonans vote and how those votes are counted. These proposed measures range from requiring a purge of voters from the Permanent Early Voting List, to introducing stringent new identification requirements for those voting by mail, to shortening the early vote period available for all voters. Some measures go even further and would do away with the Permanent Early Voting List in its entirety or would require all early ballots to be returned by a voter in person. Most egregiously, one measure would even permit legislators to overturn the will of the voters during a presidential election. 

These proposals are a concerted effort from those in Arizona -and across the nation- who wish to sow additional doubts about our elections in the minds of voters, and feed into the paranoia that has plagued our political discourse over the past several months. Disturbingly, each of these proposals have one thing in common – making it more difficult for Arizonans to vote.

Adam Goodman
Adam Goodman

Despite claims made by the proponents of these misguided measures, Arizonans already have confidence in the integrity of our elections and, by and large, they find it easy to vote. This confidence in our election process has been validated by the ever-increasing numbers of registered voters in Arizona utilizing vote-by-mail (and other innovations). The creation and implementation of our election improvements have historically received significant bipartisan support and represent our shared commitment to protecting the right to vote for all Arizonans. 

We live in a very politically divided time, which underscores why we must protect the institutions that have been successful and have instilled voter confidence. Win or lose an election in Arizona, we know that the system is accurate, fair and dependable. We can, and should, regularly strive to make improvements to the way that we conduct this most vital component of democracy. However, these efforts in play at the Legislature today will hinder, not enhance, the precious right to vote. 

These measures seek to disenfranchise voters. They are “solutions” in search of a problem. They are attempts at voter suppression cloaked as reform – plain and simple. 

The onslaught of voter suppression measures that have been introduced or entertained this session has been alarming. Attempts to disenfranchise Arizona voters is not “election reform” and cannot be tolerated. Further, pandering to those who willfully choose to perpetuate misleading or inaccurate information cannot continue. True leaders will play an important role in sharing the truth – our election system in Arizona works.

Sharon Harper is president & CEO of Plaza Companies, past board chair of Greater Phoenix Leadership and current Co-Chair of the Greater Phoenix Leadership Public Policy Committee. Adam Goodman is CEO of Goodman’s Interior Structures and co-chair of the Public Policy Committee. 


Ducey extols spending on his re-election

Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey speaks to supporters, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, at an election night party in Scottsdale, Ariz. Incumbent Ducey defeated Democratic challenger David Garcia for his second term. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey speaks to supporters, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, at an election night party in Scottsdale, Ariz. Incumbent Ducey defeated Democratic challenger David Garcia for his second term. (AP Photo/Matt York)

To hear Doug Ducey tell it, he got another four-year term as governor by waging a campaign based on his record.

Speaking Wednesday at the annual Republican Governors Association, Ducey told of his message of turning a $1 billion deficit into a $1 billion surplus, 274,000 new private sector jobs and a resolution of the major lawsuit filed against the state for failing to adequately fund public schools. And the governor told the business executives and lobbyists in the audience – individuals and companies that donate to the RGA – that a lot of the credit for being able to tell his story is due to the money they provided to the organization.

“It was the RGA that was the firewall for me that allowed me to make the case on what we had accomplished, what we were going to accomplish into the future and create that separation to keep Arizona red,” Ducey said.

But Ducey made no mention of the fact that the $8 million spent by the RGA in Arizona – more than Ducey spent on his own behalf – went not into positive ads promoting the incumbent governor’s agenda but instead into attacking Democrat David Garcia

There was nothing subtle about the RGA-sponsored commercials.

One began by telling viewers about 7,000 pounds of heroin seized, 4,800 criminal arrests for gang-related activity, and “young girls rescued from sex trafficking,” all by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“But now David Garcia and other radicals are demanding we abolish ICE,” it says, saying such a move  “would mean more drugs across our border and more gang members in our neighborhoods. That was backed up by a sinister-looking black-and-white video of someone in a hoodie carrying what appears to be a gun.

“David Garcia’s reckless policies could put Arizona’s families at risk,” it concludes.

The commercial is based on a comment Garcia made about “replacing” ICE with some other agency, not to simply eliminate it and what it does entirely. But it gave the RGA the ammunition to go after him.

Asked about that RGA-funded anti-Garcia campaign after his talk, Ducey pointed out that he is legally prohibited from working with any outside group that is making “independent expenditures” on his behalf.

“I have to follow the law,” he told Capitol Media Services.

“I’m responsible for my campaign,” the governor continued. “And I think my campaign was a positive campaign that not only talked about my record but what I’d like to do in the future.”

That campaign, Ducey said, contrasted his plans with those of Garcia.

By the same token, though, the governor had no particular problem with what the RGA was telling Arizona voters on his behalf.

“My opponent did say reckless things,” he said. “And the people spoke.”

RGA spokesman Jon Thompson defended the tone of the ads his organization ran in Arizona.

“I wouldn’t say they were designed to scare,” he said.

“Most of our ads were focused on David Garcia’s words,” Thompson continued, like calls to abolish ICE and telling an audience to “imagine no wall in Southern Arizona.”

“So a lot of these ads we basically just put in his own words and what he said he was going to do if he got elected,” Thompson said. “And we made it known to Arizona voters what this could lead to.”

And what of the images, like the criminal in a hoodie and a hypodermic needle dropping into a pile of white powder?

“I don’t think it was over the top,” he said.

“I think it was meant to make sure voters understood what was at stake in the election” like what happens if ICE goes away. “So we wanted to make sure to point that if he’s going to get rid of this agency, it’s going to be harder to stop some of these groups and some of these criminals that seek to commit criminal acts.”

Ducey acknowledged the benefit of all that financial help from the RGA which gave him a margin of victory of more than 16 points.

“I was out there raising support for my campaign,” the governor said, as did the other governors who also got elected. And he said there was a reason the organization put what it did into getting him another four years.

“The RGA is very strategic on where it spends its dollars,” Ducey said. “It doesn’t fund losers and it doesn’t pay for landslides.”

And Ducey said that you can’t look at his margin of victory over Garcia as an indication he didn’t need that outside help, saying he didn’t pull ahead of the Democrat until late in the race.

Ducey was not the only Republican governor telling donors about the importance of their dollars.

“By supporting the RGA you make sure Republican governors can get elected,” said Pete Ricketts of Nebraska.

Thompson said the $8 million spent in Arizona is about at the median of what the organization poured into races in other states where it got involved.

At the top of the list, he said, is Ohio where the $20 million helped Republican Mike DeWine to keep the post in GOP hands after John Kasich was termed out. There also were $15 million expenditures in Florida and Wisconsin as well as $12 million in the unsuccessful bid by Republican Adam Laxalt to defeat Democrat Steve Sisolak.

But Thompson said there also were smaller expenditures like in Maryland where a $5 million boost from RGA helped to make Larry Hogan that state’s first Republican governor reelected to a second term since 1954.

Ducey gets proposed ban on private funds for elections

In this Oct. 23, 2019, file photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
In this Oct. 23, 2019, file photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Republican legislators voted April 7 to block counties from applying for private grants to make up for shortfalls in what they say they need to properly run elections. 

The 16-14 party-line vote by the Senate for HB2569 came as GOP lawmakers said that the more than $6 million in grants that nine counties got from Center for Tech and Civic Life in 2020 was really just a thinly disguised effort by billionaire Mark Zuckerberg to turn out more Democrats. The center gave out about $400 million to about 2,500 jurisdictions nationally, with reports by the organization showing the lion’s share came from Facebook founder Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan. 

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, complained that the cash that ended up in Arizona went to “key swing” counties, notably the Phoenix and Tucson areas. 

“This was targeted in a way to really undermine the integrity of the system under the guise of trying to promote and get out the vote logistics,” Borrelli he said. 

But the record shows otherwise. While the two largest counties got the largest allocations, seven others also got financial help, including Graham, La Paz, Yuma, and Pinal counties where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats. 

And Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, pointed out that this wasn’t unrestricted cash dropped on county election officials but that, in each case, they had to apply and spell out how they would use the money. 

That money, said Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, went for particular needs this year due to the Covid pandemic, like additional drop boxes, cleaning supplies, rent for polling places, temporary staff and personal protective equipment. 

“Those are basic necessities when you are administering elections,” he said. 

“There is zero evidence whatsoever that this money was used in any partisan manner,” Quezada continued. “It wasn’t just helping Democrat voters, it was helping Republican voters, it was helping independent voters.” 

But Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said the money received was above the adopted budgets for county recorders and was not needed to fill in gaps. 

“But beyond that, if this grant was coming from China or if this grant was coming from Russia, we might be calling it Russian interference with our elections,” she said. 

“So what is the difference between international money coming from a state overseas to an individual interested party, regardless of how it was spent and how desperately it was needed?” Townsend said. “It’s inappropriate.” 

That, however, still leaves the question of whether the counties had the money they needed. 

Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Cameron, said she has worked in a county elections office. 

“There are struggles of logistics and so many unknowns,” she said, even in the best of circumstances. 

In the 2020 election, Peshlakai said, the extra grant dollars went into brochures and public announcements in rural Arizona. 

More to the point, she said there were measures to keep people from getting ill from Covid during the election. 

“They put out tents, they put out water, hand washing stations, sanitizer,” Peshlakai said. “And in many places they even put up porta-potties because the remote locations they vote in places are where people don’t have facilities, running water.” 

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said it is “irrelevant” whether counties had enough money to run the 2020 election. He said the issue is the precedent being set. 

“This is about the future and whether or not in the future we’re going to allow big businesses to have a new tool in their arsenal for how they influence our elections,” Mesnard said. And he called it “alarming” that those who want more money for elections to say that it doesn’t matter what is the source. 

“If we don’t put a stop to this, if this becomes a trend, you’re going to see all kinds of very wealthy people engaging in this covert, behind-the-scenes” activity. 

Peshlakai, however, said if lawmakers are concerned about the influence of money, they should do more to curb the influence of cash to sway election results. Some of that, she said, is the result of the 2010 Citizens United case when the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that corporations had the same rights as individuals to donate to affect the outcome of elections. 

Mesnard had a different take on it. 

“This makes ‘dark money’ look like a bright day,” he said, referring to Arizona laws that allow special interest groups to try to elect candidates of their choice without having to disclose their donors. 

And he said the public is on his side. 

“When I talk to folks about, ‘Should we let Mark Zuckerberg start funding our elections,’ I have yet to find a single one who thinks that’s a good idea,” Mesnard said. 

The party-line vote sends the measure, which already has been approved by the House, to the governor. 


Counties that got outside funding for elections: 




La Paz$17,000 

Maricopa$2.9 million 





— Source: Arizona Association of Counties.  

An April 8 story incorrectly listed Yavapai County as one of the nine that received money from the Center for Tech and Civic Life. The story should have read Yuma County. A corrected version appears below.






Ducey to decide on first 2022 election bill

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, front, gives his state of the state address at the Arizona Capitol, Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The first election bill of the 2022 legislative session made its way to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk, setting up a test for the governor, who has largely avoided talking about what election-related measures he supports. 

House Bill 2492 would codify requirements for proof of citizenship when registering to vote and would make federal voter registration forms insufficient as proof of citizenship. It would also make any county elections officer or recorder who fails to establish a voter’s citizenship status guilty of a felony if the person turns out to not be a citizen. 

The bill passed the Senate on Wednesday, sending it to the governor. 

Election-related legislation has dominated the schedule of many Republican legislators this session and they’ve introduced 139 bills dealing with elections. Ducey has maintained that he’s open to new election laws but hasn’t committed to specifics. 

He reiterated that stance in an interview with Fox 10 this week. “Where we can put reforms forward that increase trust and voter integrity, those are policies I’ll sign. … I will sign good policy and you can count that I will veto bad policy,” he said. 

The governor has been willing to break with his own party when it comes to some of the bolder attempts to rewrite Arizona’s voting system. He shot down a lawsuit from the state GOP that seeks to end mail-in voting and hasn’t leaned into claims of election fraud. But he’s also avoided vocal criticism of the GOP legislators who want to rewrite state election laws while raising questions about the validity of the 2020 election. 

Ducey now has five days to sign or veto the bill – if he does neither by early next week, it becomes law by default. On Wednesday, a spokesman for the governor declined to comment on what Ducey was going to do, noting the decision will come soon anyway. “You will know then,” spokesman CJ Karamargin said. 

The bill passed the House 31-26 and the Senate 16-12, with both votes split along party lines. It was sponsored by Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, who has disputed the results of the 2020 presidential election and supported the Senate audit. 

Sen. Warren Peterson, R-Gilbert, described the bill as a commonsense measure: “The issue is making sure that citizens of this country are voting, and if you’re not a citizen of this country, you’re not allowed to vote.” 

Arizona Democratic Party Chair Sen. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, connected the bill to the audit and claims that the 2020 election was stolen.  

The bill also got a critical thumbs-up from the Republican legislator who has single-handedly killed a dozen election laws this session that had the support of the rest of the caucus. Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, said he voted “Yes” because the bill deals with voter identification, and he doesn’t think it will create problems for election administrators. 

“The (election bills) that I haven’t supported have primarily made the elections process unworkable for those who have to implement the policies,” Boyer said on Thursday. 

Paul Bentz, a pollster with the GOP firm HighGround, said there’s widespread support for measures around voter identification and voter proof of citizenship, even if Democrats attack them as amounting to voter suppression. But, Bentz added, there are also policies being “cloaked in the guise of election security.” 

“I think that’s where we’ll see the line that some of these leaders will take,” he said. “Which of these items really do have to deal with security, and which ones really are borderline voter suppression?” 

Geoff Esposito, a progressive consultant whose firm Creosote Partners lobbied against the bill, said Ducey could separate himself from members of his own party by rejecting the bill. 

“I think thus far, the governor has shown instances of not falling in line with those conspiracy-minded folks within his party. And I think if he wanted to draw a clear distinction between that wing and him, this is a great opportunity to do so,” he said. 

If Ducey does sign the bill, it will probably draw a legal challenge from opponents. In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, a representative for the American Civil Liberties Union cautioned that the bill will bring lawsuits against Arizona if it becomes law. 

Senate Rules Attorney Chris Kleminich said on March 14 at the Senate’s Rules Committee meeting that the bill is “unconstitutional” and likely opens the states up to lawsuits for violating the National Voter Registration Act. “There are constitutional concerns with the law at least as the federal law is currently interpreted and implemented,” he told the committee. 

According to federal law, states are required to accept federal voter registration forms for federal elections, including presidential elections. The form requires voters to check a box verifying they are U.S. citizens. States are allowed to make their own laws regarding state elections, but for federal elections, voter registration forms must always be accepted. Hoffman’s bill would make the form insufficient as proof of citizenship. 

Arizona Association of Counties Executive Director Jen Marson spoke against the bill in the judiciary committee and said it puts counties in the “terrible position” of either violating federal law or violating state law and becoming felons. 


Ducey: Hemp not funded, student journos need supervision


Because of Gov. Doug Ducey, some of Arizona’s needy will be able to get an additional year of help.

Big corporations and investors will get increased tax credits.

And cities will get to ask voters to hike taxes only once every two years.

But farmers can forget about growing industrial hemp. And student journalists are not going to get new First Amendment protections from administrative oversight.

Ducey penned his approval to 27 new laws on Monday, the last of what the legislature approved in its 122-day session. But he found six unacceptable, bringing his veto record this session to 11.

Field of HempProponents of industrial hemp said it would provide Arizona farmers with a new cash crop.

The plant is a type of marijuana, but with a concentration of tetrahydrocannibinol, the psychoactive element of the drug, of not more than 0.3 percent.

Technically, hemp production, like marijuana, remains illegal. But this measure was built on a 2014 federal law that allows state departments of agriculture to begin cultivating industrial hemp in certain circumstances, including research. The governor said his only reason for the veto was the failure of the legislation to provide funding for the state Department of Agriculture to administer the program.

Ducey had a more specific reason for his veto of legislation designed to guarantee both college and high school journalists some First Amendment protections from administrative censorship.

The legislation is the culmination of efforts Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, started when she was a student at Greenway High School and a staffer on the Demon Dispatch. After having some of her cartoons quashed by school administration she lobbied Stan Furman, then her state senator, to provide some shielding for student journalists.

It was only last year Yee said she realized that while the measure had cleared the Senate it died in the House. So now, a senator herself, Yee championed the measure.

In his veto, Ducey said students journalists “play an important role because they are the next generation of journalists who will hold our government and leaders accountable.”

journalism“I worry, however, that this bill could create unintended consequences, especially on high school campuses where adult supervision and mentoring is most important,” he wrote.

On the enactment side of the agenda, the governor agreed to restoring coverage for a full two years for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

In 2015 the governor and lawmakers imposed a one-year lifetime limit on the emergency cash, the stingiest in the nation. Ducey in January asked lawmakers to reverse course, but with restrictions and conditions that could disqualify some for violations like children not being in school at least 90 percent of the time, conditions that may result in just 70 percent of eligible recipients actually getting the second year.

The measure also will allow drug offenders who have completed prison terms to get food stamps to help them get back on their feet, but with a requirement for random drug testing. Another provision waives state licensing fees for people below 200 percent of the federal poverty level — about $40,000 for a family of three — to help them start their own businesses.

On the subject of business, the governor signed three separate measures that proponents say will help economic development.

One extends and expands an existing state corporate income tax credit for research and development activities. This is designed mainly to benefit large corporations, with proponents specifically mentioning Intel.

Ducey also agreed to expand an existing “angel investors” program that gives investors a 30 percent income tax credit — 35 percent for certain targeted industries — for money they invest, mainly in small companies. That provoked controversy over why the state should essentially give away another $10 million — the old cap was $20 million — to people who reap the benefits of their investments but do not share the profits with the state.

There also is an expansion of the Arizona Competes Fund which provides grants to eligible companies, with new language designed to designate some of the dollars to “micro enterprises.”

lawsuit-webOne measure Ducey signed is likely to provoke a lawsuit. It says that cities can seek voter approval of sales tax hikes only in even-numbered years — and only at the November general election.

Current law allows local elections on four specific dates every year. But proponents of the change say that allows city officials to “game” the system, calling elections on days when turnout is likely to be low so as to give the advantage to highly organized supporters who can get out their members.

State lawmakers enacted a similar measure in 2012 telling cities on what dates they could hold candidate elections. But that was voided three years later by the state Court of Appeals which ruled that, at least for the state’s 18 charter cities, the legislature had no right to intercede in what is a strictly local matter.

Other bills signed Monday by Ducey include:

– Giving lawmakers nine cents more a mile in reimbursement for the use of their vehicles than other state employees. House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said the extensive use of personal vehicles by legislators going to and from the capitol and other official events justifies the difference;

– Requiring school districts and charter schools to report the number of suspensions and expulsions that involve possession, use or sale of illegal drugs.

Education divide: Dems Farley, Garcia clash on K-12 education policy

Steve Farley and David Garcia
Steve Farley and David Garcia

Sen. Steve Farley has finally embraced the campaign to raise taxes on wealthy Arizonans to boost education funding after weeks of taking a wait-and-see approach to the Invest in Education Act.

David Garcia, who is also running for governor, endorsed the idea soon after the initiative was launched.

The winner of the August primary will face Gov. Doug Ducey in the November general election.

Farley and Garcia, the top contenders for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, share similar views on Arizona’s K-12 education priorities, but Farley’s belated endorsement of the ballot initiative offers a glimpse into the nuances separating the candidates and their stances on education.

K-12 education is a major issue this election cycle, and the “Red for Ed” movement that spurred a teachers strike and an unprecedented level of political activism this year pushed it further to the front.

Farley endorsed the Invest in Education ballot initiative at a Democratic gubernatorial debate on July 10, after those pushing the measure turned in signatures to get it on the ballot. Garcia is an early supporter, and his campaign volunteers often collected signatures for the initiative as they knocked on doors for the governor’s race.

At the debate in Scottsdale, Garcia – a former candidate for superintendent of public instruction – slammed Farley for only recently “jumping on board” with the initiative.

“Our team has been standing with teachers from the very beginning,” Garcia said.

Kelly Fryer, who is also seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, is another early supporter of the Invest in Education Act. The CEO of the YWCA Southern Arizona was a late entry to the governor’s race and is trailing Garcia and Farley in funding. Polls also show her at a distant third.

Farley always insisted he would support the measure if it got on the ballot. But his hesitancy to endorse the initiative stemmed from his belief that raising taxes is not the key to adequately fund education in Arizona.

Farley believes the state can properly fund K-12 education by eliminating myriad corporate sales tax loopholes. Such a move, he argues, would allow the state to lower its regressive sales tax and boost K-12 funding.

Farley said he held off endorsing the initiative because he didn’t want to steal the spotlight from the teachers.

“I didn’t want to make this about me. I didn’t buy a school bus,” Farley said. Garcia’s campaign is renting a school bus as its primary mode of transportation.

Farley insists that his hesitation to endorse Invest in Education does not hurt his standing with Arizona’s teachers, touting his 12-year record of championing education issues in the Legislature.

Farley also hearkened back to meetings with a seemingly endless slew of teachers during the “Red for Ed” strike.

“Teachers understand I’ve had their backs for 12 years,” he said. Farley, a graphic designer, is the Senate assistant minority leader.

While both candidates want to boost K-12 funding to pre-recession levels or higher and accuse Ducey of not doing enough for K-12 education, they had staked out opposing positions on the Fiscal Year 2019 state budget, which included the governor’s plan to boost teacher pay by 20 percent over three years.

Farley voted for parts of the GOP-backed state spending plan, while Garcia, who is not a member of the Legislature, said he would have voted against the budget.

Democrats often voted against most aspects of Ducey’s budget proposals. This year, Farley was one of four Democratic lawmakers who supported the governor’s K-12 education budget. The Republican-controlled Legislature would have passed the budget with or without Farley’s support.

Farley said he voted for the budget as a way to support how far teachers had moved the needle on K-12 education funding.

But Garcia insists that the state budget and the income tax ballot initiative are intertwined. He said he would have voted against the budget because it was cobbled together by a mix of cuts and rosy revenue projections and it didn’t include a new, guaranteed revenue source for K-12 education. The Invest in Education Act dedicates new revenue for K-12 education by raising income taxes on people who earn more than $250,000 per year.

“Our teachers did not walk out for a start. They walked out for a solution,” Garcia said on KTAR last month.

Even before the ballot initiative was launched, Garcia was already calling for raising taxes on top earners in order to correct what he described as an unfair tax system. He also advocated for closing tax loopholes to better fund education, and has called for increased transparency and accountability within charter schools. Both Farley and Garcia did not offer specifics on which tax loopholes they would eliminate.

Garcia’s other education stances have raised eyebrows and sparked criticism from opponents. Garcia supports school choice and Common Core, although he rails against standardized testing every chance he gets.

Farley’s campaign has also tried to tie Garcia’s campaign to former Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan, who was responsible for the legislation that created charter schools in Arizona. Garcia, a professor at Arizona State University who has a background in statistics and data analysis, had worked for Keegan years after the charter school legislation was passed.

In response, Garcia said nearly everyone who has worked in Arizona’s state government in the past two decades worked for a Republican at some point.

Garcia’s opponents also criticized him for sitting on the board of the Arizona School for the Arts, a charter school. Garcia served on the board while one of his daughters attended the school. He resigned in November.

But Garcia clinched the Arizona Education Association’s coveted endorsement in March. At the time, AEA President Joe Thomas – speaking on behalf of the 20,000 teachers and education-support professionals the group represents – said Garcia can boost teacher pay and improve schools.

Elections chief candidates unknown across the state


Steve Gaynor and Katie Hobbs have one thing in common: They’re relative unknowns across the state as they make their bids to be Arizona’s next secretary of state. And since neither candidate has a distinct name identification advantage, the election will ultimately come down to who voters feel is more competent, said veteran political strategist Chuck Coughlin.

Arizona’s secretary of state is next in line to become governor if the incumbent leaves office. The state has a long history of governors not completing their full terms, in which case the secretary of state would move up to the Ninth Floor.

Coughlin said voters will have to ask themselves, do they want someone with Gaynor’s business background or do they want someone with a legislative track record like Hobbs serving as the state’s chief elections officer and second in command.

“One would have to ask the question at the end of the day of all the voters in Arizona: who do you trust more to run our elections? That to me is the key argument here,” he said.

Steve Gaynor
Steve Gaynor

Gaynor, a businessman and political newcomer, skyrocketed through political ranks this year to oust incumbent Michele Reagan in the Republican primary.

Hobbs, a Phoenix Democrat and Arizona’s Senate minority leader, worked her way up through the Legislature before seeking statewide political office.

Gaynor, who is president of Phoenix Management Group LLC, a private equity firm, and B&D Litho California, Inc., a commercial printing company, had never run for office before he filed to run for secretary of state in February.

He has shaped his campaign around his business background, saying he would run the Secretary of State’s Office like a business.

But there are some blemishes on Gaynor’s business record. He has been sued several times in business-related matters.


Gaynor blamed California’s business and legal environment after settling a lawsuit in California that accused him of underpaying workers. On the campaign trail, Gaynor has often decried the Golden State’s burdensome regulations and tried to paint Hobbs as a California liberal, who wants to make Arizona more like its neighbor.

But Gaynor also faced two business-related lawsuits in Arizona.

In 2010, he was locked in a complicated legal battle involving the sale of his Arizona and Colorado-based printing plants. The purchaser of the two plants sued Gaynor, alleging he violated a non-compete agreement by “soliciting customers for business forms” to his California plant, thus competing with the new owners of the Phoenix and Denver-based plants.

Gaynor made $12.5 million on the 2007 sale, according to court documents filed in Maricopa County Superior Court.

Gaynor’s California plant prints commercial materials like paperback books and catalogs. The other two plants printed business forms like checks and invoices.

In selling the two plants, Gaynor agreed the California printing plant couldn’t be in the business of manufacturing business forms. Although the plant occasionally printed some business materials, it was not in the business of printing business materials — an endeavor that would have required additional, costly printing equipment, Gaynor said.

Gaynor dismissed the suit as meritless, but he eventually settled for a “minor” amount. He said he couldn’t remember how much he paid in the settlement.

Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs (D-Phoenix) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs (D-Phoenix) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

“I paid them a little money kind of for them to save face and go away,” he said.

Gaynor also faced a lawsuit in 2005 for breach of contract from when he bought a small printing company through his business Gaming Supplies LLC. He agreed to purchase the company from a company based in California for $130,000.

Gaming Supplies was required to pay $40,000 in cash up front and then pay off the remaining $90,000 in 32 monthly installments. In the lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, the owners of National Card West Inc. claimed Gaynor didn’t pay any of the monthly installments.

Gaynor’s company then countersued.

The seller didn’t perform as promised, Gaynor said, explaining why he held back on payment. He said he was in the midst of coming to agreement with one of National Card West’s partners on payment when the other partner filed suit.

Both parties agreed to dismiss the case just months after it began, according to court records. Gaynor no longer owns Gaming Supplies LLC.

People can file lawsuits saying whatever they want, but that doesn’t make what they’re saying true, Gaynor told the Arizona Capitol Times.

“The mere filing of a lawsuit doesn’t mean there was something untoward about the action,” he said.

Lawsuits aren’t the best way to solve business disagreements, but the United State has turned into a “litigious society” wherein people often turn to litigation to solve their problems, he said.

Gaynor also said his experience with litigation is good experience for being
secretary of state because of the sheer amount of lawsuits the state office faces.

“For being secretary of state, it certainly is advantageous to have legal experience,” he said.

Specifically, Gaynor cited a recent voter registration lawsuit filed against the state last year, which resulted in a consent decree streamlining the voter registration process. Gaynor has said the consent decree is unconstitutional and the state shouldn’t have settled the case.

In an October 3 debate, Hobbs pointed out the California lawsuit.

“You talk about being a successful businessman and running the Secretary of State’s Office like a business,” Hobbs said. “Yet you have these problems and you didn’t follow the law and you settled a lawsuit.”

Middle Ground Voters

Although he has been a big donor in federal elections across the country, Gaynor was virtually unknown in state political circles before his secretary of state bid. But since he clinched the GOP nomination for secretary of state, he was welcomed into the political establishment.

Next week, Gov. Doug Ducey will attend a fundraiser for Gaynor, a sign that the political newcomer has earned the governor’s blessing.

Meanwhile, while Gaynor almost entirely self-funded his primary campaign — to the tune of $1.5 million — he is picking up financial support from other Republicans now that he is the party’s nominee.

“After the primary, people have been very generous. I’ve actually raised a lot of money,” Gaynor said in a recent debate.

But average Arizona Republicans don’t necessarily know who Gaynor is, Hobbs said in an interview.

“The Republicans don’t really know Steve Gaynor,” she said. “It’s going to be a fight for those middle ground voters because I don’t think they know either one of us.”

Hobbs is a social worker who served as a chief compliance officer for the Soujourner Center — a domestic abuse shelter. She was first elected to the Legislature in 2010, after she decided she wanted to do more to help vulnerable populations.

After a slew of bungled elections in recent years, both Hobbs and Gaynor have promised to fix the Secretary of State’s Office.

Both candidates also share some similar goals for the office, should they be elected.

Hobbs and Gaynor have cited protecting elections from cybersecurity threats as a top priority. They have also promised not to use the office for political purposes.

But there are some differences between the two.

Hobbs’ main goal is to make it easier for everyone to vote. Hobbs stressed that students, rural voters and low income voters struggle to vote because of various barriers.

Gaynor is more concerned about preventing election fraud.

Elections must be won on ideas, not unfair rules

“There have been irregularities in our elections, sometimes even fraud, but never to an extent that it affected the outcome. We should all be proud of that, and respect the decision of the majority even when we disagree with it. Especially when we disagree with it.”

Sen. John McCain

McCain would be ashamed of some things going on at the Arizona Legislature – actions being taken in the name of addressing alleged election fraud.

Mark Kimble
Mark Kimble

The traditional, good-faith practices of finding better candidates and developing better policies and ideas to appeal to more voters are being cast aside for a dispiriting, anti-democratic effort to pass laws that hinder – rather than promote – voter participation.

The Arizona Citizens’ Clean Elections Commission is a nonpartisan organization created by voters when they passed the Citizens Clean Elections Act in 1998.

In passing the act, the voters identified two critical concepts. First, the intent of the act was to “encourage citizen participation in the political process.” A second intent is “to improve the integrity of Arizona state government and promote public confidence in the Arizona political process.” 

The act also creates the Citizens Clean Elections Commission consisting of five commissioners. Currently there are two Republicans, two Democrats and an independent. The commission is nonpartisan and it works to implement the intent of the act.

As commissioners, when we observe a concerted and focused effort to make it more difficult for Arizonans to vote and participate in the political process, that is something we are obligated to oppose.

We see that happening now.

Damien Meyer
Damien Meyer

Many members of our Legislature want to keep perceived unfriendly voters out of the election process.

There are numerous bills in this session of the Arizona Legislature that make it more difficult for Arizonans to vote and they lack the integrity of fair and robust elections.

We oppose these bills. 

These bills address early voting procedures and voter registration, the favored voting procedure in Arizona, as about 80% of Arizona voters prefer to vote by mail. 

However, those who cast early ballots are a major source of concern for some of our Arizona legislators. 

Most of those early voters receive an early ballot automatically because they signed up for the Permanent Early Voter List, or PEVL. But proposed legislation is aimed at removing names from PEVL and making it more difficult to vote early. These bills include:

HB 2560: Would remove Arizonans from the PEVL if they didn’t use their early ballot in one general election. If you change your mind and vote at the polls, or misplace your early ballot and vote at the polls, then you are off the PEVL until you sign up again.

SB 1485: Would remove Arizonans from the PEVL if they don’t vote an early ballot in two consecutive primary and general elections. This bill targets independents who frequently skip voting in a primary because they incorrectly assume the primary is open only to voters registered with a political party.

SB 1003: Would require that voters who forget to sign their early ballot would have only until 7 p.m. on Election Day to fix the error. People who vote ballots that are not early have five more days to correct such errors.

SB 1593: Early ballots would go out five days later than now. And they would have to be returned earlier – postmarked the Thursday before the election, compared with the current rule that they have to be received by 7 p.m. Election Day. The effect is to give people less time to cast an early ballot.

SB 1713: Instead of just signing their early ballot to prove their identity, voters would have to provide an affidavit with their date of birth and driver’s license number. If they don’t have that, they have to provide their voter registration number or a copy of something showing their address.

Legislators also want to make it more difficult to register to vote:

SB 1358: Would prohibit county recorders from registering voters anyplace that is not government property. This negatively impacts the ability to reach out to register voters where they live, such as isolated Native American reservations or rural communities. 

There are many more bills that seek to make it more difficult to register and vote for no legitimate reason. There is simply no basis for a democratic form of government to actively attempt to limit a citizen’s right to vote. This is unconscionable.

We want to make one thing crystal clear – our opposition is not political. We are charged with standing up for the rights of Arizona voters. That is our only concern.

We want voting in Arizona to continue to be safe, secure and convenient – free of contrived barriers designed to make voting more difficult. Elections must be won or lost based on candidates and their ideas – not on who successfully navigates a maze of unfair and unnecessary rules. 

Please take the time to give these bills some thought, develop your own opinions and contact your legislator with your position. In other words, we encourage you to participate in the political process and to help improve the integrity of our elections. 

Mark Kimble of Tucson is a retired journalist and registered independent. Damien Meyer of Phoenix is an attorney and registered Democrat. Both are appointed members of the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

Elections priority for GOP lawmakers

Winged Victory atop the Arizona Capitol Building (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Lawmakers return to the Capitol Monday with a full agenda of things they want, ranging from reenacting what the Supreme Court voided to deciding what to do about previously approved tax cuts that are subject to voter repeal.

But the biggest fights may be over how much to alter state election laws. And at least some of the proposals stem from the continued charges that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Trump despite numerous lawsuits and audits that have shown those claims have no basis in fact.

A few of what lawmakers are expected to debate could be considered relatively innocuous, at least on the surface.

For example, Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, proposes to make the dates of the primary and general elections a state holiday. That would mean a day off for public workers.

Wendy Rogers

The plan, however, could run into business opposition because the same measure says anyone registered to vote “may be absent from the service or employment” to go vote and cannot be penalized or having his or her pay docked. By contrast, current law allows just a three-hour window — and one that is selected by the employer.

But Rogers has a more far-reaching measure, setting up a new Bureau of Elections within the governor’s office to investigate any allegations of fraud in any state, county or local election.

That new $5 million agency would have the power to not only subpoena individuals but also get a court order to impound election equipment and records. It would issue public reports but would be unable on its own to bring criminal charges.

There also will be debates over the actual process of how people vote.

Arizona already uses paper ballots. But they are tallied by machines. That had led to a series of claims — never proven — that the tabulated results could be manipulated, whether through stray marks on the ballots or entirely forged ones.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, brushed aside calls to have ballots counted entirely by hand as impractical.

Rusty Bowers

“If we’ve got seven months to wait for an election, then count away,” he said.

“Most people want it in a relatively short amount of time,” Bowers said. “And that’s what I’m interested in delivering.

But that excuse doesn’t hold water for Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who will head the Senate Government Committee, where Senate elections bills will be vetted.

“Do you want convenience or do you want secure elections,” she said. “Pick one.”

Anyway, Townsend said hand counts are possible.

Her solution? Break up each county into much smaller voting precincts. Then, on election night, the poll workers at each one would tally the ballots, with the machines there solely to compare the totals.

Kelly Townsend

Even if the state sticks with machine counts, there are proposals to address questions of accuracy of the equipment.

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, supports increasing to 5% the number of precincts where there had to be a random hand count of votes following each election to compare with the machine totals. The current figure is 2%.

And for those who think that doesn’t go far enough, Mesnard also wants to allow anyone who has the money to pay the cost to demand a full recount of any race.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, is looking at the issue through a different lens, altering the law on when there has to be an automatic recount.

In most cases, that occurs when the margin of difference between the top two candidates is less than 0.1% or 200 votes, whichever is less. Ugenit-Rita, who is hoping to become the Republican nominee for secretary of state, the state’s chief election officer, wants to move that up to 0.5%.

That change is significant. Democrat Joe Biden won Arizona and its 11 electoral votes by 10,457 over Trump, a margin of just 0.3%. Had this measure been in effect in 2020, it would have required a recount of the more than 3.3 million ballots already cast.

In this May 2, 2018, file photo, Republican Rep. Mark Finchem argues against an amendment to the state budget proposed by minority Democrats, at the Capitol in Phoenix. PHOTO BY BOB CHRISTIE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Then there’s the question of the ballots themselves. And that has caught the attention of Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, who also is angling for the GOP nomination for secretary of state.

He has been pushing to replace the traditional ballots with paper that is specially encoded with things like watermarks, ballot identification numbers, QR codes and even embedded holograms.

There are other more far-reaching proposals, many stemming by claims by Trump and his supporters, even before the 2020 election, that early voting is subject to fraud.

Those claims continue, with GOP gubernatorial hopefuls Kari Lake and Matt Salmon signing a pledge to eliminate early voting. And Lake in particular continues to insist that Joe Biden did not win the vote, a contention she repeated in a Twitter post this past week claiming, without any proof, that 200 “bag loads of ballots” were dumped in Arizona.

So far, though, calls to eliminate the practice entirely have so far attracted little support.

In the 2020 election, of the 3.4 million people who voted, about 3 million cast early ballots. And many Republican lawmakers say their constituents like and use the opportunity to vote by mail.

But concerns about their validity remain.

Townsend wants to let people continue to get their ballots in the mail. But she seeks to address the allegations of dumped ballots by requiring voters to return them, in person, to a designated voting location.

In this November 6, 2020, photo, Arizona elections officials continue to count ballots inside the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office in Phoenix. The Arizona Senate got affirmation from a court that its subpoena for Maricopa County’s 2.1 million ballots and election equipment for an audit of the 2020 election is valid.

Rogers already has introduced a variant, saying that counties cannot set up drive-up drop boxes for ballots, saying that, except for people with disabilities, they have to walk it into a polling place or election office where someone is monitoring. But that bill would appear to continue to allow mail-in ballots.

And Mesnard continues to push for a requirement for anyone who casts an early ballot to confirm their identity with one of several forms of identification, like a driver’s license number or last four digits of their Social Security number. Right now the only verification is done by county election officials who compare the signature on the ballot envelope with those already on file.

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said she is looking for measures that are designed to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.

Karen Fann

“I know that seems to be a cliche right now,” she said. But Fann said she is interested in discussing issues like the kind of paper used for ballots as well as ensuring that the chain of custody is not broken from the time a ballot is dropped into a box until the final count is over.

Townsend has a proposal to address the latter, making it a crime for anyone to “misplace” a ballot as well as to say that those which are not included in initial tallies are invalid, even if they turn up later, and cannot be counted.

There may be even more radical proposals waiting in the wings.

Last year Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, crafted a measure allowing the Arizona Legislature to overturn the results of a presidential election, even after the results had been certified and even after Congress had declared the winner, right up until noon on Jan. 20 when the president is sworn in.

Bolick did not respond to inquiries on whether she plans to reintroduce the measure.

There are other related measures that don’t directly affect how elections are run or votes are counted but also could influence the results.

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, has been pushing for an investigation of social media platforms and search engines. He contends that some of these have been very biased towards one political party over another.

For example, he said, the algorithms used by search engines to determine results when someone asks a question can be altered so that certain answers or subjects come up first. And there have been claims that sites like Twitter and Facebook have a liberal bias, an argument based in part on decisions by some sites that banned Trump after they said he violated their policies by inciting people to violence, particularly ahead of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

What makes this an election-related issue is that Arizona law requires the reporting of “in-kind” contributions to a candidate, meaning a donation not of cash but of a service with financial value. And those who violate campaign finance laws with unreported in-kind donations can be fined.


Epstein, Jermaine win LD18 House race; Norgaard out

Rep. Mitzi Epstein (D-Phoenix)
Rep. Mitzi Epstein (D-Phoenix)

Both Democrats in the Legislative District 18 House race maintained last night’s early lead and have won.

Republican Rep. Jill Norgaard will not return to the Legislature, finishing behind Rep. Mitzi Epstein, who got the most votes, and Jennifer Jermaine. Republican Greg Patterson, a former member of the Arizona Board of Regents who served in the House from 1991-94 finished last.

The money race already signaled a tough if not impossible road ahead for Patterson. He raised a mere $31,000, less than half of what Jermaine reported raising.

Still, Save Our Schools Arizona volunteer Jermaine’s path to the House was never guaranteed.

The district flipped in favor of Democrats in 2016, when Sen. Sean Bowie claimed his seat and Epstein took one of the two House seats. But Republicans put up a fight to maintain what they already had and possibly unseat the incumbent senator. Neither battle was successful for the GOP as Bowie kept his Senate seat.

Jermaine was one of at least three Democratic newcomers who overcame Republican incumbents in the House. Domingo DeGrazia topped Rep. Todd Clodfelter in Legislative District 10, and Aaron Lieberman outdid Rep. Maria Syms in Legislative District 28. Those outcomes narrow the party split in that chamber to 32-28.

And Dems could gain a fourth seat. Rep. Jeff Weninger won his re-election bid in Legislative District 17, but the race for the second seat was too close to call. Weninger’s fellow Republican Nora Ellen was behind Democrat Jennifer Pawlik by 1 p.m. Wednesday, but just about 400 votes separated the two.


LD18 House by the numbers

Early votes


Jill Norgaard 24 percent

Greg Patterson 22 percent


Mitzi Epstein 28 percent

Jennifer Jermaine 26 percent


Eric Spencer: On elections, war, and jumps from a plane


State Elections Director Eric Spencer said he has always been fascinated by politics and law.

Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Spencer graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He went on to receive his law degree from Duke University and a master’s in public policy from Harvard Kennedy School.

The intersection between those three disciplines – politics, public policy and law – has defined his career, Spencer said.

You joined the U.S. Army after receiving your master’s degree. What led to that decision?

I was in my second day at school, getting my graduate degree, and I saw the planes crashing into the World Trade Center live on TV. While I was studying that morning, and within a couple weeks of the attack, I tried to get an internship at Hanscom Air Force Base, which is north of Boston. I just wanted to sort of serve in some way and I couldn’t because of security reasons they couldn’t let me on.

How’d you get in eventually?

I went to go see a Marine Corps recruiter to try to join the Marines and I was about 60 pounds overweight. I was in graduate school and in law school at the same time and the recruiter just looked at me like I wasn’t serious… By the end of the year I got a recruiting flier from a recruiter in Durham, North Carolina, that probably goes out to every forthcoming graduate of Duke and I just called him up and I said I was interested and I spent that summer working out. I lost 60 pounds. I read military books. I prepared myself physically and mentally that entire summer and I interviewed to join as an officer and I was accepted. So in September of ‘03, right after having taken the bar exam, I was a regular trainee recruit at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Cap Times Q&AHow long were you in combat?

For an entire year from December ‘05 to December 2006. And this was right before the surge was implemented a few months later in 2007. So in many ways, the high number of casualties that we took led to that surge being necessary. The first couple of months I was in Sadr City and the last 10 months was in southeast Baghdad. I think we saw some of the worst fighting.

Did that experience shape the way you approach your job now?

There are a lot of similarities between the Army and elections. It’s one massive logistical challenge to get everybody to move toward a common goal and everybody plays a role in getting to that goal. Attention to detail is critical. And it requires leaders to be both in the trenches, literally in terms of the Army and metaphorically in terms of elections. There’s no job that’s beneath you in the Army and it’s the same in elections.

When you say in the trenches, how much work are we talking about right now?

I leave here between midnight and 2 a.m. and I’m usually in by 5:30 a.m. At the latest 7 a.m. Seven days a week.

How does this election cycle compare to 2016?

In my first election cycle, to do four statewide elections in one year, one of them being a presidential election, was a massive task. And then this year I thought, I have that experience under my belt and this will just be a midterm election. Easy. But then we had Congressman (Trent) Franks’ resignation. So we had two special congressional elections to run in March and May of this year at a time when we all assumed would be election prep time. So like in ‘16, in ‘18 we will have four elections again. … It feels like we’ve been at a sprint since the first day. So 2018 isn’t any crazier than what we’ve seen since I got here. I feel like I’ve gotten a decade’s worth of election experience in only three and a half years.

What did you take away from the criticism the Secretary of State’s Office received during the 2016 elections?

What I didn’t fully appreciate in ‘16 being new was that it’s not so much about making mistakes. It’s about how you respond publicly and acknowledging those mistakes. I accept full responsibility for not raising a louder voice in early ‘16 about the fact that, you know, 11 percent of the publicity pamphlets were going to be late. And at that time, I was still dealing with the blowback from the presidential preference election lines, but I didn’t fully appreciate the importance of screaming it from the mountaintops that something went wrong and we’re working hard to fix it, because in my mind I thought just working hard to fix it was sufficient. But it’s not… And since then, the minute we see something that even potentially goes wrong, we put it up on our website immediately and just keep people informed.

What do you like most about the job?

It’s, believe it or not, meeting first-time candidates. The best experience was Debbie Nez Manuel, who is running against Senator Juan Mendez in Legislative District 26. She brought her entire extended family into that room that I showed you a couple minutes ago with the petitions. Our computer aggregates and tabulates the results of our different reviewers who are looking at petition sheets and when I saw the final number that it was above the required minimum, I turned around and told her congratulations. She just immediately burst out into tears. And her entire family was cheering and they were crying. … It still gives me goosebumps to think about it, and there were dozens of other candidates like that where they walked out of here with that certificate and got on the elevator just exhilarated. So that’s the neatest thing about the job that we’re still the gateway to people being able to run for public office and make a difference. Yeah I know it sounds cheesy, but that’s when you go home and feel like you’re making a difference.

Do you think you’ll stay in government or go back to private practice?

I have absolutely no idea. And I know this sounds weird, but I have not thought a day past the general election. I can be fired the next day. I could be asked to stay. It depends on what happens at the election as well.

What’s one thing most people in the Capitol community don’t know about you?

I’ve jumped out of five airplanes. I got my jump wings in the Army Airborne School. … And only one of those jumps was correct. You’re supposed to land toes, knees, side of your leg, and then roll over. And I only successfully did that once. The other four times it was toes and then head and I just looked like the stereotypical officer jumping out of the plane. I was really bad, but I qualified and that’s awesome.

Finchem starts run for top election official

Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, speaks before the Senate Finance Committee on March 8, 2017. Democrats have targeted Finchem even though he serves in a relatively safe district in which the Republican voter registration advantage has shrunk to less than 10 percentage points over Democrats, an historical threshold for districts to flip. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR
Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, speaks before the Senate Finance Committee on March 8, 2017. Finchem has filed a formal “statement of interest” in running for secretary of state next year. PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR

One of the leading proponents of the claims of election fraud in Arizona now wants to be in charge of the system. 

State Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, has filed a formal “statement of interest” in running for secretary of state next year. That move allows him to begin collecting the signatures he would need to put his name on the ballot. 

Finchem is unlikely to be alone. 

Democrat Katie Hobbs, the current holder of the office, is likely eyeing a gubernatorial bid, what with incumbent Doug Ducey unable to seek a third term. That portends a wide-open race for the office whose duties include being the state’s chief elections officer. 

But the office holds far more importance than the assigned tasks which also cover everything from regulating notaries public to registering telephone solicitors. Under the Arizona Constitution, the secretary of state is first in line of succession if the governor quits, dies or resigns, something that has occurred multiple times over the past few decades. 

Also likely in the hunt, though there has been no formal action yet, is Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who currently chairs the Senate Committee on Government and Elections. 

Finchem was one of the prime organizers of what was billed as a legislative hearing last year at a downtown Phoenix hotel to hear unverified claims of widespread election fraud in the November tally that gave the state’s 11 electoral votes to Democrat Joe Biden. The prime witness was Rudy Giuliani, attorney for PresidentTrump, and even included the now-former president calling in to complain about the process and the results. 

He also sought to have the Arizona Legislature called into special session to invalidate the results and award those electoral votes to Trump. That was shot down by House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, who said there is no legal authority to do that. 

Finchem, a figure in the “#stopthesteal” movement, also was at the Jan. 6 rally in Washington that later turned into an invasion of the Capitol. He denied entering the building, though he posted a photo on Twitter saying, “What happens when the People feel they have been ignored, and Congress refuses to acknowledge rampant fraud.” 

His participation led legislative Democrats to ask the FBI and the Department of Justice to look into his activities leading up to and at the event. To date, the only response from the agencies was that they had received the letter. 

House Democrats also filed an ethics complaint against Finchem in a bid to get him expelled. When that was dismissed, he turned the tables and accused the Democrats of unethical conduct but that, too, was tossed. 

Now Finchem has a defamation lawsuit against Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, one of the signers of the complaint. 

Finchem also has backed the move by the Arizona Senate to audit the results of the Maricopa County vote, a process that remains in limbo while lawmakers figure out how to hire someone who do the work. But he also has suggested in an interview with Epoch Times that if that audit finds no problems it would be because county officials have destroyed evidence. 

A retired Michigan police officer, he was first elected to the state House in 2014. 

Finchem did not return a request for comment. 

Fontes deflects questions on primary election problems

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes speaks at a press conference on Sept. 12, 2018. (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)
Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes speaks at a press conference on Sept. 12, 2018. (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)

Two weeks after the Aug. 28 primary election, questions linger about what led to issues at dozens of polling places in Maricopa County, including 62 that didn’t open on time.

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes called a press conference on Sept. 12 to provide an update on the November general election, but he instead spent most of the time deflecting questions about his refusal to release a report that would answer questions about election-day mishaps.

He revealed little new information about what caused problems at dozens of polling sites and said his office still does not know how many voters were affected.

Fontes said during a Facebook live video on Sept. 4 that his office would publicly release a report detailing what happened on election day. However, two days later, he told the Arizona Republic that he wouldn’t be releasing the report after attorneys for the Recorder’s Office advised him against it.

During the press conference, Fontes again said he wouldn’t release the report. He said it was his decision not to release the report. He failed to cite specific state statutes that would exempt him from releasing the report under the state’s public records laws.

He said the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors approved hiring a third-party auditor to conduct an audit of the election-day failure and the report was turned over to the auditors. He said the report did not reveal much more information than what his office has already put out, and instead told reporters that the audit would provide an in-depth look at what happened on Aug. 28.

Voting equipment malfunctions closed dozens of polling locations on the morning of the primary election. Voters wrote on social media of being told to come back in a few hours so they could cast their votes after the issues were resolved, or that they were being redirected to other polling places.

Some voters reported having to fill out provisional ballots at some locations, and the Arizona Republic reported that Republicans at the Hollyhock polling place in west Phoenix were unable to vote that morning because the polling location did not have Republican ballots until sometime after noon.

Long lines were also reported at several Tempe voting locations.

Fontes said the issues only affected traditional polling places, not the 40 “bonus vote centers” throughout the county where any registered voter can cast a ballot. The Recorder’s Office operates 450 polling places in Maricopa County.

Fontes initially blamed the information technology contractor his office hired for failing to provide enough technicians to properly set up and service election equipment. Fontes said the contractor was supposed to deploy 91 technicians but only sent out about 75.

The contractor, however, blamed the Recorder’s Office for election-day problems.

During the press conference, Fontes said technical issues and a lack of manpower contributed to polling places opening late. While he placed some of the blame on the contractor, he said his office also beared some of the fault.

“I’m not going to get into a he said, she said fight with the contractor. That might end up in litigation later,” he said.

He said the county will not be using the same contractor for the November general election and instead will completely rely on county employees and volunteers to set up and test voting equipment and man polling places as the office has done in years past.

His office was unable to say how many county employees and volunteers will be required or how much that will cost.

Fontes said while it is impossible to guarantee that issues won’t come up the day of the general election, he said staff is going to try to set up and test voting equipment days in advance.

He said his office also sent out surveys to poll workers to learn more about the issues faced during the primary election and will adjust as necessary based on the feedback they receive. He said responses have started to trickle in and they will be publicly released.

He also encouraged voters to vote at the county’s 40 vote centers, and he said while some voters were concerned that provisional ballots cast at the vote centers wouldn’t be counted, under this new system, his office will count provisional ballots cast at any of the centers once they are verified by staff.

“Every provisional ballot that we get, we look at and do research on. So it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to count it just because it’s provisional. What it means is, we got to take a second look at this vote to try to make sure that we can rehabilitate it and get it into the count,” he said.

He also encouraged voters to vote early and by mail, noting that about 85 percent of voters in Maricopa County voted by mail, and said voters can also drop off their early ballots or cast a vote at the vote centers the Wednesday through Friday before the election.

Gallego eyes U.S. Senate in 2020

U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego
U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego

Congressman Ruben Gallego is considering a run for the United States Senate in 2020, when a special election will be held for the final two years of the late Sen. John McCain’s term.

Gallego told the Arizona Capitol Times that Democratic senators and activists have encouraged him to run, and that he is seriously looking at the race.

“We’re going to get through these November elections, make sure the Democrats take control, and then after that, I’m going to meet together with family, friends and supporters and decide next year whether to run for Senate,” he said.

The biggest determining factor, he said, is whether he’ll have enough time to spend with his son, who turns two years old in January.

“That’s definitely the most important thing, and, after that, to make sure that we’re going to be doing right by the state by making sure we take it back. And if we think that we can put the strongest campaign together to make sure that we’re a check on the president, then we’ll do it,” he said.

Gallego expects the Democratic base to be enthusiastic in 2020, with higher turnout among Latinos and millennials, and he believes he can energize those voters. He said he could face a contested primary, though that wouldn’t deter him.

“We feel confident we would win a primary, so that won’t be the determination of whether I run or not,” Gallego said

So far, the only candidate who has expressed interest in seeking the Democratic nomination for the 2020 Senate race is former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods. Woods, a close confidante of McCain who served as his chief of staff in the U.S. House of Representatives, is a Republican but is considering running as a Democrat.

Gov. Doug Ducey appointed former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl to McCain’s seat on September 4. But Kyl said he won’t run in 2020, and he may not serve past the end of the year. If Kyl steps down early, Ducey will have to appoint someone else to the seat.

Gallego is running for his third term in the House of Representatives. He faces a Green Party opponent but has no Republican opponent in the general election.

GOP Corp Comm candidates lead by less than 1 percentage point

In this photo of the Sept. 20, 2018, Arizona Corporation Commission debate on KAET-TV are from left Rodney Glassman, Republican, Sandra Kennedy, Democrat, Ted Simons, host, Kiana Sears, Democrat, and Justin Olson, Republican. The candidates are vying for two open seats on the commission. (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)
In this photo of the Sept. 20, 2018, Arizona Corporation Commission debate on KAET-TV are from left Rodney Glassman, Republican, Sandra Kennedy, Democrat, Ted Simons, host, Kiana Sears, Democrat, and Justin Olson, Republican. The candidates are vying for two open seats on the commission. (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)

The Arizona Corporation Commission will remain entirely red if Tuesday night’s early ballot results hold true, but less than one percentage point currently separates first and third place.

The two Republicans in the race, incumbent Commissioner Justin Olson and newcomer Rodney Glassman,are leading over Democrats Sandra Kennedy and Kiana Sears, but just barely. According to early ballot returns, Olson has claimed 25.96 percent of the vote, while Glassman has 25.88 percent.

But Kennedy is not far behind with 24.98 percent as of Wednesday morning. Sears is at the back of the pack with 23.18 percent.

Even without Democratic wins, though, the results of tonight’s ACC election could have serious consequences for the state’s largest public utility, Arizona Public Service.

Glassman staked out a clear anti-APS position on the campaign trail, a strategy that led him to claim one of two GOP primary nominations over current Commissioner Tom Forese.

Olson has also been known to take positions that run contrary to the company’s interests. Among them, Olson has expressed willingness to dig into the utilities election spending in 2014 and re-opening the door to talk of retail electric deregulation. The latter would open up the energy retail and generation markets to competition, not an ideal outcome for utilities like APS that are currently allowed to operate as regulated monopolies.

That and APS’ election spending habits are topics Commissioner Bob Burns is fond of. Burns is both a Republican and an APS foe, and he’s vying to be the commission’s next chair.


Arizona Corporation Commission by the numbers

Early votes 


Justin Olson 25.96 percent

Rodney Glassman 25.88 percent


Sandra Kennedy 24.98 percent

Kiana Sears 23.18 percent

GOP lawmaker kills election bill, threatens to torpedo session

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, angrily speaks during the vote of her bill to trim the Permanent Early Voting List while Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who voted against the measure, killing it, listens. SCREEN CAPTURE ARIZONA LEGISLATURE
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, angrily speaks during the vote of her bill to trim the Permanent Early Voting List while Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who voted against the measure, killing it, listens. SCREEN CAPTURE ARIZONA LEGISLATURE

Vowing to vote against any and all election bills and keep the Legislature in session until the Senate’s audit of 2020 election results is complete, a Mesa Republican dealt an unexpected blow to a bill that could stop tens of thousands of Arizonans from receiving mail ballots. 

Sen. Kelly Townsend said she still supports the bill, which she has already voted for in some form three times this year. She looks forward to voting for it if and when it returns aftethe audit is done, she said, but not before. 

Otherwise we’re doing [the audit] for no reason,” Townsend said. “It’s for show. It’s for replying to our constituents that ‘Yes, we’re doing an audit, but if we find irregularities you’re going to have to wait until 2024.”  

Townsend said she told her Republican caucus last week and reminded the Senate majority whip on Thursday that she wouldn’t vote for any election bills and would not support adjourning the legislative session until the audit was complete. Legislative leaders told her they hoped to end the session in two weeks, and they tried to call her bluff today.  

“They tried me out to see if I’m serious or not,” she said. “I mean it when I say that we have no business going home.” 

Townsend said she will keep all options on the table when it comes to voting for a budget, the only thing lawmakers must do before they can adjourn sine die. Republican leaders need her vote on a budget, but they could adjourn with support from Democrats.  

Bill sponsor Michelle Ugenti-Rita, the Scottsdale Republican who chairs the Senate Government and Elections committee, had a different explanation for Townsend’s “no” vote: Ugenti-Rita refused to hear several of Townsend’s own election bills in committee, and her vice chair was smarting over it.  

“Obviously this bill isn’t going to pass because the senator from District 16, in a show of spite and a show of rage, has decided to vote against it,” Ugenti-Rita said. “It’s disappointing that someone who purports to care about election integrity would do this.” 

Ugenti-Rita also voted against the bill, a procedural move that will allow her to revive it for a reconsideration vote at some future date.  

In complaining about Townsend’s “no” vote, Ugenti-Rita called back to another confrontation the pair had that was indirectly related to the bill. This is the second time Ugenti-Rita’s bill to prune the Permanent Early Voting List failed to pass the Senate: in February, Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, voted against it because he misunderstood the language.  

Ugenti-Rita retaliated by attempting to claw back one of Boyer’s priorities, a bill expanding access to school vouchers, from the House. Upon realizing it was a retaliatory move, Townsend called on her colleagues to vote for bills based on their merits, not the sponsors.  

“It’s disappointing to be on the receiving end of someone’s temper tantrum, especially when this individual lectured everybody several weeks ago,” Ugenti-Rita said Thursday.  

Townsend, who left shortly after the vote, acknowledged that her vote wasn’t on the merits of Ugenti-Rita’s measure. In fact, she likes the bill, which would remove voters from the Permanent Early Voting List if they fail to vote by mail in all elections over the course of two election cycles. Voters who turn in just a single mailed ballot in that four-year period would remain on the list, which House Republicans decided to rename the Active Early Voting List following numerous comments about how dropping the “P” would change to “EVL,” pronounced “evil.”  

Townsend’s ultimatum could spell disaster for other partisan election legislation, including a bill from Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, to change ID requirements for mailed ballots. Mesnard and Ugenti-Rita held a joint news conference surrounded by a rowdy crowd of Trump supporters on Monday to pressure House Speaker Rusty Bowers to bring their bills to the House floor after sustained backlash from business leaders. 

Ugenti-Rita succeeded, and her bill appeared likely to reach Gov. Doug Ducey today, but Mesnard has still struggled to find traction for his. Most other partisan election bills are now dead.  

GOP legislator wants out-of-state political contributions outlawed


The way Rep. Bob Thorpe sees it, it’s illegal for foreigners to try to use their money to influence elections in this country.

So now the Flagstaff Republican wants to enact the same law here − but with a twist: His HB 2718 would make it a crime for anyone who does not live in Arizona to contribute to campaigns for or against candidates and for or against ballot measures. Put simply, Thorpe does not want out-of-staters influencing Arizona politics and policies.

An attorney with expertise in state election law said the idea “makes a lot of sense.”

“For example, you can’t vote if you are not a resident of Arizona and a citizen,” said Tom Collins, executive director of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission. “Likewise, you might think that it would follow that if you’re going to be spending money on elections, you ought to also be from Arizona.”

But Collins said Thorpe’s proposal is very likely unconstitutional.

Bob Thorpe
Bob Thorpe

Thorpe conceded that Collins may be right. But he told Capitol Media Services that he hopes the Legislature enacts his proposal anyway as a method of mounting a legal challenge, one that likely would have to be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The proposal says that a person who is a resident of another state, or any corporation whose domicile or incorporation is in another state “shall not make a contribution to any committee located in this state or any person or candidate for office in this state.”

Thorpe calls it a matter of common sense, saying it curbs the influence of someone from another state who might have millions of dollars to spend and finances an initiative drive to change Arizona law.

“It might be really terrible legislation, terrible law,” he said.

“They never have to live under the consequences of bad laws that they help enact,” Thorpe said. “And so I think that’s extremely unfair.”

Thorpe cited the $24.1 million put into Proposition 127 campaign in 2018 to increase the requirements on utilities to use renewable energy.

That money came largely from NextGen Climate Action, a political action committee founded by California billionaire Tom Steyer. It was defeated with a $40 million campaign financed largely by Pinnacle West Capital Corp., parent company of Arizona Public Service.

Thorpe’s legislation would keep the cash from NextGen out of Arizona, though he said Steyer, now running for the Democrat presidential nomination, would remain free to come to the state and espouse his ideas.

But as crafted, Pinnacle West, incorporated in Arizona, could spend what it wanted. He said the distinction is justified.

“Do we want people to influence our elections here in Arizona that never have to live under the consequences of bad outcome?” Thorpe asked.

Less clear is the issue of multi-state corporations with a major Arizona presence, companies like Raytheon, Wells Fargo and Kroger, the last being the parent company of Fry’s grocery stores.

“My bill doesn’t even try to determine that,” Thorpe said. “That would be something that would need to be fought in the courts and defined in the courts, or defined by future legislatures.”

And Thorpe said that his measure does not address so-called independent expenditures, money given not to candidates themselves but spent on advertising advocating their election or the defeat of their foes.

For example, the Republican Governors Association spent nearly $9.6 million in 2018 to secure the reelection of Gov. Doug Ducey, much of that with advertising aimed at Democrat foe David Garcia. But the reports to the state do not disclose where the RGA got its money and how much of that came from out-of-state donors.

Collins said there are legal ways to limit the ability of candidates to taking funds from out-of-state residents.

He pointed out that the Citizens Clean Elections Act allows candidates for statewide and legislative office to get public financing for their campaigns if they agree not to take dollars from special interests and political action committees. But here’s the thing: To qualify, candidates have to gather a certain number of $5 donations to show they have some public support.

Those dollars can come only from Arizonans who are registered to vote. And, in the case of legislative candidates, the funds have to come from those living in the same district.

What makes that legal, Collins said, is that the program is voluntary.

Candidates remain free to choose to solicit private dollars. And Collins said he doubts that curbs can be placed on where they get their money.

“I think that what a court would likely say is, look, folks who live in New Mexico or California or New York or Washington, D.C. may have an interest in the policies that the state has on commerce or the policies the state has,” he said. Perhaps, Collins said, they have a business that is incorporated in California but with operations in Arizona.

“So they have an interest there in making their case and supporting those candidates that reflect their position,” he said. “And I think that the courts would see that as part of First Amendment rights.”

Thorpe said there may be a way of dealing with that: follow the money. And there actually is a proposal to do just that.

Former Attorney General Terry Goddard is trying to put a measure on the November ballot to put a provision in the Arizona Constitution requiring public disclosure of the name and address of any individual who has put at least $5,000 into influencing the outcome of any election, whether directly or indirectly.

It also would apply to so-called “social welfare” groups that now can spend unlimited amounts both for and against candidates and supporting and opposing ballot measures. That would override a law approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature exempting those groups from having to disclose their donors.

“I like the concept,” Thorpe said, though he said he doesn’t know the details of the proposal. But he said it is in line with his goal of reining in out-of-state money − or at least shining a light on it if the courts find his plan unconstitutional.

So far legislative leadership has declined to assign Thorpe’s measure to a committee for a hearing.


H.R. 1 is bad news for Arizona voters

A school crossing guard stops cars for voters entering a polling station, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
A school crossing guard stops cars for voters entering a polling station, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The United States of America is the greatest democratic experiment in human history. Maintaining that status depends on a free, fair, and transparent electoral process – the foundation on which our democratic system rests. Unfortunately, recent events have led many Americans to question the security of their votes. Public trust in our elections is waning. And now, Democrats in Arizona and nationwide are cynically attempting to leverage that mistrust into an unprecedented, partisan power-grab known as House Resolution 1 (H.R. 1).  

 H.R. 1 is nothing less than a shameless Democrat attempt to hijack our election process, full of provisions that would fundamentally weaken our system. It calls for consolidating control of elections at the federal level, stripping states of the right to administer their own elections. It goes without saying that Arizonans understand Arizona better than federal bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. That simple fact doesn’t matter to Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and their far-left cohorts.   

Paris Dennard
Paris Dennard

A federal takeover at the expense of states’ rights is bad enough. But H.R. 1 also includes a laundry list of extreme proposals that should concern every Arizonan. The bill would force states to allow ballot harvesting, a controversial practice that allows paid political operatives to collect and deliver ballots directly from voters. It calls for counting illegal immigrants as U.S. residents – if you think it’s a coincidence that such a practice would tip the scales in Democrats’ favor, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. Remember the deeply flawed vote-by-mail systems that many voters used in 2020 as Covid raged across the country? Just as we’re turning the corner in the pandemic (thanks to Operation Warp Speed, President Trump’s groundbreaking vaccine development program), Democrats want to expand vote-by-mail. There’s no logic in doing so other than sheer, shameless political expediency.   

Crucially, the legislation would destroy common-sense voter ID requirements. You’ll never hear this reported in the mainstream media, but voter ID requirements enjoy broad public support: 75% of voters, including 69% of Black voters and 60% of Democrats, are in favor of voter ID. You need an ID to drive a car, buy alcohol, book a plane ticket, even to buy a pet – and yet Democrat leaders don’t think you should need one in order to exercise our most sacred and consequential civic duty.   

Arizonans don’t want these extreme reforms. We know how to manage our own elections. GovDoug Ducey recently provided an excellent example of local leadership by signing House Bill 2569, a common-sense piece of state election reform introduced by Rep. Jake HoffmanR-Gilbert, into law. HB2569 prevents out-of-state, politically motivated billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg from funding election operations in Arizona. Keeping third-party special interests out of our electoral process benefits every Arizonan, regardless of political persuasion. It’s just common sense. As Ducey wrote in his signing letter, “With public confidence in our elections in peril, it’s clear that elections must be pristine and above reproach… all thirdparty money must be excluded going forward to avoid any possible allegations of wrongdoing.”   

These two bills – H.R. 1 and HB2569 – perfectly illustrate the different approaches to rebuilding trust in our elections. One bill is heavy-handed, driven by a desire for political gains, and so extreme that Democrats want to destroy the filibuster just so they can pass it in the Senate. The other bill is solutions-based, beneficial for both sides of the aisle, and designed with a unique local knowledge of how Arizona elections work.   

There’s no question that strengthening election integrity is one of our country’s greatest tasks. And there’s no question that here in Arizona, it should be Arizonans doing that important work.   

Paris Dennard is a Phoenix native and national spokesperson, Republican National Committee.  

Hobbs puts veto stamp to work again – 119 measures rejected

Arizona counties won’t get state approval to start counting ballots by hand.

Gov. Katie Hobbs on Friday vetoed a proposal by Rep. Gail Griffin to allow whatever official who is in charge of elections to do a hand count rather than use automatic tabulating equipment. The governor said that was unacceptable.

“Hand-counting ballots is unquestionably less accurate and more time consuming than machine tabulation,” Hobbs wrote. “Arizona voters deserve to know that their votes are being counted accurately and efficiently.”

The veto is unlikely to end the legal fight.

Griffin, in crafting the measure, insisted that state law always has allowed for hand counts. She said all her legislation did is “clarify existing law.”

Rio Verde, Senate, House
Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford

But Griffin acknowledged she worked with Cochise County Recorder David Stevens, a fellow Republican, to craft the measure. And it was Cochise County that sought to do a full hand count of the 2022 general election after the two Republican supervisors questioned the accuracy of machine counting and wanted to count all the ballots by hand.

That ended only when a judge blocked the move. He said state law allows election officials to take only a 2% random sample of ballots from the entire batch, count them by hand, and then compare the result with what the machines tallied.

But the issue has not died.

Earlier this month the Mohave County Board of Supervisors voted to explore doing a hand count of the 2024 election.

That came after backing by Senate Majority Leader Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City. He told the supervisors that electronic tabulating machines are vulnerable to being hacked.

And Borrelli, who called it a “national security issue,” argued that the state cannot block such a hand count.

That’s not the position of Secretary of State Adrian Fontes. In a letter to the board, he said that a hand count could increase the risk of error.

More to the point, Fontes said a full hand count would put county officials “in serious legal jeopardy, including possible criminal liability, for violations of state law.”

During committee debate on the issue, Sen. Anna Hernandez said she had a more basic reason for voting against the measure. The Phoenix Democrat said she could not support anything “pushed by those who advance conspiracy theories.”

Separately, Hobbs vetoed a proposal by Rep. Justin Heap, R-Mesa, which would have given parents access to all the materials that school districts used to train teachers.

Heap showed colleagues what he said was a list of subjects in training sessions that teachers from the Mesa Unified School District were required to attend. They included anti-racism, non-binary, unconscious biases, restorative justice and equity.

All those, he said, are issues with which parents may disagree.

Rep. Judy Schwiebert, D-Phoenix, asked him what is wrong with teachers learning about some of these issues like equity.

Heap said it would be fine to provide instruction on issues of equality. But equity, he said, is different, dealing with issues of being fair rather than being equal.

“Who decides what’s fair and what’s not?” Heap asked. He said equity gets into things like whether some group that has been historically marginalized should get special treatment.

Heap also said what is in his bill is no different than existing laws that already give parents access to the curriculum being used in classrooms.

Hobbs, in her veto message, said her objection was more basic. She said making these training materials available to the public would put schools at risk of violating copyright law.

The governor also rejected a proposal by Sen. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale to prohibit government agencies from refusing to contract with private firms unless they have or adopt environmental, social or governance standards policies.

“I do not believe that tying the hands of the state’s procurement and investment professionals is in the best interests of the people of Arizona,” Hobbs wrote.

And she vetoed a similar proposal that would have barred the state treasurer, whose investments include buying corporate stocks, from using the voting right that come with those shares to support proposals that would advance social, environmental, political or other goals. Nor could the state in any way use its investment funds to boycott any company involved in fossil fuels or nuclear energy.

“Politicizing decisions based made by the state’s investment professionals can harm our state’s long-term fiscal health,” Hobbs wrote.

The governor has now vetoed 119 measures approved by the Republican controlled Legislature.


Hobbs wants bigger budget – doesn’t ask nicely

Katie Hobbs

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs wants to nearly double her office’s funding next year because of new burdens imposed by Republican legislators. 

In a scathing letter accompanying her $37 million budget request, Hobbs, a Democrat, described a year of legislative attacks on her office, including new laws that block her ability to seek outside grants, receive legal guidance from the Attorney General’s Office or hire outside counsel.  

“At every step of the way, members of the legislature have sought to undermine my Office,” Hobbs wrote. “While these attempts are aimed at me and my administration, the true victims are the people of Arizona.” 

Roughly a third of the new funding Hobbs requested would go toward voter outreach, which has been a sticking point with Republican lawmakers over the past year. In 2020, Republican lawmakers lobbied by GOP Attorney General Mark Brnovich blocked Hobbs from using $500,000 in federal grant money for a statewide voter information campaign. Instead, the legislators divided those funds among counties, though the 15 counties supported Hobbs’ original plan. 

The Secretary of State’s Office first sought aid from Gov. Doug Ducey, who had a pot of federal Covid relief money at his disposal and offered $9 million for election security. The office then received additional private grants, and ended up spending $4.75 million during the 2020 election cycle on voter information campaigns detailing how, when and where to vote and combatting disinformation. 

Those private grants won’t be an option in 2022, because legislative Republicans passed a bill banning any private funding of elections on a party line vote. Instead, Hobbs is asking for an additional $5 million in state funding for voter education.  

“The fact of the matter is, is that we spent close to $5 million in the 2020 election on public education, and the legislature eliminated our ability to get private grants for those purposes in the future,” Assistant Secretary of State Allie Bones said. “We still need to be able to communicate with the public.” 

The Secretary of State’s Office also requested slightly more than $715,000 to create a legal services program within the office, after a provision of the state budget barred Brnovich’s office from representing or providing legal advice to Hobbs’ office through June 2023 and blocked Hobbs from hiring outside counsel. 

The new law gave Hobbs the authority to hire an in-house attorney, but it didn’t provide any funding. The office or Hobbs herself are typically named in lawsuits over election matters. 

A proposed new division would have a general counsel, paid $150,000 annually, as well as two staff attorneys paid $83,358, and a paralegal and legal fellow, both paid around $50,000.   

Those attorneys would provide legal advice on election issues, including the six current referendum petitions, complying with new election administration laws and handling lawsuits over signatures on candidate or initiative petitions. They would also have to provide legal advice to non-elections divisions of the office, including helping with contracts, rules created by the business services division and complying with public meetings and records laws.  

“By refusing the SOS adequate legal counsel, the Attorney General and Legislature have put the department at risk of not being able to fulfill the responsibilities of the office of Secretary of State and ensure full compliance with all applicable laws,” Hobbs wrote. “The SOS has had to create a position out of nothing, with no support.”  

Her office also asked to add three new employees to its 12-person election division, adding two customer service representatives and one budget analyst.  

After tabling a July request from Hobbs to use $1.5 million in federal grant funds to add new employees and set up a call center system, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee is expected to hear the pitch during its fall meeting. Several Republicans on the panel were leaning toward voting against the request this summer.  

Bones said the office, one of the smallest in the country, desperately needs more help. As the Senate’s audit and national attention on Arizona elections continue, staff have spent more time fielding calls and requests for information.  

“Our staff capacity is stretched to the absolute limit,” Bones said. 


House Democrat candidates lead in LD9

Deposit Photo

The two Democratic newcomers running to represent Legislative District 9 in the state House of Representatives are leading their Republican challengers, Tuesday’s preliminary voting results indicate.  

Democrats Lorena Austin and Seth Blattman have received 30% and 28.80% of votes in the district while Republicans Kathy Pearce and Mary Ann Mendoza have received 20.94% and 20.26% as of 10:15 p.m. 

This is the only competitive district where Democrats aren’t using a single-shot candidate strategy for House races. Picking up both seats in the district would be a major victory for either party’s House caucus.   

Blattman is a small business owner in Mesa and Austin is a student government advisor at Mesa Community College. Democrats have spent much more on their campaigns compared to Mendoza and Pearce with Blattman and Austin raising $178,961 and $235,571 respectively. Blattman has received $250,904 in independent expenditures from outside groups and Austin had $239,384 spent for her. 

Mendoza and Pearce raised $48,107 and $41,660 respectively. They both saw heavy independent expenditures against them from outside groups with $174,479 spent against Mendoza and $347,466 against Pearce. In contrast, Mendoza received $48,492 in independent expenditures for her, and Pearce had $92,057 spent for her. 

Outside groups didn’t spend against the Democrats in the district as much, with Austin seeing $60,210 against her and Blattman getting $46,568 IE against him. 

Mendoza was criticized by her Democratic opponents after photos of a woman appearing to be her wearing blackface and redface recently surfaced. Mendoza never confirmed if she was the one in the photos.  

Pearce is the sister of Russell Pearce, who sponsored the anti-illegal immigrant measure Senate Bill 1070 in 2010.   

District 9 leans mostly Democrat among voters living in highly competitive downtown Mesa. In 2018, the Democratic candidates for governor and attorney general received 44.5% and 49% of votes within the district, according to the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. 

House panel sinks bill requiring partisan city elections

A bill requiring municipal governments to hold partisan elections has failed to clear its first hurdle.

Rep. Jay Lawrence (R-Scottsdale)
Rep. Jay Lawrence (R-Scottsdale)

House Bill 2032, which was introduced by Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, would have required cities and towns to print the political party designation of candidates for mayor and city or town council on the ballot, despite a court ruling that upheld municipalities’ rights to set up elections however they choose.

Speaking before the House Committee on Local and International Affairs on January 17, Lawrence said the bill would allow voters to make a more informed decision.

He argued that though people may question how partisan topics – like abortion, a candidate’s feelings toward President Donald Trump or who a candidate’s congressional hero is – relate to city issues, the question can be answered with three simple words: sanctuary city laws.

“I will give you just one example, and after that example of how does this pertain to city government, there can be no other question,” Lawrence told the committee. “The city of Phoenix has a sanctuary city law. It is illegal. The Justice Department has announced they will prosecute those cities who have instituted this illegal law. … I think every individual running for office should ask about that.”

His argument, however, failed to sway his colleagues. Republican Reps. Todd Clodfelter, of Tucson, and Drew John, of Safford, joined Democratic Reps. Cesar Chavez, Phoenix; Rosanna Gabaldon, Green Valley; and Isela Blanc, Tempe, in sinking the measure.

Rep. Drew John (R-Safford)
Rep. Drew John (R-Safford)

As someone who represents a rural area, John said most people already know each other well and there’s little question about which side of the political aisle candidates stand on. He said partisanship has left “a bad taste in most everybody’s mouth,” and making municipal elections partisan would create a greater divide among residents.

Clodfelter added that although voters may form a preconceived opinion of a candidate based on his or her party affiliation, nonpartisan elections allow voters to get “to know the individual on a personal basis.”

Blanc said most people living within a municipality are more concerned about their streets being improved and their garbage being picked up than their local representative’s thoughts on abortion, which she insisted isn’t a local issue.

Rep. Becky Nutt (R-Clifton)
Rep. Becky Nutt (R-Clifton)

Rep. Becky Nutt, R-Clifton, who voted for the measure along with committee chairman Tony Rivero, R-Peoria, said she supported moving it out of committee so that it could lead to a larger discussion on the House floor.

“I think this is a great conversation, and I think that it’s one that needs to go to the larger body,” she said.
Testifying in committee, Patrice Kraus, a lobbyist for the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, said the services cities provide to residents are “fundamentally different” than those provided by the state, and while some of the issues Lawrence brought up may be relevant at the state level, they aren’t at the local level.

“Most of our issues aren’t partisan in nature,” she said.

House Republicans take another crack at control of local elections; bill passes 34-22

(Deposit Photos/Bizoon)
(Deposit Photos/Bizoon)

Claiming it will increase turnout, the Republican-controlled House voted March 7 to set up a system that could force cities to move their local elections to even-numbered years.

HB2604, crafted by House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, does not automatically void the practice in several Arizona communities of having elections on their own schedule. Lawmakers tried that before, only to have that swatted down by the state Court of Appeals as unconstitutional.

Instead, the proposal by the Chandler Republican allows cities to keep their off-year elections – but only if the difference in turnout is within 25 percent of what it was during either of the two most recent comparable statewide elections. If local turnout drops below that trigger, then local elections are declared illegal.

The 34-22 vote came over objections of Democrats who argued the move is not only unnecessary but an infringement by state lawmakers on the rights of cities and their residents to decide what works best for them.

“People in cities want the freedom to have their own preferences,’’ said Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe. “I see no reason to hammer down on cities and refuse them their local control.’’

Mesnard disputed that premise.

“I don’t see how changing the timing of election to a time where more people are going to be showing up is the equivalent of strangling of cities or placing a hammer on the cities,’’ he said. Anyway, Mesnard said, a city’s loss of the right to set election dates will happen only if there is significant drop off from turnout in even-numbered years.

Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, said when local elections in his home community were consolidated with other races “the amount of people showing up to vote skyrocketed.’’

But Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, suggested that the claims of Republicans wanting to boost voter turnout ring hollow. She said the Republican leadership refuses to even consider Democrat bills to make it easier for people to participate in elections.

One proposal that did not get a hearing would have allowed people to register to vote right up through Election Day.

Now, Salman said, the cutoff is 29 days before the election. She said that ended up locking out people in the 2016 presidential race who became energized during the last weeks of the campaign.

One argument in favor of allowing cities to have their own, separate elections is that it helps ensure that local races and local ballot measures get the attention they deserve. In a consolidated election, those local issues end up near the bottom of the ballot, opening the possibility that some voters may just quit before getting that far.

But Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said that wasn’t his experience when he was a member of a local school board, an election that already occurs at the same time as other state and federal races. He predicted the same would happen if city elections are consolidated into the same ballot.

“If you’re worried about your trash, if you’re worried about your streets getting swept, if you’re worried about community events I have to believe that you’re going to make your way and just have the strength to get to the bottom of the ballot and vote for city council members,’’ Shope said.

The House vote sends the measure to the Senate.

But even if it is approved there and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey, that does not necessarily end the matter. It still leaves the question of whether this version is any more constitutional than the one the Court of Appeals voided in 2014.

In that ruling, the judges decided that, at least when it comes to the state’s 19 charter cities, they have a right to decide matters of strictly local concern. And the judges said that when and how cities run their elections fits within that category.

Jalakoi Solomon: Motivating millennials to vote

Jalakoi Solomon

Jalakoi Solomon, 28, led NextGen Arizona’s youth voter outreach initiative, which boosted turnout among young voters this election cycle. Solomon moved from Chicago in February to serve as NextGen Arizona’s state director. And she will also stay on in Arizona as NextGen’s outreach efforts in the state carry over into 2019 in order to ramp up for the 2020 elections. NextGen, which has similar initiatives in 10 other states, poured $3.4 million into its Arizona youth voter initiative this year. The progressive group, founded by California billionaire Tom Steyer, claims a role in catapulting Democrat Kyrsten Sinema to the U.S. Senate and helping other Democrats make gains in statewide and federal elections this year.

Cap Times Q&AWhy come to Arizona for the NextGen gig?

I worked on the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2015-2016 and then I worked for OFA, which is Organizing For Action, the former Obama group. Then I saw this amazing opportunity to come to Arizona, knowing all the amazing potential it had to really be on this tipping point.

When you were in college, where did you see your career going?

I first got interested in this work in 2008 when Obama ran the first time. Seeing a black man have the potential to win the presidency, seeing someone who looked like me, who had family like me, who spoke like me, was really inspiring. It opened my eyes to the world of politics.

Was the 2008 presidential election the first time you voted?

Yeah, that was my first election.

Did NextGen make a difference this election cycle?

Absolutely. We saw record youth turnout. We saw double, sometimes triple what we had in 2014, and turnout almost reached 2016 presidential levels. Young people were really paying attention and they made all the difference in why Kyrsten won.

Why are young people typically so hesitant to vote?

They think the system isn’t working and they don’t think they know enough to participate. A lot of what NextGen was doing was we spent time talking to young people, meeting them where they’re at. We knocked on almost 100,000 doors, we sent over 300,000 text messages, we ran a ton of digital ads and just made sure that wherever young people were we were reaching them with the information they needed. It’s not that the system isn’t working, it’s that it’s only working for the people participating, which tend to be people over the age of 65, white people and men.

Since there are no elections next year, what will NextGen Arizona be doing in the lead up to 2020?

A lot of the work is going to be the foundation laying of continuing to educate young people and a huge part of it will be accountability. We’ve just selected a lot of new leaders up and down the ticket and we want to make sure they’re still listening to our voices.

How much did you grow your staff since February and how many staffers will stay on into the future?

I was the first employee here so we grew from one to almost 65, which is both full-time and part-time fellows that are still in school. What’s great about what NextGen’s doing is it’s not just the outreach to voters, but also investing in a new, young group of people who now have the skills and the tools they need to take it whether that’s on to other campaigns or continue with NextGen. Moving into 2019, we’re still figuring out what our staffing levels will be. We hope to still have a presence across the whole state. We organized across Yuma through Flagstaff this year.

Arizona has long been a deeply red state. What made you think you could change that?

I saw it as an amazing opportunity and challenge to get to come to Arizona and spend time getting to know the people here. What we will see moving forward is that NextGen really took a risk. NextGen understood that coming into what is traditionally seen as a red state, but knowing the potential that it had and also focusing on young people, a group that tends not to turn out. NextGen really saw an opportunity space to make a huge difference and I think a lot of organizations are going to start following our lead.

Why hasn’t there been anything like NextGen before?

It takes a lot of time, a lot of energy, a lot of resources and long-term organizing and investment in young people and really caring about hearing them. What a lot of campaigns and organizations do is they start a campaign two months before an election to speak to a constituency group. They come into the community not necessarily trying to hear what issues matter, but just trying to get their votes. That is not what NextGen has done.

What is your biggest takeaway from the election?

Young people are powerful.

Arizona went purple this election, is that a sign of things to come?

I think as long as organizations such as NextGen continue to do this work, as long as other organizations see the value in listening to and talking to young people then we’ll continue to see the progress from purple to blue.

What was the conversation like when NextGen decided to keep a presence in Arizona?

I was not directly a part of the conversation, but we’re staying in all the states that we were in this last year and I think it truly is because we saw that our program worked. We saw record turnout not just in Arizona, but across the country and we saw a wave of new candidates.

What do you make of Arizona’s animosity toward Tom Steyer?

Honestly, I don’t know. While I am from out of state, both of my parents were in the Air Force so really I’m from nowhere. But 95 percent of the team we’ve built here is from Arizona, born and raised in Arizona. They’re also organizing in the communities they’re from. I think what’s been great is we’ve been able to build a big grassroots organization of young people, who are invested in making their community better.

Do young people know who Tom Steyer is?

Honestly, they may not. They’re really just focused on what matters to them on making sure their families are safe and making sure they have access to quality health care and education. They’re not really focused on the larger national conversations that are happening.

Judge denies parties’ real-time access to voter info when ballot is deficient

arizonaelection2020-300pxThe Arizona Democratic Party is not entitled to a real-time time access to a list of voters whose signatures on early ballot envelopes do not match what’s on file or when a voter forgets to sign entirely, a judge rule late Wednesday.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Scott McCoy acknowledged that the information sought is public. The judge also said that, in general, public records have to be produced “promptly.”

But McCoy said that can be overcome if the government demonstrates “specific material harm or risk to the best interests of the state.” And he said that Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes has shown that being forced to produce the records the party wants meets that burden.

“The state of Arizona has a strong interest in promoting public confidence in elections,” the judge wrote. McCoy said he was convinced by arguments presented by Fontes that releasing that information prior to Election Day creates a “potential for voter confusion, frustration and suppression.”

Nothing in Wednesday’s ruling legally affects a nearly carbon-copy case filed by the Democrats against Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez set for a hearing in Tucson on Thursday before Judge Catherine Woods.

But Rodriguez is making the same arguments as Fontes, and that could help convince Woods to reach the same result.

There was no immediate response from attorneys for the party about whether they will appeal.

The lawsuits contend the party needs the information to contact early voters – or at least the ones that are registered as Democrats – to help them make the fixes to get their choices tallied.

All that is based on Arizona law, which says that ballots submitted with signatures that do not match what is on file cannot be counted. But the law does give the voters a chance to “cure” the signatures by contacting election officials within five business days after the election.

A separate law also forbids counting ballots where individuals forgot to sign the ballot envelopes at all. But they have only until 7 p.m. on Election Day to come to a county office and fix the issue.

“If ADP is not provided the records it has requested, it will be unable to assist these eligible voters, including its members and constituents, in making sure that their ballots count in the November 2020 election,” attorney John Gray wrote for the party. That, he said, will end up “frustrating its mission and also directly harming its members and constituents whose right to vote will be denied.”

Fontes urged the judge to reject the request, at least in part over practical considerations.

“It would cost us, literally, hundreds and hundreds of man-hours of work to actually create a real-time list and distribute it and monitor it the way that they’re asking for,” he said.

More problematic, said Fontes, is the potential for problems.

He noted the essence of the claim is that the information is a public record. And that, Fontes said, would mean it would have to be provided to anyone who asks.

“If I give them this information, then everybody else gets to have this information,” he said, all of which would be available while voting is still going on, he said. “And now you have chaos.”

Rodriguez said she has similar concerns about allowing people who are not election officials to start calling people and telling them their ballots may not be counted.

“It confuses the voter,” she said. “We want the voter to answer to us so we can process their ballot.”

Then there’s the chance of mischief.

“The way politics is played, I wouldn’t put it past either one of them to target the opposite (party) and say, ‘Don’t worry, you don’t have to call, your ballot’s been resolved,’” Rodriguez said, perhaps even telling people whom they call that they’re “working with recorders.”

“We want the voters to respond to our calls, not talking to you,” she explained about outsiders, including parties.

“And then they get confused and not call us,” Rodriguez continued. “And then we can’t move their ballot forward” and the vote goes uncounted.

The decision to fight the lawsuits, both said, is not political. In fact, both are Democrats.

But Fontes and Rodriguez said what the parties want is unnecessary.

“We’ve been doing it since early voting started,” Fontes said about contacting voters if the signatures on the envelope do not match what’s on file.
“That’s why we ask folks to put their phone number on there so we can have the quickest, easiest way to contact the voter to verify their identity and ensure that their ballot gets cast,” he said. “That’s our goal.”

Even if a voter forgets to sign a ballot – and forgets the phone number – Fontes said there still is outreach.

“We have records that go back years,” he said. “We have many ways to reach out.”

And Fontes said voters “deserve a good, solid line of communication from the Election Department or the Recorder’s Office specifically about an official question about their ballot.”

Fontes said he is not suggesting there is something nefarious in the request.

“I think that the Democratic Party is well intentioned,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s an appropriate request at this time.”

So when would it be appropriate?

After Election Day, Fontes said, when people still can “cure” problems with the signatures on their ballots.

“That’s when it’s appropriate to get them to help us – by ‘them,’ I mean the parties – to help us contact voters,” he said, adding at that time there’s no chance of confusing people.

“Now, all of the votes that are going to be cast have been cast,” Fontes explained. “And it’s just a matter of administering the mismatched signatures.”

That offer to provide the list beginning Nov. 4 did not satisfy the Democrats, with Gray pointing out the Election Day deadline to fix ballots that arrive in envelopes that are not signed. An offer for post-election data, he said, “effectively renders ADP’s request futile.”

Gray also said there is no intent to mislead anyone.

“Specifically, volunteers from ADP call voters, clearly identify themselves, ask if the voter has already been made aware of the need to cure a deficiency, and then provide information on steps the voter can take to cure the deficiency,” Gray wrote in his legal filings. “Volunteers work carefully to provide accurate information to voters about how they can cure their ballots.”

The issue apparently is limited to just these two counties. Testimony presented earlier this week in Maricopa County Superior Court in the case against Fontes indicated that recorders in the other 13 counties have agreed to furnish the information.

McCoy’s ruling is, in some ways, a bipartisan setback.

On Wednesday, before the ruling, Zach Henry, spokesman for the Arizona Republican Party, said it, too, will be requesting the same records. Henry said the state GOP is as interested in getting as many ballots from registered Republicans counted as possible, just as he said the Democrats are trying to do.

Judge to rule on Clean Elections ballot measure

(Deposit Photos/Wave Break Media)
(Deposit Photos/Wave Break Media)

A judge will decide whether lawmakers have an absolute right to ask voters to approve two changes in law in a single act, even if they may only want one of them and not the other.

The proposal at issue asks voters to amend the Citizens Clean Elections Act to keep publicly financed candidates from using any of their funds to buy services from political parties and political consultants. Danny Adelman, attorney for the commission that administers the law, acknowledged that could prove popular.

But at a hearing Thursday, Adelman pointed out to Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Teresa Sanders that the measure put on the ballot by the Republican-controlled Legislature also seeks to give the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council, a panel of political appointees, the power to veto all proposed commission rules. That covers everything from their power to force public disclosure of campaign spending to mandates for publicly funded candidates to submit to at least one debate.

That, he said, is likely to prove a much harder sell to voters who in 1998 created the commission and the voluntary system of public financing of elections.

Adelman told Sanders that joining the two issues was not just happenstance. He said it was a ploy by lawmakers “in the hope that voters are forced to take this all-or-nothing position that it will somehow pass.”

He said the Arizona Constitution requires that acts of the Legislature “shall embrace but one subject and matters properly connected therewith.’ And Adelman warned the judge that if lawmakers get away with linking these two issues it would open the door for other sorts of legislative shenanigans in future ballot referrals.

“They could pass something that joins together highway funding with a ban on abortion, or with something completely different like abolition of the death penalty,” Adelman said. He said that’s why there are constitutional provisions to prevent this kind of “logrolling,” combining what he said are unrelated popular and less-than-popular provisions into a single measure.

But Assistant Attorney General Rusty Crandell told Sanders that constitutional provision applies only to “acts of the Legislature.” He said the vote by lawmakers to send the issue to voters does not fit that definition.

Anyway, Crandell argued, if there is a violation of constitutional single-subject provisions, that can be litigated only after the measure becomes law — assuming it remains on the ballot and assuming voters approve.

Mike Liburdi, a private attorney hired by Republican legislative leaders, went a step farther. He said there is no violation, saying there need be only a “natural connection” among various ballot provisions.

Hanging in the balance is whether voters get the last word.

The law allows but does not require candidates for statewide and legislative office to get public funds for their campaigns if they do not take other special interest dollars.

It has never been popular with business interests — the groups that have traditionally funded campaigns — who mounted several legal challenges, some of which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And while the justices there voided one provision, the system remains in place.

What caused at least part of the uproar this year has been the fact that the commission contends it has the right to require public disclosure of outside spending on campaigns, even for candidates who do not take public dollars. That comes even as lawmakers are amending other state statutes to permit more anonymous “dark money” campaigns.

But the Arizona Constitution limits the ability of lawmakers to tinker with laws approved by voters. That makes sending the issues to the ballot the only option for those who want to trim the commission’s powers.

Adelman told Sanders it is clear that lawmakers are free to ask one or both questions: limit use of public dollars and subject the commission to the regulatory council. What they cannot do, he said, is put the issue on the ballot as a single take-it-or-leave-it proposal.

Liburdi, for his part, said the issue is not as black and white as Adelman suggests.

“Here’s what the courts look for: Is there a direct or indirect topical relation between these two provisions,” he said. “And there clearly is.

Liburdi also pointed out that the entire Clean Elections Act was approved in a single ballot measure in 1998.

But the Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that measures crafted by voters themselves are not subject to the single-subject rule. Sanders is being asked to decide whether it applies to statutory changes that lawmakers are asking voters to approve.

Whatever she decides is unlikely to be the last word, as the losing side is virtually certain to seek Supreme Court review.

Kelly meets with Ducey as he prepares to take seat in Senate

Mark Kelly, Arizona Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, waves to supporters as he speaks during an election night event Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Incoming Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly met with Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Nov. 24 as he prepares to take office as soon as next week.

The discussion at Ducey’s office in Phoenix touched on distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, dealing with the economic fallout from the pandemic, infrastructure and trade with Mexico, both said afterward.

“We’re both looking forward to vaccinating a large majority of the population,” Kelly said in a brief interview with The Associated Press. “We really need that and we’re going to probably see the first vaccinations here in the state as early as December.”

Kelly said he’s concerned about polls showing much of the country doesn’t plan to get vaccinated, which would prevent the herd immunity necessary to keep the spread of the coronavirus in check.

Ducey and Kelly agreed that Congress needs to do more to sustain families that are struggling during the pandemic, Kelly said.

Kelly echoed calls from the mayors of Flagstaff, Phoenix, Tolleson and Tucson for Ducey to institute a statewide mask mandate in public places.

“I think it’s a really strong message to have a governor say, ‘I want everybody to wear a mask and I’m going to require it and we’re going to enforce it,’” Kelly said.

Ducey said last week that he believes Arizona has achieved as much compliance with mask-wearing as it will get, adding that nearly everyone in the state lives in a jurisdiction with a local mask requirement.

Ducey’s office posted photos on Twitter showing the governor and his chief of staff, Daniel Scarpinato, meeting with Kelly and aide Tiernan Donohue. All were wearing masks when the photos were taken.

“There is no shortage of critical issues before our state and nation, and we’ll need both sides working together to really make a difference,” Ducey said in a statement.

Kelly defeated Republican Martha McSally, whom Ducey appointed to fill John McCain’s former Senate seat until the November election. Kelly will finish the last two years of McCain’s term and faces re-election in 2022. Kelly can be seated in the U.S. Senate after Arizona’s election results are formally certified on Monday.

Kelly Norton: ‘I wanted to keep copies of everything just in case’

Kelly Norton
Kelly Norton

Kelly Norton drew a crowd to U.S. District Court Judge John Tuchi’s courtroom on June 6 as observers clamored to hear what was sure to be scintillating details of her personal life.

She did offer an emotional glimpse of the circumstances leading up to her cooperating with federal authorities to expose an alleged bribery scheme she participated in.

But Norton, a co-conspirator turned star witness for the government, also reviewed extensive records she kept in the midst of that scheme to protect herself if – and ultimately when – the authorities came looking for answers.

In exchange for immunity, Norton revealed to the FBI details of the scheme now alleged in the federal indictment of her ex-husband, lobbyist Jim Norton, former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce, his wife Sherry Pierce, and water utility owner George Johnson.

Johnson allegedly paid the Pierces $31,500 in exchange for Gary Pierce’s favorable votes on the Arizona Corporation Commission regarding a utility rate increase and the ability to pass on his income tax liability to Johnson Utilities customers. Jim Norton allegedly directed his now ex-wife to hire Sherry Pierce at Kelly Norton’s firm, KNB Consulting, through which she was paid by Johnson.

However, the defense contends Sherry Pierce did legitimate work on behalf of George Johnson in exchange for her share of the payments to Kelly Norton’s firm. The defense has sought to further dismantle the government’s narrative by poking holes in the timeline of events – namely the timing of Gary Pierce’s votes relative to his wife’s employment at KNB Consulting.

The defendants have pleaded not guilty, and they turned down plea deals before the trial began.

Kelly Norton cooperated with investigators because she “didn’t want to go to jail,” she said on her first day of testimony.

She explained on the witness stand why she kept meticulous records as the alleged scheme unfolded.

“I wanted to keep copies of everything just in case… because I was worried about getting in trouble,” she told the court on June 7.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Battista reviewed with her copies of checks from Johnson, the water utility owner, emails and other documents she retained for her records and ultimately turned over to investigators.

Among those records were emails between Kelly Norton and Sherry Pierce, often but not always referring to Johnson only as a “client.” She said they had been directed to keep his identity hidden.

Former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce, with bottle, and wife Sherry Pierce, both of whom stand accused in a bribery scheme, leave U.S. District Court in Phoenix after their arraignment on June 7, 2017.
Former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce, with bottle, and wife Sherry Pierce, both of whom stand accused in a bribery scheme, leave U.S. District Court in Phoenix after their arraignment on June 7, 2017.

And the emails made two things clear: Sherry Pierce was completing tasks she was assigned by Kelly Norton, and her husband, then-Corporation Commission Chairman Gary Pierce, was helping her. They also indicated the Pierces were aware that the money Sherry Pierce was receiving came from Johnson.

Johnson’s water utility company, Johnson Utilities, is regulated by the Corporation Commission, of which Gary Pierce was a member at the time.

Norton testified that Sherry Pierce’s work on behalf of Johnson was to remain a secret, too, because of her husband’s position.

Still, Norton told the court she tried to do everything by the book on her firm’s part, including issuing a 1099 tax form to Sherry Pierce.

“It wasn’t without an argument,” she said, explaining Jim Norton was not pleased with the decision. “But I wanted to make sure I was doing everything the right way for my business in case it ever came back to me.”

The Pierces subsequently claimed her income from KNB Consulting on their personal income taxes, which the defense has said demonstrates the work was above board.

However, Norton said she, too, should have received a 1099 from Johnson. She testified that KNB Consulting was established as a DBA, or “doing business as,” but never received the appropriate tax documentation from her client.

“I wasn’t going to be getting a 1099,” she said, recalling an explanation she got from her husband, “and if I didn’t get a 1099, nobody would know that I got the money.”

In fact, she placed the blame for her involvement in the scheme squarely on Jim Norton.

She took the stand visibly nervous as he looked on.

For weeks prior, documents and statements in the case hinted at the personal details she would share: Details of the collapse of her broken marriage to Jim Norton, details about what drove her to reveal her own part in that scheme, and details of why she was involved to begin with.

Though the government prompted her to reveal those details early on in her testimony, prosecutor Battista largely strayed away from the personal details, focusing instead on the meticulous records kept by Kelly Norton.

Her voice shook even in response to simple questions, and she gave only a thin smile when Battista greeted her on the stand.

And that was even before attorneys for the four defendants had their chance to cross examine her.

In opening statements and motions to the court, the defense has sought to bring Kelly Norton’s credibility into question, suggesting she sought not to do the right thing by revealing federal crimes but to get revenge on her husband.

In the first two hours of her testimony, she accused Jim Norton of forcing her to take part in the scheme, and she acknowledged she filed for divorce because she found him with “another girlfriend” – that hadn’t been the first time, she said.

Judge Tuchi reminded the jury that the defendants are on trial only for the charges in the indictment, nothing else – including infidelity.

Kimberly Yee breaks barriers as Arizona’s new Treasurer

Sen. Kimberly Yee (Capitol Media Services 2016 file photo by Howard Fischer)
Sen. Kimberly Yee (Capitol Media Services 2016 file photo by Howard Fischer)

Sen. Kimberly Yee, who once served as spokeswoman for the state Treasurer’s Office, will soon be its leader.

Yee, a Republican and the Senate Majority Leader, easily fended off a challenge from Democrat Mark Manoil to win the opportunity to manage the state’s $15 billion in assets.

In her victory speech, Yee emphasized her political history of breaking barriers.

When she was first elected to the Arizona Legislature, she became the first Asian-American woman to serve in Arizona’s state house. She also touted being the second woman to serve as Arizona’s Senate majority leader — second only to Sandra Day O’Connor. She was the first Asian-American state Senate majority leader.

“Today, with your help, I’ve become the first Chinese-American Republican woman to hold a major statewide office in the entire country,” Yee said at the Arizona GOP Election watch party.

Republicans have held the office for 50 years, making Yee favored to win the treasurer’s race. Manoil is the first Democrat to seek the treasurer’s office since Gov. Doug Ducey defeated Democrat Andrei Cherny in 2010.

A rising star in the GOP, Yee is the state’s first Asian-American woman to serve in the state Legislature. She has served in both houses since first taking office in 2011. Before that, she served as former Treasurer Dean Martin’s communications director.

Yee promised to keep fiscal conservatism alive and well in the Treasurer’s Office.

“We will make sure that we keep Arizona’s economy going strong as it has under leadership from Gov. Doug Ducey,” she told the GOP crowd at the Scottsdale hotel and resort.

Yee will replace Eileen Klein, who was appointed to the position earlier this year. Klein, who declined to run for a full term, replaced Jeff DeWit, a former Trump campaign leader who was appointed to be NASA’s chief financial officer.

As state Treasurer, Yee will earn an annual salary of $70,000.


Arizona Treasurer’s race by the numbers

Early votes

Kimberly Yee 55 percent

Mark Manoil 45 percent

LD1 incumbents say they have political targets are on their backs

Rep. David Stringer and Rep. Noel Campbell
Rep. David Stringer and Rep. Noel Campbell

Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, said he wasn’t planning to seek re-election to the House in Legislative District 1 after the 2018 session.

Campbell’s seatmate, Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, said he also debated coming back for a second term.

At 70 and 76, respectively, neither Stringer nor Campbell are looking to make a career in politics, they said.

But both said they couldn’t give up the seats they had fought so hard to win so easily.

Campbell unsuccessfully ran as a clean elections candidate for the House in 2010.

In 2014, he ran against incumbent Linda Gray, an establishment candidate who had served in the Legislature for 16 years. After a tough primary battle, Campbell managed to defeat her by 2,800 votes.

In 2016, Stringer ran against establishment candidate Chip Davis, a multi-term Yavapai County Supervisor. On election night, Stringer was ahead by just 60 votes. He increased his lead to 750, defeating Davis.

This year, the pair, who are running on a slate together, face a primary challenger. Jodi Rooney, a political newcomer who was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Prescott Valley Town Council in 2017, is also seeking the Republican nomination in LD1.

Campbell said the establishment camp in Yavapai County has made it difficult for outsiders to play a larger political role in the county, but he and Stringer are trying to end that pattern. He said the establishment would do anything to end their efforts and unseat either of them, including running a third candidate, like Rooney.

And that’s something that doesn’t sit well with him.

“They would like us to be good little Republicans and do what they say, but we just don’t feel that way. They didn’t help us get elected and they didn’t help us stay in office and they’ll go all out to get us out of here,” Campbell said. “I worked too hard to get elected and I decided I’m not going to give up so easily.”

While Rooney said no one put her up to run for the House in LD1, she does boast the support of several known political figures in Yavapai County.

Rooney has been endorsed by Arizona Corporation Commissioner Andy Tobin, who represented LD1 in the House from 2006 to 2014, former Senate President Steve Pierce, and other top municipal and county officials in the district. The Arizona Association of Realtors, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce have also endorsed Rooney.

Campbell said he’s unfazed by their support of the competition.

He described Rooney as “an unknown quantity,” and said both he and Stringer can run on their record and accomplishments during their time at the Capitol.

“I could totally be wrong, but I don’t see her as a viable candidate to unseat either myself or Representative Stringer. Nobody knows much about her, how she got in the race, or who is supporting her,” he said.

He said this past session, he and Stringer managed to get funding for the Mayer Unified School District, which was financially affected by the exodus of dozens of students whose families moved out of town after natural disasters last year destroyed low-income housing.

They also managed to secure an additional $1 million for the families of the 19 firefighters who died battling the Yarnell Hill wildfire in 2013, he said.

“There’s saddle horses and there’s work horses and I would consider both of us work horses,” Campbell said. “We work hard for this county. Ms. Rooney has got to get out and shake 10,000 hands and she has to show people she can get things done. We’ve already shown that.”

Campbell said he’s confident he and Stringer will get re-elected, despite a lack of support from the establishment in Yavapai County.

He said he also doesn’t think racial statements Stringer made about immigration at the Yavapai Republican Men’s Forum last month will have any effect on Stringer’s campaign.

Stringer came under fire after a 51-second snippet of his speech where he said immigration is an “existential threat” to the United States surfaced on social media. He has since said his comments were misconstrued, and he called the video a “Democrat hit piece.”

Stringer told the Arizona Capitol Times that people who were offended by his comments likely weren’t going to vote for him in the first place. He said his supporters know that he was just stating facts and that he didn’t say anything that was inherently racist.

“These kind of slurs and name calling, calling people racist and bigots, have been used so frequently now, used against the president, that it has desensitized a lot of people. It’s just dirty politics and people take it for what it is,” Stringer said.

Rooney, who previously worked at the Arizona Department of Transportation, said she wouldn’t have run if she didn’t think she could unseat either Campbell or Stringer. She said though she is new to the political scene, she’s committed to the GOP’s platform, and hopes to push for economic development, responsible investment in education and will champion the proposed Interstate 17 transportation corridor, if elected.

“That’s one of the first things you ask yourself, ‘Can you unseat one of the incumbents.’ Absolutely I think I can,” she said. “Our team is well organized and we’re moving forward and we do look to take one of the seats.”

Phil Goode, first vice chairman of the Yavapai County Republican Committee, said while Campbell’s position as an incumbent and his track record are strong, the controversy surrounding Stringer’s comments have made the race competitive where before it didn’t appear to be.

But whether the controversy has any significant effect on Stringer’s re-election chances or gives a boost to Rooney’s campaign remains to be seen, Goode said.

Seatmate Sen. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, told the Arizona Capitol Times that Rooney was a strong candidate who had a decent chance of taking one of the House seats, even before Stringer’s comments surfaced. But she said Stringer’s remarks had “boosted her numbers up exponentially.”

Goode said that’s likely not the case.

He said Stringer’s comments have energized the Tea Party segment of the GOP party in Yavapai County – Stringer’s voting base, and that has led voters to dump funding into Stringer’s campaign coffers.

“I think he’ll be OK,” he said.

New session, old story – cities, counties fend off Legislature’s reach

Arizona cities and counties staved off a major threat to tax revenues in the 2017 legislative session as they saw the number of measures hostile to them continue to grow.

The League of Arizona Cities and Towns and the Arizona Association of Counties fended off a bonding plan that would have allowed the state’s three public universities to keep the sales taxes they ordinarily would have paid to the state, cities and counties. The money would then be used to borrow $1 billion for construction and building maintenance.

The bonding plan would have cost local governments $7 million in its first year. But, while the bonding was touted as a 30-year plan, the mechanism didn’t have an expiration date and would have grown annually, and it would have thrown the state’s taxing system for a loop.

Dodging the sales tax recapture was a big win for local governments, said Jen Marson, director of the Arizona Association of Counties.

“That would have been so much money over the course of 30 years,” Marson said.

Ken Strobeck
Ken Strobeck

In an April interview on the bonding plan, League of Arizona Cities and Towns Executive Director Ken Strobeck said he saw it as a first step toward diminishing the transaction privilege tax system. If universities get to keep the sales taxes they would pay, other governmental bodies will want the same treatment, he said.

The league and the mayors of several towns railed against the plan, saying it pitted universities against cities. They also noted that local governments took on more financial burdens after numerous cost-shifts from the state throughout the Great Recession.

The bonding plan was amended to be a $27 million annual appropriation for 25 years instead of a sales tax recapture idea.

Cities and towns didn’t have much time to celebrate that win, though.

Lawmakers resurrected a plan in the waning hours of budget negotiations to regulate the dates of citywide elections that increase taxes. SB1152 requires municipal tax increase elections be held in November of even-number years. Charter cities have maintained the right to set their own election dates, which the courts affirmed. But lawmakers admitted they wanted a second crack at a court ruling, saying they expected to be sued over SB1152.

Patrice Kraus
Patrice Kraus

“That one is probably our biggest concern,” said Patrice Kraus, the league’s lobbyist.

Tension existed for years as the Legislature has sought to clamp down on municipalities it sees as rogues.

In a red state like Arizona, cities often tried to enact progressive laws that wouldn’t pass muster at the state level. Those measures then led to backlash from state lawmakers.

Last year, Arizona cities and towns decried a new law that jeopardized state-shared revenues if local governments enacted measures that contradicted state law.

The past two years saw state preemption laws that banned plastic bags and local regulations of puppy mills, among numerous others.

Despite the discord that surfaced from the bonding plan and new election regulations, relations between local governments and the Legislature weren’t as strained as in previous years.

“This was a year of negotiation for us,” Kraus said.

New leadership in both chambers and a host of new freshman lawmakers meant a better position for cities, Kraus said.

New House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, “ran a smoother ship” than his predecessor, and the league worked with a lot of lawmakers that it hadn’t in the past, she said.

The more congenial relationship meant the league found wins on pension and redevelopment incentive modifications, Kraus said.

Jen Marson
Jen Marson

Still, the state hasn’t picked up the costs it shifted to counties throughout the recession, a point of financial stress particularly for smaller counties, Marson said.

Counties are still paying the state for some services from the Department of Revenue and Juvenile Corrections, while they struggle to pay for basics like payroll at the local level, Marson said.

Marson said the counties were hoping that as the economy recovered, the cost shifts would be reversed, but they’re “taking a lot longer to reverse than they did to institute.”

Another area that suffered as the state slashed its costs: road funds. But this year’s budget put $30 million back into the Highway User Revenue Fund after lawmakers clamored for money to bring home to their counties to help fix roads.

Marson said the HURF monies still aren’t fully restored and numerous cost shifts haven’t been reversed, but she noted there were no new state impacts to counties’ budgets passed this legislative session.

“We consider that a win,” she said.

Reporter Lauren Marshall contributed to this story.

Pascua Yaqui tribe fights for early voting site, citing history of discrimination


How far residents of the Pascua Yaqui reservation have to travel to cast an early ballot this year will depend on what a federal judge concludes is the reason for moving the site in the first place.

F. Ann Rodriguez
F. Ann Rodriguez

Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez says it’s just a matter of numbers. She argued there just weren’t enough people using the site during the last presidential election four years ago.

Attorneys for the tribe, which filed suit demanding restoration of the site this year, said it isn’t that simple.

They point to provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act, which limits the ability of state and local officials to take any action that disproportionately affects the rights of protected minorities. And that includes Native Americans.

But U.S. District Court Judge James Soto could sidestep the whole legal issue – at least for the time being – by simply ruling that the tribe waited too long to file suit.

The case didn’t exist until it was filed a week ago. And the tribe wants James to order Rodriguez to set up the early voting site for five days beginning this coming Monday.

Underlying much of the case during two days of testimony is the question of whether racism played a role in the decision to eliminate the early-voting site.

Tribal Chairman Peter Yucupicio talked of a history of discrimination.

“Some of us walked these lands way before everybody else,” he told the judge. “We welcomed everybody, along with all the other tribes in Arizona. And yet we still fight to be equal.”

But attorneys for Rodriguez hope to convince Soto that the decision has nothing to do with race.

Chris Roads, the county elections director, detailed the factors used in deciding where to put the sites.

Some of that, he said, is based strictly on population, with areas of greater density getting a higher concentration of places for people to cast their ballots or drop off their early ballots before Election Day. There’s the question of whether a facility is available.

Pascua Yaqui Chairman Peter Yucupicio
Pascua Yaqui Chairman Peter Yucupicio

Roads said the concerns about foreign influence in 2016 led to choosing locations that could be physically secure, including cameras, enhanced locks on doors and, where available, hard-wired internet access.

Roads said officers also considered serving minority communities. And he said that sites offered by the tribe were not appropriate.

And then there was the testimony of an expert called by Rodriguez who said that of the 248 early voting sites used in 2016, the turnout at the one located on the Yaqui reservation was No. 217 – with just 44 people using it during an entire week and only 29 of whom actually lived within the precinct.

That, however, may not matter.

The way tribal attorneys put it, Soto has to evaluate the “totality of the circumstances” to determine whether there is a legally significant relationship between a decision that has a disparate effect on minority voters and the “social and historical conditions affecting them.”

One of those is the history of official discrimination. That includes not just the fact the Arizona Constitution barred Native Americans from voting in state elections until 1948 but that literacy tests and other barriers existed for decades afterwards.

Another is the extent to which minority groups have been elected to public office.

The court heard testimony that no Native American has ever been elected to statewide office or to Congress. But there also was no evidence that any Native American had ever sought one of those offices.

Part of the defense mounted by Rodriguez is that alternatives exist to having an early-voting site on the reservation, and not just because there is one at the Mission Library, which is 8.5 miles further away. There also is the option of requesting an early ballot and dropping it in the mail.

But Rebecca Lewis, an administrative support specialist for the tribe who is involved in voter outreach, said that for many tribal members, that’s not an answer.

“Mailed ballots can be tossed for errors” versus problems being resolved at an early-voting location when the ballots actually are cast, she told Soto.

And then there was a study of Native Americans in the Southwest, which concluded just 29.2% trust their mail-in ballots would be counted.

The bottom line, the tribe’s lawyers say, is that turnout by Pascua Yaquis in 2018 was 39% versus more than 70% in the county. With limited access to early voting, they say, tribal residents will not have an equal opportunity to vote for candidates of their choice, among them a Native American candidate running for Pima County recorder in the 2020 general election.

That race is between Republican Benny White and Democrat Gabriella Cázares-Kelly; Rodriguez is not seeking another term.

The tribe said that it offered to provide various sites for an early-voting location. And Lewis testified that no one from the county ever said any of these was not acceptable because of questions like internet access or even the ability to accommodate wheelchairs.

Nothing that Soto decides will affect an existing polling place, which will be set up on the reservation on Election Day.

But Roads said there are substantial differences with early-voting sites required to have more electronic equipment and be available and secured for days at a time.

That question of an additional burden for early-voting sites came up during the testimony of Joseph Dietrich, an expert hired by the tribe to help make the case that removing the option for tribal members is discriminatory.

He pointed out that Secretary of State Katie Hobbs offered to pick up the cost of maintaining the site yet that did not sway Rodriguez. But Dietrich conceded under cross-examination that does not cover the need to actually find people to staff the site for five days.

How Soto determines whether the tribe waited too long may depend on what he believes are the reasons.

Tribal attorney said there had been multiple calls on Rodriguez – not just by the Yaqui leaders – but also county supervisors, the secretary of state and the mayor of Tucson to reinstate an early voting site. But they said it was not until she was threatened with legal action that she even began to look at possible locations and that she asked the tribe to hold off on filing suit.

Soto said he hopes to have a ruling by Thursday.







Passage of election consolidation – from the Capitol to the courthouse

Republicans who pushed for a Senate bill intended to spark a lawsuit over consolidated elections will likely get their wish.

Senate Bill 1152, which was signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey, requires county and municipal tax elections to be held in the general election of every even-numbered year. It is intended to make raising taxes at the local level more difficult, the conventional wisdom among conservatives being that tax increases are harder to approve during a general election.

Rep. Kevin Payne (R-Peoria) (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)
Rep. Kevin Payne (R-Peoria) (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)

Rep. Kevin Payne, R-Peoria, who sponsored the underlying legislation that wound up as SB1152, welcomed a lawsuit – one he expects to win. He said he wants all voters to get a say rather than “just a few snuck in here and there.”

“When they have a special election, a lot of people either aren’t paying attention or they just can’t seem to find their way to the voter polls,” he said. “If you look at the numbers, when they have elections in May, the voter turnout is way low compared to what it would be in November.”

Ducey said that was the thought behind the bill, and that’s why he signed.

Election Day is important in Arizona, he said, “and we want to make sure there’s full transparency and full accountability and that people aren’t trying to game the calendar to set up an election to raise taxes when everyone’s out of town or when it would just be an advantage to whatever their issue is.”

SB1152 became a bargaining chip for House Republican leadership to get conservatives on board to pass the budget package. Lawmakers like Payne and Sen. Steve Montenegro of Litchfield Park were holdouts on the governor’s all-important $1 billion university bonding plan, but they changed their tune in exchange for a series of deals struck with leadership, including the passage of the consolidated elections language.

Ken Strobeck
Ken Strobeck

Ken Strobeck, executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, agreed SB1152 is likely to end up in a court battle because it is “definitely a challenge to the constitutional authority of charter cities.”

He said cities are already limited to four election dates per year, and further limitations would only serve to remove the discretion of those who know their needs best – local officials.

“Infrastructure has to be built. Police and fire services have to be provided,” he said. “Those things are not given as gifts. They actually have to be bought and paid for, and that’s what tax revenue supports. We’re at the front lines. We’re having to manage those decisions at the local level, and that’s where I think those decisions should rest.”

And Strobeck brushed off Payne’s concern that such interests attract only select voters.

“One hundred percent of registered voters have the opportunity to cast a ballot every time there is an election,” he said. “What are you going to do? Move dates all around just to say, ‘I want somebody else to turn out because I don’t like the percentage of turnout.’ No.”

He offered Prescott as an example, where the city is seeking a tax increase this fall to address its Public Safety Personnel Retirement System obligations.

Payne said SB 1152’s effective date was set for January 1, 2018, eliminating concerns for Prescott.

This is not the first time the Legislature has sought to limit local elections.

In 2012, Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, sponsored legislation that required cities to consolidate candidate elections with November general elections as well. But the Arizona Court of Appeals said the Legislature cannot force cities to hold elections on certain dates, and that ruling was effectively upheld by the state Supreme Court in 2015 when the justices declined to hear the case.

Since that decision, though, three justices have been added to the Arizona Supreme Court, including John Lopez and Andrew Gould, appointed when lawmakers expanded the court last year, and Clint Bolick, who was appointed by Ducey in January and who worked for the Goldwater Institute when it drafted the 2012 law.

Payne said those new, conservative justices bring a new outlook to the court, and he said he’s “pretty sure” they will rule in favor of SB1152.

Though Strobeck said it’s too early to speculate on the outcome of a lawsuit that doesn’t yet exist, he was not swayed by Payne’s argument that additional state Supreme Court justices will have the desired effect.

“We’ve already been through the courts a couple of times on this issue of local elections, and the court has come down pretty clearly that municipal decisions regarding elections are something that should stay at the city level, especially regarding charter cities,” he said. “I’m not convinced that people who are strict constitutionalists would read the Constitution any differently.”

No matter the result, a legal battle is sure to be costly.

“How costly is it?” Payne said. “I’m thinking the attorneys on our side are already paid for, are they not?”

He also insisted it could save money in the long run by avoiding failed ballots in off years.

Ben Giles contributed to this story.

Petersen threatens lawsuit if state elections manual not revised

The top Senate Republican in Arizona is threatening litigation against Secretary of State Adrian Fontes over a proposed elections manual.  

Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, issued a warning to Fontes in a Monday news release following the public release of the 2023 Elections Procedures Manual draft.  

The secretary of state must produce an Elections Procedures Manual every odd year before a general election. The document is intended to provide legal guidance to election administrators across the state for how to run elections.  

Sen. Warren Petersen

The last time Arizona had a legal elections manual was in 2019. Former Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich sued then- Secretary of State Katie Hobbs over her 2021 manual but Yavapai County Superior Court Judge John Napper tossed Brnovich’s lawsuit and said Hobbs “properly exercised her discretion” in drafting the manual.  

Napper placed responsibility on Brnovich after the state didn’t have enough time to implement the 2021 manual and said Brnovich failed to negotiate with Hobbs or explain how the manual was unlawful.  

Petersen and Speaker of the House Ben Toma, R-Peoria, sent a letter to Fontes outlining why they believe the 2023 draft manual is unlawful on Monday, a day before the draft’s two-week public comment period ended.  

One of Petersen’s and Toma’s primary concerns was the manual failing to instruct county recorders to remove voters registered on the active early voter list who have not cast a ballot during two consecutive election cycles. A law was signed in 2021 that requires this practice. 

“Our current Secretary of State has a history of distorting our elections laws and pushing the envelope on questionable procedures,” Petersen said in the news release. “My hope is that he will update the EPM with our corrections before submitting to the Attorney General and Governor for approval. Failure to do so will result in legal action.” 

Toma, House, Senate, Prop 211, court filing, dark money
House Speaker Ben Toma, R-Peoria

Fontes must submit his draft to the other executive officials of the state by Oct. 1. The deadline for approval following the draft submission is Dec. 31.  

Republicans already had expressed frustration over the two-week public comment period for the draft manual. Reps. Michael Carbone, R- Buckeye, and Steve Montenegro, R-Goodyear asked Fontes to extend the deadline to Sept. 1 and said two weeks wasn’t an adequate amount of time to review the 259-page document. 

Carbone and Montenegro also sent a letter to Fontes on Tuesday expressing their disappointment in his denial of their request with their comments on the manual. They also asked Fontes to publish all comments about the manual on the secretary of state website.  

“We understand that you are not responsible for the errors of your predecessor. And we appreciate the work you have done so far to produce the draft 2023 EPM. Nonetheless, we firmly believe that because we all find ourselves in this unprecedented and preventable situation, we owe it to our constituents to provide them with as much transparency and participation as possible in this process,” Carbone and Montenegro wrote.  

Paul Smith-Leonard, a spokesman for Fontes, told the Arizona Capitol Times Aug. 9 in an email the public comment process for the Elections Procedures Manual is not required by statute and was instead an effort from Fontes to demonstrate transparency.  

Petersen and Toma pointed out in their feedback of the draft manual that government agencies in the state typically allow a 30-day public comment period for rulemaking.  

Other issues Republicans raised with the draft manual include language that states counties lack the discretion to conduct a hand count of ballots cast at precincts or early voting centers. Petersen and Toma also stated language that gives the secretary authority to regulate voter registration procedures and authority to extend the early voting period for uniformed and overseas citizens must be corrected. 

Voting rights groups praised the draft in a Tuesday press webinar held to discuss the manual.  

Rosemary Avila, the senior Arizona campaign manager with All Voting is Local, said she believed Fontes’ draft was receiving more attention this year and in prior years because the 2021 draft manual failed to be administered by election officials. 

“It feels like the 2023 version has been a long time coming so here we are – I think everyone is ready for it and we’re ready to make sure access is provided to all Arizona voters,” Avila said.  

She said positives with the manual included provisions that ensure ballot drop boxes are accessible for people with disabilities, although she said there was room for the manual to improve such as including provisions noting voting rights for people in jail with guidance to counties on how to facilitate voting within jails. 

Chris Gilfillan, the director of political strategies and development for Arizona Center for Empowerment, said the consensus from members of his organization was that the draft manual takes a step in providing access to other methods of voting that work for peoples’ schedules.  

“Voters are busy, they have lives, they have jobs,” Gilfillan said. “Voting is not always the most important thing for them. They need to have access to every method of voting available.” 

Another voting organization, Secure Democracy Foundation, noted guidance for counties to prevent voter intimidation and requirements to increase security for voting equipment and ballot drop boxes as some of its significant additions of the draft manual. 


Political storms ahead for Dem elections head in red state

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

As the first Democrat to be elected as recorder in Maricopa County in decades, Adrian Fontes has also served as a punching bag for Republicans, for reasons both legitimate and political.

Now imagine what they’ll say about Katie Hobbs.

Newly elected as Arizona’s first Democratic secretary of state in more than 20 years, Hobbs enters an elections universe plagued by errors and doubts in previous years, both locally and nationally.

Throughout the country, reports of Russian influence on elections have surfaced, sowing questions of election integrity. That story touched close to home when the FBI alerted Arizona officials in August 2016 that Russian hackers targeted the state’s voter registration system, though no harm was reported.

Locally, elections in Maricopa County have been closely scrutinized since the 2016 presidential preference election, when voters waited in lines for four hours or more to cast ballots in the race to determine major party presidential nominees. It was a snafu that won’t soon be forgotten, though mistakes are always a part of the job, officials warn, and Hobbs will be further scrutinized for them as the overseer of the state’s election system.

Hobbs will be judged not only for her performance, but for her party affiliation, warned Zachary Smith, a regents’ professor of politics and international affairs at Northern Arizona University.

“Undoubtedly there will be this noise from the Republican Party when things foul up, if they do,” Smith told our reporter. “She’s gonna be getting the same sort of stuff (as Fontes).”

That’s a shame, Fontes said, given the nature of administering elections.

“It can’t be about politics. This is really a safe space. And it’s a very odd place to be as an elected official,” he said.

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes speaks at the Tabulation and Election Center, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes speaks at the Tabulation and Election Center, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Presidential primary

Nonetheless, election officials at the county and state level acknowledge that partisan criticism is unfortunately inevitable given the nature of the offices — they’re elected positions, after all, and that means those who hold the office run in partisan elections pitting Republican against Democrat.

It’s always been that way. What’s different now is the heightened awareness of the importance of election management, said Fontes.

Fontes said that began in the last presidential primary, as Democrats debated the system by which Hillary Clinton was eventually nominated to run. At issue were superdelegates, who cast deciding votes for who will serve as the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee at party conventions, but aren’t beholden to the result of a popular vote in each state.

“You had this idea of, what is a fair election? What is a fair nomination process?” Fontes said.

Perhaps that helped lay the groundwork for discontent once the presidential preference election was held in March 2016. The disastrous day, in which a decision by then-Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell to reduce the number of polling places in the county was widely panned, is a black mark on Arizona elections.

“Absolutely that put a big exclamation point on it,” Fontes said. “And people really started to say the administration of elections is important… So where you had a political class that was always concerned about these things, now that particular topic jumped out into the public sphere.”

That public conversation has led to greater demands on election managers, said state Elections Director Eric Spencer.

“There are different and exponentially heightened expectations about the way elections should be run,” Spencer said. “The public and the media’s expectation is that elections should basically be error free, that polling places should be line-free… and that results need to be faster and with less uncertainty.”

“Regardless of your political party, you have to anticipate the political and the media demands in the new era, and you need to get ahead of it.”

Expected perfection

Fontes and Spencer agree that the demand for perfect elections is unrealistic, particularly in a county like Maricopa, the fourth largest in the nation.

Spencer compared Election Day to trying to land a plane when the landing gear won’t engage: “You’re going to have to crash land the plane in the safest way possible.”

Perfection “is impossible,” Fontes said.

That was certainly true in August, when Fontes got off to an inauspicious start running his countywide first election.

Fontes was elected recorder based on a pitch to better manage elections, yet his initial performance was widely criticized and generated national headlines. Decisions he made while preparing for Election Day left dozens of polling places across the Valley unprepared to open on schedule the day of the election.

Michele Reagan at her 2015 inauguration (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting)
Michele Reagan at her 2015 inauguration (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting)

Waited hours

That meant voters waited hours that morning to cast their ballots. Some simply had to leave. If there’s anything for Hobbs to learn from that episode, it’s to own up to the mistake and ensure it doesn’t happen again.

“The fact that those polling places didn’t open on time was a result of a decision that I made, and that decision was to hire a contractor instead of training our own folks to do it,” Fontes said. “So is that a valid criticism of my decision in that particular instance? Absolutely. Is that0f a partisan criticism? No, it’s not. We didn’t open up 100 percent of our polling places on time because of that decision, and I accept responsibility for it.”

As for Michele Reagan, the outgoing secretary of state offers plenty of teachable moments.

Reagan didn’t even make it out of the Republican primary against a well-funded opponent with plenty of ammunition, thanks to Reagan’s own missteps, particularly a failure to send out 200,000 publicity pamphlets to voters on time as prescribed by state law.

While the error didn’t result in criminal charges, an investigation spearheaded by the attorney general excoriated Reagan for the lack of accountability following the mistake, which later hounded her on the campaign trail.

Smith of NAU said Hobbs would do well to at least avoid the same type of mistakes that harmed Reagan’s reputation.

“Michele Reagan’s mistakes were not that she committed errors, it’s that she omitted doing things that she might’ve done to make things run more smoothly,” he said. “And I think that the job of the secretary of state, as I said, is fairly administrative and fairly routine.”

Reagan also was criticized for errors that were out of her control. While it was the Maricopa County recorder’s decision to reduce the number of polling places in Maricopa County in 2016, Reagan was blamed at the time as the figurehead of Arizona elections. Her primary opponent continued to use the episode on the campaign trail by casting her, not inaccurately, as the state’s chief elections officer.

Reagan declined to comment.

The confusion constantly weighed down the office, said Spencer, and will likely carry over to Hobbs.

“The biggest misconception is that the secretary of state has authority over every square inch of the elections process… In many ways we’re a collection of 15 colonies with a weak central government before the Constitution created a stronger federal government,” Spencer said. “That’s how Arizona elections are intentionally designed.”


Hobbs was not made available to comment, but her campaign manager, Niles Harris, said avoiding criticism is as simple as not making mistakes.

“She’s looking forward to going into the Secretary of State’s Office and starting to solve the problems that have plagued it and making sure that we have fair and efficient elections,” Harris said.

Not so, officials warned.

Even when mistakes don’t occur – beyond Arizona’s typically long wait for results and lines at a polling place near Arizona State University, the general election in Maricopa County was largely a success – there is always room for partisan criticism and mudslinging.

Fontes has been the focus of such attacks ever since the primary election, when the Arizona Republican Party seized on his errors and ran a digital ad against him two years before Fontes is up for re-election.

Their criticism continued in the general election with unfounded accusations of Democrats stealing the election. Fontes said the attacks are based not in fact, but on his party affiliation.

“Consider the source of the criticism. The main criticisms that I’m getting are from actors who are acting in a partisan role for partisan purposes,” he said.

That’s a shame, Fontes said, because running elections is about as nonpartisan as a political job can get. Being a recorder is a job about logistics, data security and other management-type issues. Spencer said it’s the same for the secretary of state.

Newly-elected secretaries undergo the process of learning the role of the office, the scope of their authority, and the behind-the-scenes machinations that help ensure elections run smoothly.

About the only partisan influence Hobbs may have that’s different from Reagan depends on her legislative agenda, Spencer said.

“That can be a reflection of partisan values, and that’s entirely appropriate. So that’s to be expected, that there’ll be a different emphasis at the Legislature,” he said. “The other 98 percent of the job is not really affected by ideology.”

Hobbs has vowed to take politics out of the office, though she’ll also prioritize increased transparency in campaign spending, a politically-charged topic at the Capitol.

One way to keep politics out of the office is to get to know the staff. Spencer urged Hobbs to “take more time to listen than speak,” a point emphasized by Fontes as well.

The recorder said he waited until he was actually serving his first day in office to decide who stays and who goes.

“There are a lot of employees here that have incredible experience, and although your gut feeling may be to want to change everything immediately, proceed with tact,” Spencer warned. “People here with experience have incredible insight to give.”

That experience will be invaluable since the next election is less than 16 months away.

“The new administration will see the presidential preference election sneak up on it quicker than they’re ready,” Spencer said.

Progressive groups challenge law on deadline for ballots

This April 11, 2018, photo shows a sign directing voters to an early-voting location in Surprise, Ariz. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs settled a lawsuit with the Navajo Nation by adopting an elections procedure that allows counties five days to fix early ballots that don’t match signatures on file or are missing signatures. PHOTO BY ANITA SNOW/ASSOCIATED PRESS
This April 11, 2018, photo shows a sign directing voters to an early-voting location in Surprise, Ariz.  PHOTO BY ANITA SNOW/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Saying voters are being disenfranchised, two groups are asking a federal judge to void an Arizona law that says ballots have to be received by county officials by 7 p.m. on Election Day to be counted.

In new legal papers filed here Tuesday, attorney Sarah Gonski said the state has “no legitimate interest” in enforcing the deadline, particularly when the state is promoting that people cast their ballot by mail.

“Although Arizona may certainly set a reasonable deadline to receive ballots to ensure the finality of election results, the current Election Day receipt deadline is unreasonable and disenfranchising,” she wrote. “It is contrary to voters’ reasonable expectations, necessitates that ballots be cast far earlier than they need to be, and is poorly communicated to voters.”

What Gonski told Judge Dominic Lanza would be reasonable is to require that ballots be postmarked by the 7 p.m. deadline and received within five business days afterwards.

“After all, Arizona need not complete its total vote count until 20 days after Election Day,” she said.

Real Consequences

Gonski said this isn’t just an academic question.

She specifically cited the 2016 presidential preference primary where more than 72,000 Republicans cast a ballot saying they wanted Marco Rubio to be the GOP nominee. She said it was that requirement to have ballots in by that 7 p.m. Election Day deadline that caused so many people to “waste their vote on a ghost candidate.”

But Gonski also cited figures she said prove that minority voters, particularly those in rural counties, are five to six times more likely than Anglos to have their early ballots uncounted because they did not arrive on time. And she said at least some of the blame for that is “traceable to Arizona’s long history of discrimination against minority voters.”

“Discrimination in education has led to persistent gaps that have left these minority voters less educated than their white counterparts, which makes them less likely to be aware of the Election Day receipt deadline,” she wrote.

At least part of Gonski’s lawsuit relies on that disproportionate effect to claim the deadline violates the Voting Rights Act. It generally prohibits states from enacting laws that impair the rights of minorities to vote.

But she also claims that the law is an impermissible burden on the right of all people to vote.

Gonski is representing two groups.

One is Voto Latino, which she said is a nonprofit group that is involved in trying to register Latinos to vote. The other is Priorities USA which she describes as a “nonprofit, voter-centric progressive advocacy and service organization.”

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

It names Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, as the state’s chief election officer, as defendant. An aide to Hobbs said she was studying the lawsuit but does not comment about ongoing legal matters.

Central to the litigation is the wide use of mail ballots, with about 1.9 million votes cast that way in the 2018 election out of about 2.4 million ballots cast.

Gonski said while people who get early ballots can bring them to a polling location on Election Day, about 90 percent of people who voted with a mail ballot returned it through the U.S. postal service. She said that personal drop-off option can be “more time-consuming and burdensome” for rural voters who often live many miles from a drop-off location, as well as Hispanic and Latino voters who she said have difficulty obtaining transportation or leaving work during the hours when county recorders’ offices are open.

And Gonski said the situation is complicated by a 2016 law that now makes it a crime for volunteers and others to help collect early ballots. Gonski’s law firm has been involved in separate legal efforts – so far unsuccessful – to void that ban on what has been called “ballot harvesting.”

The result, she said, is borne out by figures from the 2018 election when she said Maricopa County rejected 1,535 ballots for arriving late.

“And Navajo County reported rejecting an eye-popping 3,062 late ballots – over 8 percent of all ballots cast in that county,” she told Lanza.

“Clearly, a large swath of Arizona voters believe their ballot is timely even when it is not,” Gonski said, with election officials and average voters unable to say exactly how early people need to be dropping their ballots into post office boxes to ensure they arrive on time to be counted.


She said that just last month the Pima County Recorder’s Office provided two different “recommended deadlines” for when voters were “required” to mail their ballots for them to be counted.

“Counties’ recommendations on when to place a ballot in the mail shift for a simple reason: Those recommendations are purely guesses,” Gonski said.

Beyond that, she argued that it is “reasonable” for people to believe that a ballot is timely if it is postmarked by Election Day.

“Postmarks are used to assess the timeliness of payments, applications, and other documents submitted to the government in other contexts,” she said, including taxes. And she said using a postmark rule makes good sense.

“Mail delivery times in Arizona are unpredictable, particularly in rural areas where home delivery is not common and even local mail is often re-routed through central processing facilities in far-flung cities,” Gonski said.

That issue of the disparate impact on Hispanics, which could be key to getting the relief sought, raises a separate question of why, one that Gonski conceded in the legal papers she cannot answer. But she has some theories of why, and not just that her claim there has been discrimination against minorities in education in Arizona.

She also said there is a lack of language assistance to voters. Gonski said that is coupled with “sustained resistance to bilingual education and mandated English-only education.”

“Hispanic and Latino voters are less likely to understand the instructions provided by county election officials regarding the Election Day receipt deadline, particularly when those instructions are inconsistent,” Gonski told the judge.

Protecting Arizona election officials crucial ahead of upcoming elections

In Arizona, the county recorder’s office is responsible for voter registration and early voting and they also play a vital role in their county’s local, state and federal elections. On July 3, 2023, the Mohave County Board of Supervisors accepted the resignation of County Recorder Kristi Blair. Blair is the sixth county recorder to resign in the past two years – and according to Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, only 6 out of 15 county recorders going forward will have been in office prior to 2021 

Sarah Gonski

Arizona isn’t alone in facing an exodus of election officials. Election officials nationwide, beaten down by harassment, frivolous public records requests, and lack of support, have left the field at a shocking rate – and institutional knowledge has left with those who have resigned. In turn, this could lead to increased election administration errors, and a lack of qualified, confident voices to counter election conspiracies. With more than half of Arizona’s county recorders being newly re-staffed, residents will be relying upon a likely-inexperienced administration team to carry out the election process and are at risk of experiencing some of these very problems.  

Ever since the 2020 presidential election elections, Maricopa County has been the epicenter of election denialism – three years later, we’re still seeing the impact of the hyper-politicization of democracy on our elections workers in our state.  

Despite underfunded elections departments, Arizona officials did everything in their power to prepare for the 2022 midterm elections, including launching an election command center that allowed officials to respond quickly to media requests and debunk election lies. However, on November 8, 2022, ballot recording machines experienced technical problems in a fifth of the county’s polling places. While election officials reassured voters that it would not affect their vote, many anti-voter candidates, already down in the polls, capitalized on the problems and fueled false statements regarding election integrity, further driving a wedge between tried-and-true secure voting practices and voters in the Grand Canyon State.   

Caseless claims about the validity and security of elections stemming from the 2020 election continue today. And like so many states across the nation, Arizona has faced an uptick in hostility towards election officials, perpetuated by election deniers. Increased threats and harassment against election officials in Arizona have transcended beyond party lines. Current Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, Former Secretary of State and now Governor Katie Hobbs, Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates, and Recorder Richer himself have been continuously threatened and harassed over election results.   

State leaders know that voting rights and the integrity of our elections must be safeguarded – which is exactly why Arizona representatives voted to boot Liz Harris from the State House earlier this year. But continued pressure, mounting backlash, frivolous lawsuits, and even threats of violence from election deniers are contributing to a challenging, even dangerous, election environment. Undoubtedly, this will make the future hiring of qualified election officials more difficult.  

The gravity of anti-democratic sentiment nationwide and partisan refusal to fortify voting rights at the federal level threatens the future of voter access. Election denialism further has the potential to erode trust in our democracy and demean the legitimacy of our government – this is what makes it dangerous. It’s more important than ever that we take a stand against election denialism, which will take critical work to ensure fair, efficient, and secure elections.  

Thankfully, the majority of the American public remain optimistic, as seen in the 2022 midterm elections where voters of both parties overwhelmingly rejected election denialism – but our work to ensure safe and secure elections must continue.  

Above all, federal election infrastructure funding would allow for increased staff wages, critical updates to voting equipment, the patching of security vulnerabilities, and other urgently-needed modernizations. Most importantly, maintaining well-funded and fully-staffed election offices will ensure all eligible voters can exercise their fundamental rights.  

Instead of politicizing our election offices, we need to work together to ensure Arizona’s election officials have the proper resources to execute efficient, secure and streamlined elections. Ahead of critical state elections and the 2024 presidential elections, we need trust in our officials to do their job – free from harassment and threat. Our democracy depends on it.  

Sarah Gonski is an Arizona-based election law attorney and policy expert who advises campaigns, political committees, think tanks, and advocacy organizations at every stage of the political process. Her consulting clients include the Institute for Responsive Government and the Center for Secure and Modern Elections, where she helps develop and implement bipartisan policy solutions to render the election process more voter-friendly, accurate, and efficient. Prior to her policy work, she spent seven years at Perkins Coie working to secure and expand access to the democratic process. In that capacity, she litigated over 100 election law and voting rights cases across the country, including lawsuits seeking to overturn Maricopa County’s results in the 2020 presidential election. Sarah is a graduate of the University of Maryland-College Park and Harvard Law School. 


Push to change election laws triggers GOP infighting

Michelle Ugenti-Rita (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
In this undated photo, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, makes a point during a debate on the floor of the Arizona Senate. Ugenti-Rita has long been the leader in pushing election policy at the Legislature, but is at odds this year with fellow Republicans who pushed a record number of election-bills in response to their dissatisfaction with the 2020 presidential election. (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita had spent the past month heading off more than a dozen bills sponsored by her vice chair, and she was so close to succeeding.

Days before the deadline to hear bills in committee or let them die of neglect, the Scottsdale Republican and chair of the Senate Government Committee scheduled a single bill from Sen. Kelly Townsend, a simple two-sentence measure that would require that election equipment be made in America and all election data stay here.

Instead, she got all Townsend’s bills, in the form of a sweeping 13-page amendment that would ban felt markers at polling places, create new rules for Maricopa and Pima counties and give lawmakers carte blanche to demand that hundreds of thousands of ballots be recounted by hand.

Ugenti-Rita and the committee’s three Democrats killed the amendment. Townsend used her microphone in the committee room – and later her figurative microphone on social media sites — to complain about a fellow Republican blocking her bills and vow that the bills will be resurrected at some point. 

The showdown illustrated a point of contention among Republicans this year. Ugenti-Rita has for years led her caucus on election policy, pushing bills that earned the ire of voting rights advocates but that still pale in comparison to legislation introduced this year by others.

Ugenti-Rita and her House counterpart, Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, have reintroduced legislation from past years to remove some voters from the Permanent Early Voting List, add warning clauses to voter initiatives and limit future initiatives to a single subject.

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, addresses those protesting the closure of businesses April 22 at the state Capitol. With her is Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES
Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, addresses those protesting the closure of businesses April 22, 2020, at the state Capitol. With her is Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa. Townsend this year introduced several bills to address problems Republicans found with the 2020 presidential election. PHOTO BY HOWARD FISCHER/CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES

Other Republicans have gone much further, with bills that would effectively end mail voting and permit lawmakers to toss out election results a legislative majority doesn’t like. The record 125 election-related bills introduced this year posed an unprecedented challenge for voting rights advocates who are used to battling against a familiar set of foes on a familiar set of election issues. 

“It feels like this session they are consciously trying a strategy of just throwing bills at the wall to see what sticks,” said Emily Kirkland, executive director of Progress Arizona. 

‘Wrong way’

There are always more bills addressing elections in odd years, as lawmakers and election officials seek to fine-tune legislation and prevent whatever issues – real or perceived – in the latest election from arising in future years. But this year, as a sizable chunk of the Republican majority in both legislative chambers refuses to publicly admit, if not believe, that President Joe Biden won Arizona, there are more bills than ever and some of them go further than anyone could have imagined.

“It’s a full-scale assault on democratic norms and institutions,” Kirkland said. “It’s a really urgent situation that feels like a five-alarm fire.”

Rep. Shawanna Bolick, R-Phoenix, made national news in late January when she introduced a bill that would allow the Legislature to revoke the secretary of state’s certification of election results at any time before the presidential inauguration, by a simple majority vote of the Legislature.

Shawnna Bolick
Shawnna Bolick

Republican lawmakers looked in vain for ways to replace Biden electors with President Donald Trump electors, only to be shot down by their own attorneys. Townsend even filed a resolution that would have the Legislature — which first met nearly a week after Congress certified Electoral College results and just over a week before Biden’s inauguration — belatedly appoint Trump’s electors. That resolution was never assigned to a committee.

While Townsend’s measure would have retroactively addressed one election, Bolick’s was a far-reaching plan to allow the Legislature to override voters at any point, for any reason. It also would have required jury trials in all election challenges, and would have barred county supervisors and county recorders from being eligible for office for 10 years if there is any disruption in a live video feed of ballot tabulation. 

In a statement after her proposal was widely panned, Bolick blamed media coverage for her bill’s poor reception. 

“The mainstream media is using this elections bill as click bait to generate misleading headlines,” Bolick said. “This bill would give the Arizona Legislature back the power it delegated to certify the electors.  It is a good, democratic check and balance.”

House Speaker Rusty Bowers declined to assign Bolick’s bill to a committee. Without a hearing by the end of the week, it’s theoretically dead – but parts of it could still come back as amendments to other bills.

Also dead without a hearing is a bill from Reps. Kevin Payne, R-Peoria, and Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, that would have repealed the 2007 law that created the Permanent Early Voting List. About 80% of Arizona voters are on the list and regularly vote by mail.

Payne acknowledged hours after he filed the bill that it wouldn’t pass and he didn’t want to waste his time with it. Ugenti-Rita, who again introduced legislation to remove some — but not all — voters from the PEVL, called the bill out as bad policy on her Twitter page. (She did not return multiple calls for comment on this story.) 

“Sharpiegate + legislative power grab + eliminating voting options = bad news for Arizona voters,” Ugenti-Rita tweeted over a picture of Blackman, Bolick and Alex Kolodin, her primary opponent turned GOP election attorney. “Each of these issues represent the wrong way to address election integrity, particularly voter confidence in our election system.”

Most bills dead

The high-profile nature of some election legislation this year drew more eyes to all bills. In 2019, the last time Ugenti-Rita ran her bill to kick roughly 200,000 voters who have skipped two consecutive election cycles off the PEVL, several hundred Arizonans registered their distaste of the bill in the Legislature’s Request to Speak system and the measure passed the Senate 16-14.

This year, well over 1,000 voters signed in against it, and it failed 15-15 in the Senate.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said she expects to see her office, Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Gov. Doug Ducey work together to try to prevent many election bills from even reaching the governor’s desk. So far, many of the bills appear dead — though so-called zombie bills that re-emerge are common late in the session. 

“Some of the things are really far-fetched and I imagine that legislators have introduced them to make a statement about something, but they won’t necessarily get a hearing,” Hobbs said.

Nationally, current and former secretaries of state described seeing an increase in election laws, some introduced by lawmakers who have never been involved in elections before. Trey Grayson, the former Republican Secretary of State of Kentucky, said this year’s bills, in Arizona and across the country, reflect an escalation of an existing theme of lawmakers trying to interject in election law. 

“In general, one of the things we do see in election administration is legislators, who aren’t necessarily on the relevant committees, often introduce election bills,” he said. “They all run for office, and so they have opinions that they think are fairly well informed — and sometimes they are from their own experience. It is an area where we often see outsider bills introduced.” 



Raquel Terán: One citizen’s road to the Legislature

Raquel Terán

You probably know Raquel Terán’s name by now.

She was taken to court recently by a woman falsely claiming – for the second time in six years – that Terán is not a U.S. citizen. But she’s more than a name on a frivolous lawsuit.

She is now representative-elect of Legislative District 30, and when she joins her fellow state House members in January, she will be one of 29 Democrats looking to shake things up at the Capitol.

Cap Times Q&AHow did it feel to have to go to court again over those false claims against you?

That train is never late. But it’s never late for many other people in our community. The reason why I posted about it on Facebook right away was because, yeah, this is happening to me, but it also happens to the child in the classroom. Or it could be the boss harassing the worker. It’s happening across the country every day to the everyday person. The good thing is that I have an opportunity to talk about it and to expose this kind of sentiment.

Did it darken the election for you?

Hey, Obama’s citizenship was questioned. He had to deal with it. He didn’t have to go to court. Twice! But it doesn’t darken the election. It just fast-forwarded the work that we need to get done.

Your soon-to-be colleague Rep. David Stringer has been in the news for making inflammatory statements about race and immigration. What would you say to him?

Come to my district. In Legislative District 30, there are more than 50 languages spoken. Somali-American communities are my neighbors. He is welcome to come to my house. He’s welcome to tour the schools in our area and see the richness of our community and how the community actually embraces people from different backgrounds. That’s what I’d say to him, what I will say to him.

Your campaign for the Legislature wasn’t your first foray into politics. You worked on the effort to recall Russell Pearce. Why did you get involved in that campaign?

I’m originally from southern Arizona, born in Douglas and raised between both countries. For me, immigration was very normal. People reuniting with families, seeking the American dream, equality, fairness and the values that the United States carries. So when the anti-immigrant sentiment started to get momentum, I got involved through Mi Familia Vota. … Then SB1070 happens. At that time, we were really optimistic that some kind of comprehensive immigration reform was going to happen at the federal level. But here in Arizona, we were at the tip of the iceberg. … People thought he was untouchable… but it was something that could get done.

You also worked for Planned Parenthood.

I learned quickly that the anti-immigrant sentiment was brought to us by the same people who gut the education system, who took away health care and women’s reproductive rights, voting rights and who deny climate change. So not only did I get involved with the immigration reform movement but with the progressive movement itself. So, in 2016 when Hillary Clinton lost, it was very devastating for many of us who had been organizing. We won by defeating Arpaio, but at the national level, we had elected Trump. … Jodi Liggett (Planned Parenthood lobbyist) called me up and said, “Hey, we know that the first thing that’s going to come out of this Congress is going to be the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and they’re going to try to shut us down.” I was brought in to lead their advocacy campaign to make sure our doors stayed opened.

You grew up in Douglas, on a street that essentially separated Arizona and Mexico.

International Street. When I grew up it was a fence, and now… they’re trying to make it into a wall. It’s interesting because when I go to southern Arizona, they’re trying to beautify it. There’s these images of butterflies and images of hands [holding]. People are trying to make the best of it by beautifying it, but it’s still separation. I totally understand it’s two different countries, but it’s also a community. And living in the community, you don’t even realize that it’s a heavily politicized place because that’s just the way it is. There’s always Border Patrol, and people get used to it. But at the same time, it doesn’t always have to be like that.

You have a 2-year-old son. How has he shaped the legislator you’re going to be?

I’ve always organized under a lot of urgency because I’ve seen how our communities are suffering. The medium income in our district is $29,000. I’ve seen our schools in the district – 90 percent or more [students] are on free and reduced lunch. So, the urgency to do something and to organize and to build political power to benefit our communities has always been there. Now, I have my son, and he’s going to go to school in two years. I need to know that he’s going to receive the best education possible, but I know that the state has been failing our schools. It’s a new level of urgency. … I talk about him, but it’s a whole generation we’re fighting for.

This was a big election cycle for Democrats but also for women across the spectrum. What do you think that says about Arizona?

Women are watching, and women are involved. … In the month after the [2016] election, I couldn’t catch my breath. It took me a while, but the Women’s March of 2017 was the moment my soul went back into my body. Like, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work. Women were making phone calls. Women were canvassing. Women were raising money. … There’s no going back.

What’s your top priority for this session?

I am part of the Elections Committee. … So, top priority is going to be protecting democracy. I think we are going to have to make sure that any roadblocks to voting are blocked. … We can’t move anything if we don’t have access to the ballot box.

Senate votes to keep secretary of state from overseeing elections they’re in

elections, Ducey, Hobbs, Lake, Finchem, Mayes, Hamadeh, ballots, hand counts, election deniers
(Photo by Pexels)

The Republican-controlled Arizona Senate voted Tuesday to require that the state’s top election official not participate in overseeing elections in which he or she is on the ballot – leaving the proposal one vote away in the House from heading to Democratic governor and former secretary of state Katie Hobbs’ desk.

The proposal by Rep. Rachel Jones, R-Tucson, has its roots in unfounded complaints by some losing Republican candidates in the 2022 election that Hobbs put her thumb on the scale for Democratic candidates while serving as secretary of state. Those who accused Hobbs of having a conflict of interest include losing governor’s candidate Kari Lake and Mark Finchem, who lost his bid to replace Hobbs as Arizona’s top election official to Democrat Adrian Fontes.

All Democrats in the Senate voted against the measure on Tuesday, as did all House Democrats when House Bill 2308 passed out of that chamber in February, saying the proposal was prompted by baseless conspiracy theories.

Republican supporters, however, said it was needed to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest by the secretary of state.

But secretaries of state have had the same election duties for decades. And the issue only arose after a Democrat held the office.

Bennett, elections, residency
Ken Bennett (Bill Clark/Pool via AP)

An amendment tacked on before debate on Monday by Sen. Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, watered down the House-passed bill slightly.

It now would allow secretaries to continue performing their constitutional duty to certify election results. But it still would require that they not participate in certifying election machines and other responsibilities of the office.

“One of the most important things we do as elected officials is avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest,” Bennett said Tuesday. “And we have rules that require us to admit conflicts of interest when they do exist.”

Bennett is himself a former secretary of state who engaged in partisan politics while in office.

He never faced conflict concerns or complaints while performing his election oversight duties in a race where his own name was on the ballot. But he did draw some scrutiny in 2012 when, after agreeing not to endorse political candidates, he agreed to co-chair the presidential bid of Republican Mitt Romney.

Bennett noted that his amendment means any secretary can still preside over the required election results canvass, the formal counting of votes.

“It simply says that the other aspects of the election, which the Secretary of State’s office performs, should be performed by other people in the office, not personally by the secretary whose name is on the ballot,” Bennett said.

The Senate amendment means the House will have to vote on the bill again before it heads to Hobbs for a signature – or a veto.

Democrats said the measure was another example of GOP lawmakers embracing conspiracy theories rather than pushing back against unfounded allegations that undermine public trust in the state’s elections.
The secretary does write the rules that counties use to run elections, though that is something that requires the consent of the attorney general and governor. The secretary also certifies and runs accuracy tests on election equipment.

Mendez, Kaiser, zoning, bill, Senate
Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe

But it is each of the state’s 15 counties that do the bulk of the election administration in Arizona.

“If we were really concerned with faith in our elections, we would take up our responsibility to explain how elections really work, instead of entertaining conspiracy theories that this proposal is built on,” said Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe.

Sen. Priya Sundareshan, D-Tucson, said removing the secretary’s ability to do the job they are elected to do because his or her name is on the ballot that election “begs the question of what their job is.”

“But more fundamentally, this bill is stemming from conspiracy theories,” Sundareshan said. “These theories are unfounded, there (has) been no evidence to support the necessity for this bill. And more to the point, there are plenty of statewide elected officers who also have played roles in the elections that are not contained here.”

Finchem leveled multiple accusations against Hobbs in a lawsuit he filed after he lost to Fontes by more than 120,000 votes in November’s election.

Among his allegations was that Hobbs should have stepped away entirely from her duties as secretary of state.

He cited her actions in 2021 to have Twitter flag some of his tweets as misinformation. That, Finchem said, led to the suspension of his Twitter account and unfairly influenced the election.

He also alleged that Hobbs failed to ensure the proper federal official signed a certificate that qualified a laboratory that certifies election equipment.

The suit was dismissed in December. And Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Melissa Julian last month sanctioned Finchem for filing the suit, saying it “was groundless and not brought in good faith.”

Finchem has since filed an appeal.

On Tuesday, Mendez pointed out that the proposal from Jones and the arguments for HB 2308 were very similar to those raised in Finchem’s lawsuit – the ones that the judge said were not brought in good faith.

“By extension (that) would mean that this proposal is groundless and not brought in front of us with good faith,” Mendez said.

But Senate Majority Leader Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, said he agreed with Bennett about the appearance of a conflict.

“This removes the conflict of interest and the theory of a conspiracy,” Borrelli said.

State high court voids 2018 law on city elections


The Arizona Supreme Court has once again nullified efforts by lawmakers to tell Tucson — and all the state’s charter cities — when they can have their elections. 

In a 5-1 ruling Wednesday, the justices rejected arguments by Attorney General Mark Brnovich that a 2018 law requiring cities to select their mayors and council members to coincide with statewide elections is constitutional. 

Justice Ann Scott Timmer, writing for the majority, said the Arizona Constitution clearly gives cities that have adopted their own charters “autonomy over matters of purely municipal concern.” And she said when cities run local elections fits that definition. 

The justices brushed aside claims that the 2018 law does have a statewide interest because the turnout is higher in statewide elections. Brnovich argued that low turnout adversely affects the fundamental right to vote. 

“But the attorney general points to nothing about off-cycle elections that erects barriers to voting or treats voters unequally,” Timmer wrote. And she said it’s irrelevant even if low voter turnout at off-cycle election is the result of “disinterest” in municipal issues. 

“That does not deprive those voters of their constitutional right to vote,” Timmer said. 

Only Justice Clint Bolick dissented. 

He said a plain reading of the Arizona Constitution specifically limits the power of charter cities to those issues which have not been precluded by state law. And Bolick said the Tucson off-cycle election runs afoul of that 2018 law. 

Wednesday’s ruling ends the latest bid by lawmakers to exert their will on not just Tucson but charter cities. 

But it may not be the last. 

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, who has sponsored various efforts to curb the power of cities to set their own election dates told Capitol Media Services he now is looking at putting a measure on the 2022 ballot to amend the Arizona Constitution to mandate consolidated elections. Such a measure, if approved by voters statewide, would trump Wednesday’s court ruling. 

Tucson Mayor Regina Romero, who had a simple response. 

“Good luck with that,” she said. “It’s sad that Rep. Mesnard is more fixated on overriding the will of Tucson voters instead of addressing the needs of his constituents in his Maricopa County district.” 

The fight goes back to 2012 when legislators said cities have to have their elections at the same time voters choose federal, state and county officials. But that was struck down by the state Court of Appeals which said that lawmakers had no statewide interest in interceding in what charter cities decide is a local matter. 

The 2018 revision sought to get around the earlier ruling with a declaration calling it “a matter of statewide concern” to boost voter turnout. It directed that cities have to scrap their election dates if turnout at a local-only election was 25% less than the most recent statewide election. 

The Tucson turnout in 2019 was 39.3% versus 67% of Tucsonans who had voted in 2018. But the council ignored the law and set the next election for later this year. 

Not only did the city refuse to change its election date — voters rejected a ballot measure that year to conform to a statewide schedule — the council specifically set the 2021 primary vote for Aug. 3, with the general election for Nov. 2, 2021. 

So Brnovich, at Mesnard’s request, asked the state’s high court to rein in the city, declare the ordinance void and put city elections on an even-year cycle. 

The attorney general acknowledged that the Arizona Constitution, adopted in 1912, allows any city with at least 3,500 residents to “frame a charter for its own government.” But he said those rights fall when preempted by state law like the one Mesnard pushed through in 2018. 

Timmer, however, said she and the majority of the court read that statewide preemption on local laws to apply only when a city’s actions get into areas of statewide interest. 

By contrast, she said, when a city conducts its elections are strictly a question of how a community structures its government. And she said cities may have legitimate reasons for conducting off-cycle elections. 

One issue, Timmer said, is the possibility of “voter fatigue,” where discussion of local issues get buried during a statewide election. 

“Weighing those considerations implicates a city’s choice for how best to elect its officers,” she said. 

Mesnard disagreed that creates valid reasons for cities to have their own elections separate from the state and national campaigns. 

“I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the idea that folks can’t break through the noise, given that legislators face a similar phenomenon,” he said, noting they have to run during consolidated elections. And he said the alternative is worse. 

“You would have these happening throughout the year, constant commercials or ads or whatever, that I don’t think voters really want,” Mesnard said. 

“I think they like the idea of a relatively confined time period during which this happens, whether it’s ads on TV, whether it’s signs around the city,” he continued. “And then they want it to be done.” 

Nor was he apologetic about proposing to have voters statewide decide whether to override the decisions made by council members and residents of individual cities about when they want their elections. 

“I think it’s OK for the state as a whole to determine what’s good for the state as a whole,” Mesnard said. 

Romero disagreed, saying that city residents have determined this is none of the business of those who don’t live there. 

“Tucsonans have repeatedly affirmed that that our local elections belong in odd years, which allows for city-focused campaigns and robust public discourse on local issues that would otherwise be overshadowed by federal and state elections on even years.” 

Brnovich was more philosophical about Wednesday’s ruling. 

He said that, Mesnard’s request, he looked at the Tucson election ordinance and concluded it may violate state law. That required him to ask the Supreme Court to review the matter. 

“The justices ruled elections are a matter of purely local concern,” Brnovich said in a prepared statement. “We respect the decision and appreciate the guidance the court has provided.” 

Only Justice Clint Bolick dissented from Wednesday’s opinion. 

He said a plain reading of the Arizona Constitution specifically limits the power of charter cities to those issues which have not been precluded by state law. And Bolick said that includes the 2018 law enacted by lawmakers. 







Charter cities in Arizona: 


– Avondale 

– Bisbee 

– Casa Grande 

– Chandler 

– Douglas 

– Flagstaff 

– Glendale 

– Goodyear 

– Holbrook 

– Mesa 

– Nogales 

– Peoria 

– Phoenix 

– Prescott 

– Scottsdale 

– Tempe 

– Tucson 

– Winslow 

– Yuma 

Statewide Democratic candidates bypass rural voters, issues


Dave Tunnell has lived the entirety of his 76 years as a Democrat in rural, Republican strongholds. He cares deeply about his party, even when he’s acting as a proverbial punching bag for voters and candidates alike who aren’t satisfied with Democratic performance.

But he’s also disappointed with statewide Democratic candidates who have historically neglected rural communities in favor of urban centers.

And he’s picked up some colorful ways to say the same thing about those who pretend otherwise.

“That guy is all hat and no cattle.”

“You’re all carrot and no stick.”

Translation: You’ve got no substance, guy.

He’s done the math for local elections. Mohave County is decidedly Republican. No Democratic presidential nominee has carried the county since Lyndon Johnson, ironically against Barry Goldwater in 1964, and even then his victory was decided by fewer than 200 votes.

And for the statewide candidates, he’s heard the argument that there are more votes to capture in the cities than there are residents in some of Arizona’s most rural counties.

But Tunnell said he believes rural Democrats, and rural voters in general, could be the difference in a close statewide election.

The problem is that the divide between rural and urban Democrats can be even greater than the partisan divide. And as far as rural voters like Tunnell can tell, few candidates have made the effort to better understand the state’s most far flung communities, leaving votes unharvested.

Dave Tunnell
Dave Tunnell

Tunnell is a military man. He took a job with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs after his service, and he’s been retired since moving to Mohave County 18 years ago. He said he’s old-fashioned and believes in candidates who meet him face to face.  

“I maintain that if you want to switch somebody, there’s nothing better than looking them in the eye,” he said. “And if you can’t look them in the eye, at least be listening to their voice.”

He recalled a statewide candidate he did not name who lamented how few Mohave Democrats showed up at the polls in 2014, how few the party’s county representatives had been able to produce for the statewide ticket.

The unsuccessful candidate wondered aloud – with more than a hint of rancor as Tunnell recalled – why the voters had let him down.

Tunnell was honest with him: “They felt abandoned,” he said. “The simple fact of the matter is we never saw a single statewide candidate after the primary [in 2014].”

Arizona Democratic Party Political Director Quiana Dickenson said rural areas have not been prioritized by the party for years. But she said that’s changing as candidates realize they have to reach voters in their homes if they want a lasting connection.

Dickenson said rural voters in particular remember the candidates who put in the effort, and the party should remember the voters who do the same.

“We can almost always count on our urban areas to be more plugged in,” she said. “Let’s go further out first and bring them in. Those are the people who are truly committed because they’re willing to get in the car and drive three or four hours for a protest in the heat.”

Rural Democrats are just as energized as their urban counterparts, she said – they’re just looking for candidates who can capitalize on that in a meaningful way.

This isn’t rocket science or some new-found trend among voters. The rural-urban divide has been around for generations.

Nonetheless, Democratic consultant Chad Campbell said it continues to go unappreciated because the reality of that divide has some harsh arithmetic to compete with — the majority of voters and the majority of campaign contributions still come from urban areas.

Campbell said part of the problem is candidates from urban areas have a tendency to oversimplify rural voters and the issues they care about.

Water and property rights, for example, weigh heavily on rural voters’ minds – issues that are neither strictly Democratic nor Republican.

“Putting on a pair of boots and throwing on a cowboy hat and then going out there, that’s not connecting with rural Arizona,” Campbell said.

He noted both Democrats and Republicans have been guilty of that. But he couldn’t name a single statewide Democrat in this cycle who has done an especially good job of trying to change the status quo. They’ve relied on other strategies, he said.

For example, gubernatorial candidate David Garcia went all in on a higher turnout model that banked on increased Democratic enthusiasm, Campbell said.

Whether that will pay off for other candidates is yet to be seen, but Gov. Doug Ducey is poised to win over Garcia.

Campbell, a former state legislator, has learned from experience.

He said he’s always been a proponent of the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program, an effort to conserve and reintroduce the subspecies.

He recalled a trip he took, while in office, with the Arizona Game and Fish Department to the reintroduction area where he met with business owners and ranchers, and left with a far better understanding of the opposition.

“It was so much more than just cattle versus wolf,” Campbell said. “It was a really complex situation with federal government interaction and state and local [interests] that had been going on for decades and decades up there.”

The trip didn’t change his position, but he said it gave him an appreciation for the complexity of the issue and the importance of mitigating the negative consequences of the program.

That’s just a microcosm of the rural-urban divide, but he said it demonstrated to him the importance of familiarizing himself with rural worldviews. Seeing those people work on their lands and build their businesses stuck with him for years.

Campbell said candidates have to get to know rural Arizona. That doesn’t mean assimilating with them, leaving your desk job to run a ranch far from the urban sprawl. But it does mean being genuine and taking the time to listen.

Tunnell, the Mohave County retiree, said rural voters can tell the difference. They know when a candidate wants to represent them and when a candidate just wants their votes.

“Politics is about reaching out to people and giving them reasons to vote for you, being ready to make deals that will help all constituents,” Tunnell said.

Nowadays, he said, they want it to be enough that they fit some label.

And that’s if candidates make it out to those communities at all.

Campbell said statewide candidates from urban areas too often forget that Phoenix is not the center of the universe.

“Phoenix is the economic engine for the state in a lot of ways,” Campbell said. “But Phoenix doesn’t make Arizona.”

He said Phoenix is just part of something much bigger in a state with a long, storied history that doesn’t tie itself strictly to the city.

Tunnell doesn’t have the magic solution for Democrats to do better in rural Arizona. But he knows where they should start. A conversation can go a long way when voters like him share that with a neighbor, and that neighbor shares it with another neighbor and so on.

He’s holding out hope for an energetic Democrat who can break through the partisan noise and show his Republican friends that progressive values can be rural values, too. Someone who will invert the traditional statewide strategy, using more resources to unite the rural areas first and circling in on Maricopa County.

He doesn’t know who exactly could do that successfully. But he does know one thing for sure: No one from Phoenix could pull it off.

Superintendent of public instruction race too close to call

Kathy Hoffman and Frank Riggs
Kathy Hoffman and Frank Riggs

Early ballot results signal a long night – and possibly week – ahead for the superintendent of public instruction candidates.

As of Wednesday morning, Republican Frank Riggs had maintained a slight lead over Democrat Kathy Hoffman, most recently a former speech therapist in the Peoria school system. Riggs was ahead by less than one percentage point, giving Democrats hopes of capturing the party’s first victory for a statewide office since 2008.

And if the August primary was any indication, it could be days before the winner is declared.

Riggs’ victory over the crowded Republican primary was not made official until a week after the polls closed.

The former California congressman won the nomination by just 359 votes more than the runner up, Bob Branch, according to a final vote count announced on September 4.

Hoffman meanwhile faced off against just one Democratic challenger, David Schapira, and won nearly 22,000 votes ahead.

In many ways, they agreed on some common points.

Both sought greater oversight of charter schools, which are private operations that technically are public schools. Riggs in particular said Arizona should no longer allow these to be for-profit operations.

They also opposed Proposition 305, the measure to ratify the legislative decision to expand who is eligible for vouchers of public funds for private and parochial schools. But Riggs said he could support an expanded program if priority was given to low-income families; Hoffman said there would be less demand for vouchers if the state properly funded its public school system but said she would not eliminate the existing vouchers available to certain students.

Riggs, however, said he opposed a plan – no longer on the ballot – to raise income taxes on the state’s most wealthy to fund education. Hoffman said the state’s schools needed the $690 million that would have raised.

Hoffman also supported the Red for Ed movement and the strike earlier this year by teachers, saying that was necessary to get public attention for the fact that state aid for education has not kept pace with inflation. Riggs said while the movement had admirable goals it quickly became co-opted as a way of supporting Democrats.


Superintendent of public instruction by the numbers

Early votes


Frank Riggs 50.2 percent


Kathy Hoffman 49.8 percent

Syms ousted as Butler, Lieberman win LD28 House race

Rep. Kelli Butler (D-Paradise Valley)
Rep. Kelli Butler (D-Paradise Valley)

Democrats abandoned their single-shot strategy in the Legislative District 28 House race this year, and it paid off.

Incumbent Rep. Kelli Butler and fellow Democrat Aaron Lieberman pulled ahead of Republicans Rep. Maria Syms and Kathy Pappas Petsas early on and maintained their lead.

Syms sparked controversy early in the cycle when her husband, Mark Syms, challenged Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee as an independent, a move many saw as jeopardizing Republican control of the Senate. And she didn’t redeem herself in the eyes of fellow Republicans. During a debate in September, Petsas said Syms sowed disunity among the Republicans seeking to represent LD28 in both chambers.

In the midst of the Republican infighting, Lieberman pulled ahead of the pack in the money race, raising about $236,000 in total contributions as of the latest campaign finance reporting period. Butler was never far behind.

Some Democrats worried that abandoning the previously successful single-shot strategy and not focusing on protecting Butler’s seat was the wrong move. Those in the party seem to have called it wrong.

But Republicans may have found some redemption in Brophy McGee, who was leading her Senate race against Democratic challenger Christine Marsh by just about 1,500 votes Wednesday afternoon.

Lieberman was one of at least three Democratic newcomers who overcame Republican incumbents in the House. Domingo DeGrazia topped Rep. Todd Clodfelter in Legislative District 10, and Jennifer Jermaine ousted Rep. Jill Norgaard in Legislative District 18. Those outcomes narrow the party split in that chamber to 32-28.

And Dems could gain a fourth seat. Rep. Jeff Weninger won his re-election bid in Legislative District 17, but the race for the second seat was too close to call. Weninger’s fellow Republican Nora Ellen was behind Democrat Jennifer Pawlik by 1 p.m. Wednesday, but just about 400 votes separated the two.


LD28 House by the numbers

Early votes


Maria Syms 24 percent

Kathy Pappas Petsas 24 percent


Kelli Butler 27 percent

Aaron Lieberman 25 percent

The Breakdown: #48


police cop ticket traffic 620Arizona is on its way to joining 47 other states that have banned texting while driving.

It wasn’t easy, yet the Legislature also took the opportunity to go a step further.

And Arizona has a new statewide elections director. We’ll introduce you to Bo Dul and the incredible story of how she came to be a crucial part of our state’s democracy.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes and Stitcher.


Music in this episode included “Creative Minds” and “Energy” by Bensound.

The Breakdown: Not backing down


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

Republicans still hold the majority at the Legislature and significant posts at the state level, and they’re not afraid to exercise that power.

Arizona has elected its first Democratic secretary of state in 20 years, but just because the voters have expressed faith in Katie Hobbs doesn’t mean the GOP will give her an easy time in office.

If you though their attacks against Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes were tough, just you wait.

And Republicans are flexing at the state Legislature. Though they now hold a slim two-member majority, three critical committees will be split by much more favorable margins.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes and Stitcher.


Music in this episode included “Creative Minds,” “Funky Element” and “Energy” by Bensound.

Wanted: Candidates who will listen to what matters most to all voters

There are as many reasons to run for public office as there are candidates. Many are motivated by a particular issue or philosophy, which they emphasize in their election campaign. They tell us what they will do.

Too often overlooked, however, is what voters – at least a majority, not just the most zealous segments of a party — want to hear from the candidates. In a representative form of government, the voters’ collective desires should carry significant weight.

So why not start each election year by asking: What matters most to voters?

Sybil Francis

This is something we know about at the Center for the Future of Arizona, where our mission is centered on listening to Arizonans and learning what matters to them and prompting action on those issues. In late 2020, we commissioned our second decennial Gallup Arizona Survey, one of the most comprehensive surveys ever conducted in Arizona which asked Arizonans what they thought were the most impactful things we could do to create a stronger and brighter future for our state. One stunning revelation of this research is that we agree on much more than we disagree, contrary to the popular narrative of division and polarization of our state and country.

We found that Arizonans overwhelmingly agree on seven priority areas – shared public values – and more than 40 specific actions to advance our state. And three-fourths of Arizonans are willing to speak with others of differing views to solve problems.

A few examples of where Arizonans agree:

  • Arizonans overwhelmingly agree that educational attainment and a strong education system are vital to building a better future. Majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents want more money spent on public education.
  • Arizonans believe that education and training are necessary for building their careers, but they worry that opportunities are limited. Almost half of employed Arizonans earning less than $60,000 say they do not have access to the education and training they need.
  • Arizonans overwhelmingly support sustainable practices that protect our air, land, water and wildlife. Seventy percent or more want cleaner air, protected rural water supplies, a transition to clean energy, expanded space for parks and recreation, more spending to prevent forest fires and steps to reduce the urban heat effect.
  • Arizonans support comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship, including for Arizona’s DREAMers. A whopping 86% believe this is important.

What needs to change to put what matters to voters at the center of campaign rhetoric?

The news media can set aside horse-race reporting and press candidates to answer questions posed by their readers, listeners and viewers. Voters themselves can seek opportunities to question candidates and challenge them when they don’t give direct answers. The influential readers of the Capitol Times are ideally situated to do this.

But most refreshing would be candidates who step forward and embrace their role as representatives for all their constituents, not just a sliver of the electorate. Instead of commissioning polls to identify wedge issues that benefit candidates, they would ask their potential constituents, “What do you want to hear from me in this election cycle? What are the most critical issues to you and our state I should address?”

Imagine candidates who eschewed tossing mud in favor of talking about issues we know are important to Arizonans. Imagine candidates more interested in proposing solutions to our most important challenges than in portraying the other candidate as evil personified.

Suggesting this approach may sound naïve, because our current primary system rewards candidates who appeal to a party’s most partisan voters. But are any candidates brave enough to address the concerns of everyday Arizonans? If the answer is no, I’d like to suggest that the news media can play a powerful role in shaping the narrative and getting candidates to focus on what voters care about.

The Gallup Arizona Survey found that the partisan divide we hear so much about may not be all that it’s made out to be. As Arizonans we agree on far more than we disagree, including a shared hunger to come together to find solutions that drive our state forward to a brighter future.

Candidates who tap into that hunger, who listen to voters and understand what they truly care about and propose ways to give them the Arizona they want … those candidates are the ones we need in 2022.

Sybil Francis is president & CEO of the Center for the Future of Arizona, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that brings Arizonans together to create a stronger and brighter future for our state.