American Democracy Under Threat: Battleground Arizona



Democracy is under threat from far-right movements in Arizona. There, the anti-democracy movement has mostly overtaken Republican politics and white supremacists, antigovernment, and militia extremists are intrinsic to the party or work closely with its leadership. Pushing Trump’s “Big Lie” almost seems to be a requirement as many election deniers are either in positions of power or may soon be. Trump-endorsed candidates run the slate for top positions. The New York Times described what is happening this way: “As a group, they [election deniers] maintain that the 2020 election was stolen, have promoted conspiracy theories about COVID and have vowed to protect Arizona’s schools from gender ideology, critical race theory and what McCarthyites denounced 70 years ago as ‘godless communism.’ They have cast the 2022 election as not just history-defining but potentially civilization-ending.”

Read more about the Arizona groups working to undermine democracy.

The attacks on the legitimacy of Arizona’s election started immediately after the state was called for President Joe Biden in November 2020 with conspiracies about the presidential election spreading like wildfire. Claims that Sharpie pens were somehow being used to cancel ballots immediately went viral. The weekend after the vote, protest­ers chanted “stop the steal” outside the Mari­copa County Elec­tions Depart­ment, where workers were still tallying ballots. The protests featured a number of far-right extremists, including white supremacist Proud Boys and members of the militia group, Three Percenters. Many of the protesters were armed with semi-automatic weapons. Protests continued through 2021, with the Arizona Capitol seeing more armed protests than any other Capitol in the country. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Database (ACLED), in the lead up to the midterms, conditions fueled by “Stop the Steal” movements and stolen election lies will “further aggravate tensions and raise the risk of violence.”

Voter intimidation already marked the 2020 election, with far-right activists showing up at polling sites in Black, Latino, and Native American neighborhoods. Vice News reported that three days before the election, a crowd of white Donald Trump supporters carrying MAGA flags and megaphones descended in pickup trucks at an early voting center in Guadalupe. They chanted “Trump 2020” while handing out Republican fliers. Far-right activists formed 75-foot lines outside of polling sites to check ballots. This was all part and parcel of tactics employed by Arizona Trump loyalists who had been stoking fears about voter fraud for months in an attempt to undermine confidence in the election.

After the election, Trump allies descended on the state. On November 30, 2020, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and several Arizona lawmakers held an unofficial “hearing” in Phoenix in which participants made unsubstantiated allegations about the election’s integrity. One of those lawmakers, State Representative Mark Finchem, is a far-right extremist. In August, CNN reported that he had previously shared posts on social media about stockpiling ammunition and touted his membership in the Oath Keepers anti-government extremist group, where several members have been indicted for seditious conspiracy for their roles in the January 6 insurrection. At least four Arizona lawmakers are connected to the Oath Keepers, including Finchem, State Senator Wendy Rogers, State Senator Kelly Townsend, and State Representative Quang Nguyen. CNN also dug up disturbing Pinterest posts by Finchem, including a Pinterest board that had a “treason watchlist.” CNN described the board as having “pins of photos of Barack Obama alongside imagery of a man clad in Nazi attire making a Nazi salute; Finchem also shared photos of the Holocaust claiming it could happen in the United States.”

Arizona far-right attempts to change 2020 election results
Arizona had a “Protect the Vote” rally at the Arizona State Capitol with more than 1,000 attendees on January 6, 2021, an event that flew under the radar as it was the same day the U.S. Capitol was stormed. The event was supposed to be a watch party focused on Arizona representatives’ objections to the election certification, and it was halted as events in Washington turned violent. The crowd reportedly featured a mix of families, conservatives, and far-right extremists. Families were seen gathering next to militia members in military gear while Proud Boys flashed white supremacist hand signs and took group pictures. The participants were there to make clear they thought the November vote was rigged.

In an attempt to change the election outcome, Trump supporters submitted a phony Arizona electoral vote certificate to Congress, a copy of which was made public by American Oversight in March 2021. ​​This was the result of what has come to be known as “The Signing,” where 11 Arizona Trump loyalists gathered in December 2020 to organize their fake set of electors and sign onto a statement that Trump was the true winner of the Arizona electoral votes. In July, the events surrounding “The Signing” became the focus of a federal investigation, according to grand jury subpoenas issued to two state senators. The subpoenas sent to Arizona State Senate President Karen Fann and State Senator Kelly Townsend request documents related to “a criminal investigation being conducted by the United States Attorney’s Office.” Investigators are demanding communications from Fann and Townsend related to the certification of the 2020 election and “any document(s) relating to the signing or mailing of a document alleging to be a certificate of electors for Donald Trump and Mike Pence.” The slate of fake electors included Finchem, other state representatives, state GOP officials, and far-right activists including Tyler Bowyer, COO of Turning Point Action.

Then came a series of “audits” and lawsuits aimed at undermining the legitimacy of the election, efforts often driven by GOP Trump supporters. As an example, the lawsuits included one in November 2020 filed by the chair of the state Repub­lican Party, Kelli Ward, who asked the court to decer­tify Biden’s win. She contin­ued to spread false­hoods after losing the case. In February 2021, the State Senate Judi­ciary Commit­tee held a six-hour hear­ing ques­tion­ing Mari­copa County offi­cials about the elec­tion. The senate subpoenaed county ballots, voting machines, and other records and hired Cyber Ninjas, a company owned by an advocate of “Stop the Steal” lies, to conduct the review. Arizona Senate Pres­id­ent Karen Fann, State Senator Wendy Rogers, and other Repub­lican legis­lat­ors publicly promoted the review and alleged “irreg­u­lar­it­ies” through­out 2021. U.S. House Representative Paul Gosar made claims of voter fraud and opposed the official certi­fic­a­tion of Arizon­a’s elect­oral votes.

The line between some GOP officials and white nationalist and other far-right extremists is non-existent
Extremists and some top GOP officials have effectively been fused in the state. State Representative Mark Finchem is a self-identified member of the anti-government Oath Keepers. Gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake is closely allied with the QAnon conspiracy theory movement and in August endorsed an antisemitic Oklahoma state senate candidate (after the endorsement ignited a firestorm, she withdrew it, but Rep. Finchem still endorses the candidate). Lake appeared with QAnon influencers in July, and Finchem has a history of sharing QAnon content on the white nationalist social media site Gab. State Senator Wendy Rogers, also an election denier, has worked openly with white nationalist Nick Fuentes, whose supporters are called “Groypers” and has advocated for the racist “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory and made antisemitic statements. At an event organized by Fuentes in Orlando in February, Rogers called for violence against “traitors,” after denouncing critics of the “honorable” Confederate General Robert E. Lee and supporters of the “bioweapon” coronavirus vaccine. “We need to build more gallows…and make an example of these traitors who’ve betrayed our country.” Her extreme language drew barely a peep of protest from her fellow Arizona Republicans and has not harmed her ability to raise huge amounts of money.

Leaked messages have shown Rep. Gosar wanted to use the white supremacist Proud Boys, many of whose members have been charged with seditious conspiracy for their activities during the January 6 insurrection, to disrupt the certification of the election. Gosar has a long history of involvement with extremists and is accused of working with those who fomented the January 6 insurrection. Gosar has spoken at white nationalist conferences and shared a video of himself “executing” U.S. House Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He attended an Oath Keepers meeting in 2020, where he reportedly said the U.S. is “in a civil war, we just haven’t started shooting yet.” Fuentes held a fundraising event for Gosar.

Other attempts at intimidation by those pushing voter fraud conspiracies erupted prior to the August primaries. Seth Keshel, AKA Captain K, a former U.S. Army intelligence officer who espouses voting fraud conspiracy theories, began advertising in July for surveillance of drop boxes in Arizona and elsewhere in advance of the primaries. He posted a proposal on the unmoderated messaging app Telegram: “All-night patriot tailgate parties for EVERY DROP BOX IN AMERICA.” The post received more than 70,000 views. It is unclear how much of this activity happened, but some small-scale “stakeouts” have been talked about online. People reportedly discussed bringing AR-15s and other firearms, making citizens’ arrests and logging license plates. That has set off concerns among election officials and law enforcement that these situations could easily veer into illegal voter intimidation or violent confrontations in the future.

The result of all this is that the Arizona election denier movement has nearly consumed the GOP. The August primary results make it the only battle­ground state so far to nomin­ate proponents of Trump’s election lies for all three top statewide offices. The ties between these officials, extremist groups, and conspiracy movements like QAnon are very close. Calls by right-wing conservative activists and extremists to insert themselves into the electoral process are unnerving. Arizona election officials have faced serious threats, including death threats, and many have left their jobs as a result. This environment of constant conspiracies, lies, and attacks on election officials and infrastructure has made this essential work for a functioning democracy perilous.

Undermining the election’s legitimacy, even though no evidence of fraud
Arizona has undergone at least 10 reviews of the 2020 election, both official investigations and unofficial partisan efforts, none of which have found any evidence of widespread fraud. That hasn’t stopped persistent efforts to undermine and even attempt to overturn the election. The most widely publicized of these efforts was a state senate-led push to conduct an “audit” of votes cast in Maricopa County, which was won by Biden.

The audit was not based on any evidence of widespread voter fraud, in Maricopa County or elsewhere. After the 2020 election, Senate President Karen Fann and then-Arizona Senator Eddie Farnsworth issued subpoenas to Maricopa County for the 2.1 million ballots as well as election machines and other materials. Those subpoenas were re-upped in January 2021 by the Judiciary Committee. County officials argued that turning over the ballots would violate state law, but in late February 2021 a judge ruled that the county was required to turn them over.

In March 2021, Fann announced that the audit would be led by the firm Cyber Ninjas, whose  founder, Doug Logan, is an election denier who has repeatedly said that the 2020 election was rigged and supported the “Stop the Steal” movement. The statement of work signed by Cyber Ninjas indicated that the company planned to engage in direct contact with Arizona voters, the subject of a legal challenge from the group Protect Democracy. That part of the audit was supposedly dropped, but Arizona voters reported receiving visits from people falsely claiming to be election officials (there have also been reports that in 2020 Trump supporters and other failed Republican candidates in Arizona, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Nebraska and Utah conducted door-to-door canvasses). Records later obtained by American Oversight included a March 2021 report that indicated that a group called the Citizens’ Non-Partisan Grassroots project had canvassed more than 3,000 homes in Maricopa and Pima Counties. In early May 2021, the Justice Department warned that such canvassing could violate federal law. In September 2021, the audit wrapped up as Cyber Ninjas announced their investigation had actually increased Biden’s margin of victory.

In July 2021, the U.S. House Oversight Committee began investigating the Cyber Ninjas audit, which cost Arizona taxpayers nearly $6 million. The hearings brought to light more evidence of connections between officials and extremists. U.S. House Representative Jackie Speier questioned Ken Bennett, former secretary of state for Arizona and state senate liaison to the Cyber Ninjas audit, on his leadership position in Look Ahead America, an organization with ties to the Proud Boys and other racist extremists. Despite being confronted with Look Ahead America’s connections to the racists, Bennett announced that he was working on another project with the group, stating: “I’m with Look Ahead Arizona, which is an affiliate of Look Ahead America.” The investigation also revealed that the audit was driven by conspiracies about the election, including the search for “bamboo fibers or watermarks” in ballots.

At this point, Arizona’s various election reviews include a post-election statutory hand count audit confirming the accuracy of the original machine count, a post election logic and accuracy test, the partisan election review by Cyber Ninjas, and an interim report from Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich that provided no evidence of fraud. In Fall 2021, the Maricopa County Elections Department enlisted Packetwatch, a cybersecurity and incident response firm, to investigate a specific fraud allegation from the Cyber Ninjas report but also found no evidence of such fraud. Even though the audits failed to find any widespread problems, in Maricopa County or elsewhere, in April, Brnovich announced that the audit had iden­ti­fied “seri­ous vulner­ab­il­it­ies” that neces­sit­ated further restric­tions on voting access. The Repub­lican Mari­copa County recorder called the comment “despic­able.” Ridiculously, after the Cyber Ninjas audit failed to find any problems, Fann went so far as to say that the results of the audit should require the state to “uncer­tify” the results of the 2020 elec­tion. In August, Brnovich announced that an invest­ig­a­tion had disproved claims that offi­cials coun­ted hundreds of votes from dead people, another baseless conspiracy spread on the right.

Regardless of the fact that there was no evidence of a rigged election, conspiracies continued to swirl in the state. Emblematic of this is Staci Burk. In March 2021, a handful of Trump supporters working with Burk visited Maricopa’s election office and claimed, without evidence, that ballots could easily be accessed in a warehouse. One of Burk’s associates was caught on security cameras diving into a dumpster. Burk and her allies then claimed they found a trash bag filled with shredded ballots in the dumpster. Burk posted pictures of the shredded papers, including massive piles of paper, on Facebook. Her allegations quickly went viral in the right-wing media, earning mentions on far-right sites including The Gateway Pundit, One America News, and the Twitter account of conservative game show host Chuck Woolery. On her Facebook page, Burk claims former Trump National Security adviser Michael Flynn and pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, both election deniers, provided her with security after her “revelations.”

This isn’t Burk’s first attempt to undermine the 2020 election’s legitimacy. She sued Arizona’s secretary of state in an attempt to overturn the election result, only to have her case tossed out by a judge when it was revealed that she hadn’t registered to vote or voted in the election. She has also been a key player in a conspiracy theory claiming that fraudulent ballots were brought to Arizona via a Korean Air flight. Burk’s allegations were absurd, but they are not outliers given the many popular conspiracies related to the election. (In August 2022, a regretful Burk spoke in depth with Raw Story of how Trump acolytes latched on to her supposed evidence of fraud, leading her down a deep rabbit hole of conspiracy-mongering).

It hasn’t helped that notable Republicans in the state have failed to defend the fairness of the vote. Though Governor Doug Ducey, a term-limited Repub­lican, acknow­ledged Biden won in Novem­ber 2020, he stayed relat­ively quiet about the elec­tion contro­versy and the Cyber Ninjas review. Polling from Monmouth University found that the audits did more to reinforce concerns around election fraud than to alleviate them. Trust in the system has been damaged.

January 6 insurrection ties
Nowhere have ties between prominent political figures and the January 6 Capitol insurrection been more direct than in Arizona. Lawsuits to force Representatives Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs off the ballot from Free Speech for People failed, but they did lay out the case that Gosar and Biggs “were intimately involved in the plans inside the Capitol to reject the electoral votes of several states [and] were engaged in, at minimum, the planning and promotion of events that led to the insurrection.” Biggs attended White House planning sessions to keep Trump in office and helped spread the false narrative of a stolen election. He is among GOP congressional members who have refused to cooperate with the January 6 House Select Committee probe. Similarly, a separate lawsuit filed against Finchem alleged he was involved in January 6 by “being in close contact with the planners” of the riot “including throughout the day on January 6” and that he “raced to the Capitol when he heard it was being stormed, despite being warned to stay away.” The suit also alleged he took photographs with insurrectionists and posted “words of encouragement” online.

The filings also emphasize that both Gosar and Biggs promoted January 6 protests, not just as citizens but as “sitting members of Congress, insisting to their supporters that there was a legal route to install Trump as president for another four years.” CNN reported that in December 2020 “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander told followers on the video streaming app Periscope that Biggs and Gosar were “planning something big” for that day. Biggs denied to CNN that he had worked with Alexander.

These same people are some of the loudest voices in the state on the “Big Lie.”  Gosar, in May, participated in a panel to discuss Dinesh D’souza’s documentary 2000 Mules, which, in Gosar’s words, is “a documentary on how corrupt Democrats stole ballots in 2020.” During a January 2022 Trump rally in South Carolina, Biggs, in reference to the January 6 committee, falsely claimed that Nancy Pelosi “created an illegitimate committee to attack any Trump supporter.” Also at the Capitol on January 6 was Mark Finchem, a self-described Oath Keeper. On January 5, Finchem spoke to a “Stop the Steal” rally at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. In his speech, he told the crowd that Trump’s electoral loss was fraudulent and that Democrats knew the election was stolen. “I want you to hear a message from Americans,” Finchem said, speaking directly to lawmakers who questioned “Stop the Steal” activists. “This ain’t going away.” The next day Finchem was spotted outside the Capitol as it was stormed. He hasn’t changed his tune since. In April, Finchem was a guest on Steve Bannon’s podcast and discussed his plan to “amend the 2020 election,” describing the election as “irredeemably compromised.”

Finchem also urged Bannon’s audience to go to the website of VotifyNow, an app for people to report election shenanigans, that is affiliated with the far-right precinct strategy to take over Republican Party elections at the local level (the app was officially launched in May at an event that featured Roger Stone, Lara Trump, Mike Lindell, and the app’s creator Johnny Vieira). The app is popular in election denier circles. Finchem said, “if you spot something that you think is nefarious, if you think that there’s something going on in your particular area, whether it’s extra ballots or questionable behavior, if you see somebody stuffing ballots into a ballot box that just doesn’t look right, take a picture, create an incident report, and submit it,” adding that VotifyNow then puts the material “into a national database of basically evidence for any causes of action.”

In testimony in the front of the January 6 Select House Committee, former Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers said Biggs asked “if I would sign on both to a letter that had been sent from my state and or that I would support the decertification of the electors.” Bowers said he would not. Bowers also recalled Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani talking about election fraud: “We’ve got lots of theories, we just don’t have the evidence.” Bowers added, “I don’t know if that was a gaffe or maybe he didn’t think through what he said.”

Some legal changes undermine access to the ballot
Arizona has passed laws to make its elections more partisan and voting more difficult. Perhaps most concerning is a new Arizona law to strip its secretary of state of the authority to defend state election laws in court, instead handing that power over to the state attorney general, the expectation being that the latter will remain in the hands of a Republican.

In a rather brazen act, Arizona passed a law requir­ing docu­ment­ary proof of citizen­ship to vote by mail or in pres­id­en­tial elec­tions. Previ­ously, Arizona law required voters to produce docu­ment­ary proof of citizen­ship to register to vote in state elec­tions. H.B. 2492 expands this require­ment to cover pres­id­en­tial elec­tions. Local advoc­ates have estim­ated that the bill could kick up to 192,000 Arizon­ans off the state voter rolls, and pointed out that docu­ment­ary proof of citizen­ship laws histor­ic­ally have had a discrim­in­at­ory effect on communit­ies of color.

The DOJ announced in July that it had filed suit against Arizona because of the voting restrictions imposed by H.B. 2492. The complaint challenges the provisions of the law under Section 6 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and Section 101 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Separately, in August, voting advocacy groups sued Arizona to block a new law that could criminalize volunteers or organizations who provide registration or voter assistance to individuals registered to vote outside the state. According to the federal complaint filed in August, Senate Bill 1260 is a vague law that affords officials subjective measures to target volunteers and voting groups who provide mistaken voters a “mechanism for voting.” The term ‘mechanism for voting’ is not defined, but the statute expressly emphasizes that it is broad enough to include the mere act of ‘forwarding an early ballot’ addressed to the voter,” according to the lawsuit.

The state also passed H.B. 2237 on a party-line vote, with all Republicans voting for and all Democrats against. Even though Arizona does not have same-day voter registration, House Bill 2237 prohibits this practice and makes violations by state administrators a felony. Two other bills, Senate Bill 1008 and Senate Bill 1329, passed with bipartisan support. S.B. 1008 changes the threshold to automatically trigger a recount at the county level. If an election count is within 0.5%, a recount will occur (in contrast to the current trigger at 0.1%). Democrats claim that this law is a reasonable way to build confidence in election results while avoiding the pointless audits of the past year, but others worry about the increased costs of numerous recounts as well as delayed election results. Meanwhile, S.B. 1329 permits county election officials to count early ballots on Election Day and post these results online along with the unofficial total.

Election officials leave positions after threats
Arizona has become a dangerous place for staffers who manage the state’s election infrastructure. Ken Matta, who helped run elections in the Arizona secretary of state’s office for more than 19 years and served for the last six as head of election security, quit in May, after experiencing extreme harassment Mattas said that when the audit of Maricopa County ballots started, there were people as he was driving into his office building “with full autos and assault rifles.”

He wasn’t the only one who was afraid and eventually left their job. In July, two Arizona elections officials announced their resignations over threats that began after the 2020 election. Yavapai County Recorder Leslie Hoffman said she and Elections Director Lynn Constabile resigned over “the nastiness that we have dealt with” since the 2020 election. Due to the threats, police provided additional protection and regularly patrolled Hoffman’s home. “I’m a Republican recorder living in a Republican county where the candidate that they wanted to win won by 2-to-1 in this county and still getting grief, and so is my staff,” Hoffman said.

In July, a Massachusetts man was arrested after being indicted by a grand jury for allegedly making a bomb threat last year towards an election official in Arizona’s secretary of state office. “Your attorney general needs to resign by Tuesday February 16th by 9 am or the explosive device impacted in her personal space will be detonated,” the man, James Clark, is alleged to have sent the election official last year through the secretary of state’s website. The indictment alleges that Clark also searched the address of an unidentified Arizona election official online along with “how to kill” the official. Clark allegedly searched terms around the Boston marathon bombing in 2013, which left three dead and over two hundred injured. In August, a Missouri man was indicted for allegedly making a threat toward a Maricopa County election official. The DOJ said Walter Lee Hoornstra is being accused of leaving a voicemail with the threat on a personal cell phone of an election official in the Maricopa County Recorder’s office last May.

In March, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates told a national panel he had “great concerns about the future” of election integrity in Arizona, after threats following the 2020 election and as election deniers run for secretary of state in 2022. In the frenzy that followed Trump’s allegations of fraud, election officials found themselves and their families the targets of threats and needing police protection for doing a job that the moderator said is “supposed to be relatively boring.” The situation has become so serious that in mid-August, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office hosted an elections safety summit to help elected officials and those running for office keep track of any threats.

In a report released in August by the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee, election administrators in Arizona expressed concerns about staffing ahead of the midterms. “[T]he job of an Election Official has changed dramatically over the years and it’s not a position that just anyone can learn in a few short months,” Arizona election officials were cited saying in the report. “It takes years to become an industry expert. The fact so many of us are leaving the field should concern every person across the country.”

So-called “election integrity” efforts continue
In Arizona this year, the RNC is trying to recruit 5,000 poll workers and observers, though poll workers must also be hired and trained by local election officials. The RNC’s trainings are led by Tony Sanchez, the state party’s election integrity director. The written intention is to build a “grassroots army” of election workers and observers in 2022. A text message sent to some Republican voters in June had a Donald Trump caricature dressed and pointing like Uncle Sam with “I want you to be a poll observer,” written underneath. “The elections in Arizona are just around the corner,” the accompanying message read, “All eyes are on US, and we need YOU to ensure our elections are the safest & most secure in history!” It directed recipients to the state Republican Party’s website for the trainings and told them to enter their information. At one event Ben Petersen, the RNC Arizona communications director said, “Democrats have had a monopoly on poll watching for 40 years, and it speaks volumes that they’re terrified of an even playing field.”

Drop boxes continue to be a point of possible intimidation. In early August at an “election security forum,” Lake Havasu Republican Sonny Borrelli and Mark Finchem both had the same message for the audience: drop boxes need to be watched. “We need to be force multipliers,” Borrelli told the crowd in Tempe. “We need to have people camped on unmanned drop boxes and camp on those and keep an eye on them and take down that data, license plates, pictures and so on and so forth.” Borrelli’s call to action is similar to one made earlier this year by state Senator Kelly Townsend, who praised “vigilantes” who intended to spy on dropboxes. She asked them to use trail cameras and to get people’s license plate numbers. The calls to action stems from allegations made in “2,000 Mules,” a heavily criticized film that made wild and unsubstantiated allegations of vote manipulation. Mark Finchem, one of the state’s loudest proponents of baseless election fraud, urged attendees to show up at their local polling places during the primary to monitor voters and watch for suspicious activity.

Republicans are also partnering with several far-right extremist groups [see groups page] for “election integrity” trainings, including America Pack, EZAZ, the Tea Party Patriots, and Turning Point Action, as well as county level GOP bodies. Ben Petersen, communications director for the Arizona GOP, told the Arizona Mirror the party is working with outside groups but insisted, “The party’s efforts are independent from any outside organization. As such, the RNC is not a part of any formal coalition with outside groups.”

In a Zoom training Sanchez said the 2020 election had “serious problems,” even though there is no evidence for this. Sanchez said laws were disregarded and many questions are still left unanswered, even though Arizona courts found otherwise. He told attendees the election “uncovered festering problems” and said that there are security issues with vote-counting machines. The Republican National Committee has so far been hosting the Arizona election integrity trainings for observers, across Maricopa County and on Zoom since at least April.

Tammy Patrick, who helped both political parties in Maricopa County train observers for years when she was the county’s compliance officer, called the RNC’s messaging “deeply problematic” because it primes observers to come in believing there are massive problems with the system. “If you are pre-positioning the observers that there is all this criminal activity they need to uncover, they are going to view what they are seeing from a completely skewed viewpoint,” she told the Arizona Mirror. Patrick said the intentions of these new poll observers worries her. “They think they are going to find the body,” she said.

Other “election integrity” events are also under way in the state. Cleta Mitchell, a longtime conservative lawyer who played a key role in Trump’s efforts to stay in office, is holding election integrity events nationwide, including in Arizona. Mitchell made headlines when she was one of the pro-Trump lawyers on the phone call in which the former president demanded of Georgia election officials that they “find” enough votes to reverse Biden’s win, which sparked an ongoing investigation. The events are organized as a project of the Conservative Partnership Institute, a right-wing nonprofit led by Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows. Their summits feature recruiting and training sessions for poll watchers and election officers, as well as panels hosted by Mitchell and others speaking on topics ranging from “The Left’s Plans to Corrupt the 2022 Election” to “Voting Systems and Machines” and “Building the Election Integrity Infrastructure.”

The Arizona Democratic Party is also recruiting and training poll workers and poll observers for the upcoming elections through what it calls its voter protection program. The party held trainings in person and virtually in June and July, with the goal “to ensure that every Arizonan can confidently cast their ballot by mail or in person during the midterm elections.”

Radical sheriffs
Another worrying development are the activities of two groups of far-right sheriffs. They are both headquartered in Arizona, have bought into Trump’s lies about a stolen election, and spread rhetoric fomenting fear about so-called voter fraud. And they are planning efforts to monitor this year’s election for fraud. The groups, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Police Officers Association (CSPOA) and Protect America Now (PAN), have about 350 members nationwide. CSPOA is headed by former Graham County, Arizona, Sheriff Richard Mack, long active in the anti-government movement and who claims that a sheriff’s authority in a county is greater than those of other officials and “even supersedes the powers of the president.” His position on sheriff sovereignty is held by many in the anti-government movement. Mack also has ties to other extremist organizations and served at one time on the board of the Oath Keepers.

PAN, which claims to have 70 sheriffs in 30 states, is led by Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, who has spoken at CSPOA events and was a major supporter of the “Stop the Steal” movement. He vigorously opposed pandemic health measures, pledging not to enforce mandatory lockdowns. In July, he shared the stage at a Trump rally, where he praised the former president and spoke about his new effort to monitor elections with True the Vote, a Texas-based, far-right group that pushes voter fraud conspiracies. “We’re gonna make sure that we have election integrity this year,” Lamb said at the rally. “Sheriffs are going to enforce the law. This is about the rule of law. It is against the law to violate elections laws—and that’s a novel idea, we’re going to hold you accountable for that. We will not let happen what happened in 2020.”

In August, a “secretive Arizona meeting” was held with these sheriffs about the upcoming elections and their role in fighting so-called fraud. There were about 200 attendees, including Mack and Lamb. Catherine Engelbrecht, who heads True the Vote which is headquartered in Texas but works in many states, arranged the event, which lasted most of a day and featured talks by Engelbrecht and Lamb, who teamed up in June to create The new effort promotes a larger role for sheriffs in election monitoring. Mack supports the effort and brought several of his staff and two former law enforcement officials to the event, which he said provided “more evidence of quite extensive election fraud.” At a July press conference in Las Vegas with several sheriffs and Engelbrecht, Mack declared that investigating voting fraud is now CSPOA’s top priority, dubbing it a “holy cause.” Both Engelbrecht and Mack have been criticized for promoting 2020 election conspiracies, and Mack’s sheriff’s outfit and other sheriffs have pushed the bogus concept that they have extraordinary powers in their counties and can intervene in the running of elections and access voting equipment.

The website for states its mission is to “empower sheriffs” and connect “citizens and sheriffs” as part of a wide-ranging drive to ferret out potential voting fraud. In a video on its website, Lamb says: “We will engage voters, we’ll help clear up confusion through education and where necessary sheriffs can and will investigate where laws are being broken.” PAN focuses on elections, aiming to “educate” voters and connect them with local sheriffs and give local sheriffs the resources they need to investigate election-related issues. At this point, the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, which Lamb heads, has added extra patrols to polling sites and ballot collection boxes. Protect America Now stated in July that it would be surveilling drop boxes and using “artificial intelligence” software to analyze surveillance video.

Nobody to stop the “Big Lie”
In 2020, Republican and Democratic officeholders alike served as guardrails for Arizona’s elections by ensuring the certification of the popular vote. Rusty Bowers, then Arizona House speaker, and others resisted pressure from Trump allies to overturn Biden’s victory. But most of those officials are gone. Bowers was term-limited out of his state house seat and lost in a state senate primary to an election denier. In August, the state Republican Party censured Bowers for testifying to the January 6 House Select Committee about Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. In a text sent to The Washington Post, Bowers sized up the state of the Arizona Republican Party and its loyalty to Trump’s stolen election lies: “Anger over reason.”

If they win, Lake and Finchem together would hold the authority to certify a presidential election result and to certify the votes of the presidential electors, a document that is sent to the National Archives and Congress and is considered an official record of a presidential result. Lake has associated with extremists and repeatedly said she does not recognize Biden as the nation’s legitimate president. Had she been governor in 2020, she has said she would not have fulfilled her legal duty to certify Arizona’s election results, a maneuver that could have disenfranchised Arizona voters from the presidential election.

Trump is adding fuel to the fire in Arizona, visiting the state multiple times. At a January rally, he made sure to drum up anger about his “stolen” election. In July, he attacked the work of the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 insurrection. During his speech, he said he was watching the committee’s most recent hearing, which focused on Trump’s actions as the riot took place at the Capitol building, which he called a “hoax.”

And an in depth look at the effect of all this by The New York Times Magazine painted a depressing picture for democracy in the state. Politicians, activists, and others on the far-right increasingly focus on the idea that the U.S. is “not a democracy,” but rather a “republic.” In this framing, the principle of one voter one vote is rejected in favor of less democratic forms of representation. The story cites the case of Selina Bliss as an example. A precinct committee woman who made an unsuccessful bid for a state House seat, said at an August meeting: “We are a constitutional republic. We are not a democracy. Nowhere in the Constitution does it use the word ‘democracy.’ When I hear the word ‘democracy,’ I think of the democracy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That’s not us.”

2400 1600 Global Project Against Hate and Extremism
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