Arizona’s Maricopa County prepares for an election spotlight | Ben Giles/NPR

Maricopa County in Arizona — home to nearly 60% of the voting population in the swing state — will once again be in the spotlight come this fall’s general election. Ever since 2020, that spotlight has brought with it pervasive conspiracy theories about elections — including from this year’s leading Republican U.S. Senate candidate in the state. And for the past four years, election officials in Maricopa County have been on the frontlines of efforts to fight back against baseless claims with accurate information about the voting experience, how votes are counted and when results are released. While state law hasn’t significantly altered how elections are conducted, county officials have planned a number of changes this year to try to improve election administration and prevent new conspiracy theories from sprouting. Read Article

Arizona RNC delegation chair: ‘I would lynch’ county election official | vonne Wingett Sanchez and Azi Paybarah/The Washington Post

Earlier this month, Shelby Busch — chair of Arizona’s delegation to the Republican convention — was in court trying to learn the identities of local elections workers. Under oath, she said she was unaware of any threats that had been made against the people who helped run the last presidential election and the midterm election that followed. This week, video emerged that showed Busch saying she would “lynch” the official who helps oversee elections in Maricopa County: Stephen Richer, a fellow Republican. “Let’s pretend that this gentleman over here was running for county recorder,” Busch said, seeming to refer to someone off-camera in the video, which was recorded at a public meeting in March. “And he’s a good Christian man that believes what we believe. We can work with that, right? That, that’s unity.” “But,” she said moments later, “if Stephen Richer walked in this room, I would lynch him. I don’t unify with people who don’t believe the principles we believe in and the American cause that founded this country. And so, I want to make that clear when we talk about what it means to unify.” Richer, who posted the video on social media this week, is Jewish. Read Article

Arizona: Election worker arrested in Maricopa County in theft of key for ballot tabulators | Jen Fifield/Votebeat

A temporary election worker in Maricopa County was arrested Friday after allegedly stealing keys and a security fob that can be used to gain access to the county’s ballot tabulation machines. With just a week to go before mail ballots go out, Maricopa County detectives charged Walter Ringfield Jr., a 27-year-old Phoenix resident, with one count of theft and one count of criminal damage, after they say he took a lanyard with the fob and keys attached while working in the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center. He is in custody and won’t be released unless a court order allows, according to court documents. Ringfield told detectives during his arrest that he took the fob for 20 minutes the day before and then gave it back. But detectives located the fob in his house after obtaining a search warrant. His motive for taking it was unclear, but he suggested to detectives that it may have been a mistake. Read Article

Arizona: Documents detail Republican push to force hand counts | Rachel Leingang/The Guardian

Republican elected officials in a small Arizona county talked with state lawmakers and activists about hand-counting ballots there in 2022 and urged their counterparts in other counties to push for hand counts as well, newly released public records show. The records from Cochise county, a Republican stronghold along the US-Mexico border, only came to light after a lawsuit from a watchdog group, American Oversight, and took well over a year to be released. The original records request from American Oversight was filed in November 2022. They show how Tom Crosby and Peggy Judd, two of the three-member board of supervisors, were both advocating for hand-counting ballots as election denialism and skepticism gripped the county. The two supervisors also delayed certification of the county’s election results in 2022, which resulted in criminal charges in a case that is still ongoing. Read Article

Arizona: Pinal County prepares for primary election after 2022 errors | Jen Fifield/Votebeat

When Pinal County Recorder Dana Lewis walked into the new elections building in mid-May, tiles were still missing from the ceilings. The building was full of the sound of drilling, and of workers chatting while painting walls. The reception area walls needed fixing, equipment needed ordering — the list went on. There was a lot of construction work to do before this week’s planned ribbon-cutting — and in the quickly passing weeks left before 100,000 ballots cast by county voters in the high-stakes primary election would be delivered here. To add to the complexity, Lewis’ staff, too, was undergoing a revamp of its own, shoring up procedures to prevent the mistakes that have led to embarrassing headlines under previous leaders. Read Article

Arizona Secretary of State warns threats against election officials are domestic terrorism as 2024 fears grow | Elizabeth Beyer/USA Today

Arizona’s secretary of state warned that threats against elections officials in the United States is a form of domestic terrorism, his comments coming as fears over violence surrounding the 2024 election grow. “One of the ways that I have been looking at this and addressing this is telling the really hard truth, and that is this: Threats against elections officials in the United States of America is domestic terrorism,” Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes said during a roundtable discussion on “Meet the Press” on Sunday He noted that terrorism is defined as a threat or violence for a political outcome. “That’s what this is,” he added. Read Article

Arizona: Election officials are role-playing AI threats in preparation for November | By Lauren Feiner/The Verge

It’s the morning of Election Day in Arizona, and a message has just come in from the secretary of state’s office telling you that a new court order requires polling locations to stay open until 9PM. As a county election official, you find the time extension strange, but the familiar voice on the phone feels reassuring — you’ve talked to this official before. Just hours later, you receive an email telling you that the message was fake. In fact, polls must now close immediately, even though it’s only the early afternoon. The email tells you to submit your election results as soon as possible — strange since the law requires you to wait an hour after polls close or until all results from the day have been tabulated to submit. This is the sort of whiplash and confusion election officials expect to face in 2024. The upcoming presidential election is taking place under heightened public scrutiny, as a dwindling public workforce navigates an onslaught of deceptive (and sometimes AI-generated) communications, as well as physical and digital threats. Read Article

Arizona judge says new voting rulebook meets state law, dismisses suit from national Republicans | Sasha Hupka Mary Jo Pitzl/Arizona Republic

A judge has ruled against the Republican National Committee in a lawsuit that challenged Arizona’s new voting rulebook and alleged it would allow election fraud. The suit, filed in February, is one of several from Republicans questioning the state’s new Elections Procedures Manual. That document serves as a guide to election management for county officials statewide and is produced every election cycle by the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office. Read Article

In Arizona, election workers trained with deepfakes to prepare for 2024 | Sarah Ellison and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez/The Washington Post

Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes organized a groundbreaking training session for election workers, where they grappled with AI-generated scenarios designed to mimic potential threats during the upcoming election cycle. Participants from around the state faced challenges ranging from law enforcement operations to attempts to infiltrate technology systems. The exercise aimed to prepare election officials for the unprecedented threat of AI-generated deepfakes, which could undermine the integrity of elections. Following the event, a training document titled “How Election Officials Can Identify, Prepare for, and Respond to AI Threats” was created for distribution nationwide. Despite the daunting task of combating AI threats, practical suggestions emerged from the training, emphasizing the reinforcement of basic online security measures and the importance of verifying information before taking action. Read Article

Arizona may fund tool to allow candidates to verify election results, ballot by ballot | Jen Fifield/Votebeat

Arizona legislators are considering a proposal that would allocate $2 million from the state budget to develop a tool allowing election candidates to verify individual ballots in their races, aiming to increase transparency and address concerns about election integrity. Led by State Sen. Ken Bennett, Republicans endorse the initiative, which bypasses the traditional legislative process, prompting debate over privacy and potential misuse of election data. While supporters argue the tool would combat false claims of election fraud and bolster voter trust, critics, including Democratic Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, raise concerns about voter privacy and the potential for misuse of data before results are certified. Read Article

Arizona: US Supreme Court rejects Kari Lake, Mark Finchem in machine voting lawsuit, ending legal challenge | Stacey Barchenger/Arizona Republic

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal brought by Arizona Republicans Kari Lake and Mark Finchem, bringing finality to the duo’s legal effort challenging the use of electronic voting machines two years to the day after it began. Lake, a candidate for U.S. Senate, and Finchem, a candidate for state Senate, asked the nation’s top court to hear their case in mid-March. The court declined to consider it, making that official with an order on Monday that does not include details of the court’s decision. Legal experts had predicted the court would not exercise its discretion to add the case to its docket, citing well-established legal precedent and the court’s low acceptance rate. Read Article

Arizona: Inside the private company Maricopa County depends on to power through the last-minute ballot slog | Jen Fifield/Votebeat

After the polls close in Arizona’s presidential preference election, ballots arrive at Runbeck Election Services for processing, crucial in Maricopa County, the largest swing county in the U.S. These ballots, dropped off on Election Day, are among the last to be counted, as they require verification of voter signatures. Runbeck’s high-speed machines scan envelopes, facilitating the process. As election integrity comes under scrutiny, Maricopa County and Runbeck collaborate to expedite counting while ensuring transparency, with plans for a new election center. Questions arise about outsourcing the scanning process, but logistical challenges and the need for specialized expertise complicate efforts to bring the process in-house. Read Article

Arizona: A Cochise County official’s vote for hand-counting ballots came at a cost. Will anyone help her pay it? | Jen Fifield/Votebeat

Arizona state Sen. Sonny Borrelli’s offer to cover legal expenses for counties conducting hand-counted elections ahead of 2024 prompts Cochise County Supervisor Peggy Judd to question if she’d receive similar support amid her legal battle following indictments for expanding hand-count audits in 2022. Despite promises of aid, Judd feels abandoned, reflecting a broader issue of officials facing legal battles without sufficient support. While Judd denies wrongdoing, she’s frustrated by perceived lack of assistance from proponents of hand counts, highlighting a broader trend of officials grappling with legal challenges and insufficient backing. Read Article

Arizona: Bogus Election Fraud Claims Still Run Rampant in Maricopa County | Kellen Browning/The New York Times

Nearly four years after Joe Biden flipped Arizona blue, the state — and in particular its largest county, Maricopa — remains a hub for debunked claims of election fraud. In 2021, Republicans pushed for a recount of the vote in Maricopa, a lengthy and chaotic process that failed to validate former President Donald J. Trump’s false claims that the vote had been rigged. A year later, Kari Lake, a close Trump ally who lost the governor’s race, baselessly claimed that her election had been stolen, too. She attacked state and local officials and filed a series of fruitless lawsuits seeking to overturn the result. Read Article

Arizona: Pro-Trump disruptions in Maricopa County elevate fears for the 2024 vote | Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, Adriana Usero/The Washington Post

During a Maricopa County board meeting in Arizona, chaos erupted as attendees rushed towards the dais, shouting that the supervisors were illegitimate, prompting security guards to escort the leaders out amid fears of violence. This incident, reminiscent of events following the 2020 election, has reignited concerns that officials overseeing elections in the county could face threats and intimidation, especially with another presidential election approaching. Read Article

Arizona: Man who sent bomb threat to election officials jailed for 42 months | Ed Pilkington/The Guardian

A Massachusetts man has been sentenced to three and a half years in prison for threatening to blow up the secretary of state of Arizona in 2021, marking one of the most severe federal punishments for threats against election officials fueled by Donald Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election. James Clark’s online bomb threat, made a week after the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, caused evacuations and heightened security measures. The prosecution was part of the election threats task force, established in response to a surge in intimidation of election officials following Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud. The judge emphasized the need for a deterrent sentence to protect democracy, amid a growing trend of threats against election officials nationwide. Read Article

Arizona voters will face more frequent checks on citizenship, residency | Jen Fifield/Votebeat

Arizona election officials are set to implement new laws after a federal judge upheld them, requiring frequent checks on voters’ U.S. citizenship and proof of residency for registration. These laws aim to prevent non-citizens from voting, although instances of such voter fraud are rare. While the laws could disproportionately affect certain groups, including lower-income individuals and naturalized citizens, the judge ruled they are not discriminatory. The regulations outline processes for verifying citizenship and residency, with county recorders tasked with investigating voter eligibility. However, concerns have been raised regarding potential disenfranchisement of Native Americans and out-of-state college students. Read Article

Arizona investigators issue grand jury subpoenas as state’s 2020 Trump election probe accelerates | Betsy Woodruff Swan and Kyle Cheney/Politico

Arizona prosecutors have escalated their criminal investigation into Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign’s attempts to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the state, issuing grand jury subpoenas to multiple individuals connected to Trump’s campaign. Attorney General Kris Mayes is nearing a decision on potential charges against Trump’s allies, including GOP activists who falsely posed as presidential electors. The investigation also involves scrutiny of individuals close to Trump’s national campaign, such as Mark Meadows and Trump attorneys John Eastman and Kenneth Chesebro. Chesebro, who pleaded guilty for his role in organizing false electors in other states, has cooperated with investigators and agreed to speak with Arizona prosecutors. Read Article

Arizona: Legal battle looms as Democrats seek to intervene in lawsuits challenging Arizona’s election guidelines | Mary Jo Pitzl/Arizona Republic

Democratic groups at both state and national levels are fighting back against Republican-led challenges to Arizona’s Election Procedures Manual, labeling these attempts as election interference. The lawsuits aim to either void the entire manual or challenge specific provisions, including those regarding ballot drop boxes. Democrats argue that these legal actions could significantly impact election administration and potentially lead to voter intimidation and harassment. With the presidential preference election looming in March, they stress the urgency of intervening to safeguard election integrity and protect voters’ rights. Read Article

Arizona: 10 tons of ballot security paper may be for sale after failed Cochise County trial | Jen Fifield/Votebeat

A warehouse in Phoenix houses stacks of paper rolls weighing 10 tons each, initially intended for a Republican-led state grant project to test security features like watermarks on ballots. However, Cochise County’s failure to meet grant deadlines led to the project’s cancellation, leaving the county with surplus uncut paper and a watermarking machine. The dilemma of ownership and disposal arises, with potential solutions including a public auction to recoup state expenses, but concerns linger about the security risks posed by selling the paper, highlighting broader challenges in election security efforts amidst ongoing political controversies. Read Article

Arizona: Tucson lawmaker’s proposal to give Trump state’s electoral votes before the election blows up | Howard Fischer/Tucson Daily Star

A proposal by Arizona Republican Rep. Rachel Jones to allocate the state’s 11 electoral votes to Donald Trump prior to the November election faced backlash from some GOP colleagues and failed to advance in the House Committee on Municipal Oversight and Elections. House Concurrent Resolution 2055 resolves “to change the manner of the presidential election by appointing the eleven presidential electors to the Republican primary winner to offset the removal of a Republican candidate from the ballot in Colorado and Maine.” Jones’ scheme was apparently too much even for Republican Reps. Alexander Kolodin of Scottsdale and Justin Heap of Mesa, who like her are members of the hard-right Arizona Freedom Caucus. “Are you asking us just to give Donald Trump the electors without having a vote?” Heap asked. Yes, replied Josh Barnett, a state Senate candidate who is pushing the bill. “It’s the only way to protect the vote for ’24.” Read Article

Arizona: Governor, GOP, Democrats find compromise as fix to election calendar clears Legislature | Mary Jo Pitzl/Arizona Republic

Arizona lawmakers overwhelmingly approved legislation to prevent automatic vote recount provisions from disrupting this year’s elections, notably by moving the primary election to July 30 instead of August 6, providing crucial time for recount processes without delaying other election activities. The bill aims to ensure timely ballot delivery for military and overseas voters and prevent delays in counting presidential votes, receiving bipartisan support with only four Republican lawmakers voting against it. Read Article

Arizona Republicans sue over new election rules, including handling of election results disputes | Jen Fifield/Votebeat

Arizona Republicans filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate election rules set by Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, a Democrat. The contested rules, part of the Elections Procedures Manual approved in December, include requirements for prompt certification of election results by county supervisors and the potential exclusion of votes from counties that fail to meet certification deadlines. The Republicans argue that the secretary of state lacks the authority to create rules regarding the finalization of election results and claim that Fontes’ manual aims to disenfranchise voters and circumvent state election laws. The lawsuit comes amid the 2024 election cycle, raising questions about its potential impact on ongoing electoral processes. Read Article

This Arizona ballot maker had robust security in place before 2020 elections. For 2024, it’s adding more | Sasha Hupka/The Arizona Republic

Phoenix-based company Runbeck Election Services, which prints voting materials for counties across the U.S., is enhancing its security measures ahead of the 2024 election cycle. The company, which already had robust cybersecurity measures, access-controlled facilities, and GPS-tracked trucks, is adding armed officers, additional cameras, and a designated area for election observers with a live video feed. These measures aim to address concerns stemming from false allegations of fraud and threats against election workers during recent elections. The company’s president, Jeff Ellington, highlighted the importance of ensuring employees’ safety and maintaining secure election processes. The move comes as election-related controversies and misinformation continue to contribute to heightened tensions in the political landscape. Read Article

Arizona: Election distrust in Cochise County runs deep, and change is slow to come | Jen Fifield/Votebeat

More than a year after the midterm election, distrust in the electoral process persists in Cochise County. The region has been influenced by claims of election fraud, with former President Donald Trump and gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake making unproven allegations that resonated with voters. In this context, efforts to educate the public on how elections are run and rebuild trust face challenges. The county supervisors who attempted to hand-count ballots and block the certification of votes now face pending felony charges. County officials are grappling with the influence of external voices and trying to address concerns about election fairness amidst other pressing issues such as road conditions, water resources, and border crossings by undocumented immigrants. Read Article

Arizona: Not MAGA enough: 2020 election skeptic quit his job after facing blowback from angry election deniers | Rob Kuznia, Scott Bronstein and Donie O’Sullivan/CNN

Bob Bartelsmeyer, the former Cochise County elections director, faced a tumultuous tenure marked by local election deniers, harassment, and conspiracy theories. Initially a believer in the falsehood that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, Bartelsmeyer’s attempt to implement common-sense election measures faced strong opposition. The Cochise Board of Supervisors, amidst suspicions related to the 2020 election, voted against Bartelsmeyer’s proposals, leading to his resignation in September. His story highlights the challenges faced by election officials dealing with distrust and conspiracy theories, contributing to a broader trend of election officials leaving their positions across the U.S., raising concerns about the upcoming elections. Read Article

Arizona: Are unstaffed ballot drop boxes allowed? Final rulebook offers little clarity | Jen Fifield/Votebeat

Arizona voters have utilized unstaffed ballot drop boxes for years, but a new state Elections Procedures Manual by Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, finalized on Dec. 30, has raised questions about the legality of these drop boxes. While the prior manual explicitly allowed unstaffed drop boxes, the new edition’s changes imply that only drop boxes staffed by election officials may be placed outdoors or inside a building. Although Fontes’ general counsel insists that the changes were made to align with state law and unstaffed drop boxes are still permitted, concerns have been raised, with Republicans planning to address the matter in litigation. Read Article

Why Arizona is worried about finishing the presidential election on time but other states aren’t | Jen Fifield/Votebeat

Arizona faces a unique and challenging election timeline, raising concerns about delayed ballot delivery for military voters and late result reporting to Congress. Factors contributing to this situation include a new state law ensuring recounts, a federal law hardening the presidential race deadline, voter-friendly mail ballot rules, and an extended timeframe for counting ballots. Other states with more efficient election timelines have shorter mail ballot periods, quicker counting laws, faster certification dates, and reduced risk of recounts. Arizona officials are calling for changes to key dates to avoid potential delays, with options including adjusting the primary date, tightening voter-friendly rules, compressing result certification timelines, and addressing the recount process. However, aligning Republican lawmakers, county officials, and Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs on proposed changes poses challenges, and the window for adjustments is narrowing. Read Article

Arizona: It took years for truth about election ‘audit’ to emerge. Why The Arizona Republic kept fighting. | Ryan Randazzo/Arizona Republic

The Arizona “audit” of the 2020 election, initially presented as an objective review, has been revealed to be a partisan effort orchestrated by Donald Trump loyalists. The Arizona Republic, which fought for over two years to obtain information, uncovered through released texts and emails that the audit was part of a nationwide attempt to undermine elections in states won by Democrat Joe Biden. The audit, led by Cyber Ninjas, failed to provide evidence of fraud and cost over $5.5 million. The Republic’s lawsuit exposed financial ties between Trump-affiliated groups and the lead contractor, Doug Logan, as well as communication with Trump allies to sow distrust in election results. Read Article

Arizona: Cochise County supervisors plead not guilty in election interference case | Joe Duhownik/Courthouse News Service

Two Cochise County supervisors, Tom Crosby and Peggy Judd, pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy and interfering with an elections officer in Arizona. The supervisors are accused of conspiring to delay the canvassing of votes cast in the 2022 general election until they received evidence that the ballot tabulation machines used were properly certified. The delay violated the legal deadline, and the board completed the canvass three days later, complying with a state judge’s order. The indictment comes amid a surge of unproven claims of election fraud, particularly in Arizona, where the issue has been a focal point. The charges are class 5 felonies, carrying potential penalties of up to 2.5 years in prison or a $150,000 fine. Read Article