By: Graham Bosch
If you check the news for information about recent elections, you will inevitably see claims by Republican VIPs about the party’s losses in the 2020 presidential election season and the latest 2022 midterm elections. Republican politicians and pundits have offered little tangible evidence to support fraud claims—because they are false—yet continue to undermine voter confidence in the integrity of United States elections by asserting scandalous allegations.
Impassioned, often raucous protests of recent U.S. elections, and of the state and county officials who oversee the process, draw attention away from real, demonstrable problems in elections. In reality, a few common-sense changes could put the public’s mind at ease while actually having a positive impact on election integrity—something election-deniers frequently say they support.
As the Arizona Republic Editorial Board put it, “Doing nothing is not [an] option.” The Board points to two issues that gained national attention in Arizona during the 2022 elections: vote tabulation machines malfunctioned at up to 60% of Maricopa County polling places, resulting in “confusion and long lines,” and the overall count for major races took nearly a week—including the U.S. Senate race that ultimately went to incumbent Mark Kelly (D) and the governor’s race won by now-Gov. Katie Hobbs (D). These problems, apparently due to simple mistakes rather than malicious sabotage, nevertheless create fear and doubt among voters, who want to know their votes matter. Malfunctioning ballot machines—largely an administrative problem—could likely be solved with a more in-depth review process and more testing pre-election, according to election technology experts.
Stephen Richer, the Republican Maricopa County recorder, says that long tabulation times are the result of Arizona’s lenient requirements for voters turning in ballots. Current policies are intended to make it easier for Arizona voters to vote early, mail in ballots ahead of Election Day, and turn in ballots early or on Election Day—alongside traditional in-person voting. Richer, a vehement defender of Arizona’s election integrity, released proposals in January in which he agreed with the proposition that “Arizona election administration can and should be improved,” but that any changes “should address real, material, verifiable needs or weaknesses in election administration,” imposing “no larger a burden on voters than is necessary” to fix those issues.
Recorders from Coconino and Pima counties have stated that it is more important to count votes accurately than quickly, but Yavapai County recorder Michelle Burchill said she could support eliminating so-called “late-early” ballots, which are ballots mailed to voters but turned in on or immediately before Election Day. Late-early ballots are accepted until polls close at 7:00 p.m. on Election Day. Richer suggests that requiring late-early ballots to be turned in by the end of the designated early voting period (5:00 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day) would significantly speed up the vote-counting process, allowing “Arizona to have 95% of results within the first 24 hours.” Under the proposed change, any voters who wish to cast their vote after the 5:00 p.m. deadline could drop off their early ballot at the county recorder’s office or another designated location, or they could vote on Election Day with a newly-printed ballot. Richer acknowledged, however, that the change could be challenging because nearly 20% of Maricopa County voters turn in early ballots at the polls on Election Day, representing more than 290,000 Arizona voters.
Another issue that became more prominent during the 2022 election season was the rise of “drop box watchers”—typically volunteers—who are supposed to be there to observe and monitor the voting process. But in Maricopa County last fall, some voters reported feeling intimidated or harassed by drop box watchers while they dropped off their ballots. In November, a federal judge found it prudent to prohibit people from openly carrying firearms or wearing body armor within 250 feet of ballot boxes. Lawsuits filed against drop box watchers in 2022 reveal that the rules surrounding ballot drops are not always clear—and that some groups may be taking advantage of the situation to send a political message.
Before the 2022 elections, the pro-democracy Brennan Center reported: “In Arizona, right-wing extremist groups have recruited volunteers to monitor drop boxes; in at least one instance, volunteers showed up armed and in tactical gear.” According to the Center, such “disturbing trends and today’s tense political climate raise the specter of potential misconduct at the polls in 2022 and beyond.” The best solution for this problem is likely to clarify the law, something county recorders support. Laws already on the books ban electioneering and voter intimidation within 75 feet of polling places, and there are limits to the things poll watchers and drop-box watchers can say or do. Enforcing those laws effectively would go a long way toward quelling voters’ fears and concerns.
As for technological issues on Election Day in Maricopa County, officials quickly informed the public that a tabulation error was affecting 20% of the 223 vote centers countywide, and hand-marked ballots were not being read properly. The problems quickly spurred conspiracy theories about election fraud, but technicians were able to fix the problem, and county officials had back-up plans in place to ensure that everyone who wanted to vote was able. Lawrence Norden, the senior director of the Brennan Center’s Elections and Government Program, told Reuters that “the [voting] system in Arizona . . . has a lot of resiliencies.” Recently, a state Court of Appeals in Phoenix rejected an appeal by 2022 governor candidate Kari Lake, who contended that voting problems on Election Day changed the result of the election. The three-judge panel wrote that “the evidence presented to the superior court ultimately supports the court’s conclusion that voters were able to cast their ballots, that votes were counted correctly, and that no other basis justifies setting aside the election results.”
The point here is that any proposals by the Arizona legislature to solve election problems should come from a place of fact and reason, addressing real problems—not nonexistent ones. Anything less than “effective solutions” to “real, material, verifiable” needs are not worthwhile. Arizona election officials continue to face bogus claims and lawsuits, and GOP in-fighting makes the party’s future unclear. On a positive note, some country-over-party elected officials like Richer are considering serious solutions that will hopefully make future elections run more quickly and efficiently. But as long as unserious Republicans continue to spread conspiracies, fear and doubt about the integrity of Arizona’s elections, the problems will persist.
Graham (he/him) graduated from ASU’s Cronkite School in 2017 with a B.A. in Journalism & Mass Communication. He is a 2L at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law interested in property law, environmental law, and criminal law reform. Outside of law school, Graham enjoys traveling and enjoying nature with his wife, Sabrina, and their dog, Winston, caring for his house plants, and exploring local bars and restaurants wherever he might be.
 A.R.S. § 16-515 (prohibiting electioneering and any activity other than voting within 75 feet of a polling place).