Jun 16, 2023 - Politics

Arizona election officials prepare for harassment, threats in 2024

Two men in suits sit at table while one of them talks and gestures with his hands.

County Supervisor Bill Gates, left, and David Becker, of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, discuss the 2024 election. Photo: Jeremy Duda/Axios

Maricopa County election officials are girding themselves for a 2024 election expected to be rife with disinformation, harassment and threats while making improvements to help operations run more smoothly than last year.

State of play: County Supervisor Bill Gates and David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, met with reporters Thursday to discuss challenges that officials in Arizona and nationwide are facing in the lead-up to next year's presidential election.

  • The preparation comes amid ongoing litigation, harassment, threats and disinformation campaigns waged by people who falsely believe the 2020 and 2022 election results were illegitimate.

Zoom in: While Gates emphasized the Legislature, not the county, makes election policy — and that lawmakers have implemented very few changes in election law — he said Maricopa County is taking steps to improve.

  • The county is replacing printers that were at the heart of widespread problems last Election Day, when tabulation machines were unable to read ballots at many polling places.
  • He said the Maricopa County Tabulation and Elections Center (MCTEC) is being renovated to permit a "significant increase" in the number of people conducting ballot adjudication — the process for determining voters' choices when machines can't read their ballots.

Meanwhile, Becker's organization since September 2021 has run the Election Official Legal Defense Network, which provides pro bono legal counsel to officials being pressured into unsound or illegal election practices by elected officials in their counties.

  • For example, Cochise County's appointed election director resigned after the board of supervisors pressured her to cooperate with a full hand count of ballots that a judge ruled illegal.
  • Supervisors in Cochise, Mohave and Pinal counties are all exploring options for hand counts next year, too.
  • Becker told Axios Phoenix his organization doesn't identify officials who request assistance but said it's gotten requests from nearly half the states this year "and Arizona is … probably on the higher end."

Yes, but: Becker and Gates described threats, harassment and disinformation from election deniers as increasingly serious problems.

  • The issues have led experienced election officials nationwide, including Arizona, to resign their positions.
  • Gates was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder from abuse he and his family suffered at the hands of election deniers, and he isn't running for re-election.
  • "We've got to stop normalizing this," said Gates, who said he shared his story because "this is so much bigger than politics."

What they're saying: "The threats and abuse and harassment are not abating over time," Becker said.

What's next: Every county-level office in the state will be on the ballot next year, and Gates said it'll be concerning if election deniers win seats on the Board of Supervisors or other offices.

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