By Jerod MacDonald-Evoy, Arizona Mirror
Arizona has lost nearly all of its experienced election officials and 98% of the state will have new officials running elections in 2024 than ran the 2020 elections, a new report found.
The Grand Canyon State has been center stage for election misinformation since 2020, with efforts such as the Arizona Senate Republicans’ “audit” of the 2020 presidential election and Kari Lake’s continuing efforts to overturn her 2022 loss in the race for governor.
The state has also seen threats of violence towards election officials and those who help administer elections. Five recent cases from the U.S. Department of Justice were all from Arizona that included individuals who called for election officials to be killed and in some areas, such as in Yavapai County, one official ended up needing security from the local sheriff at their home.
The report by Issue One, a nonpartisan political reform nonprofit, shows that 12 of Arizona’s 15 counties will have new election officials this cycle, many of whom are less experienced than their predecessors. An estimated 98% of Arizona’s expected 2024 voters live in those counties.
Arizona has seen a drain of 176 collective years of experience since November 2020. Additionally, the median amount of experience for officials in the 12 impacted counties has dropped from about 10 years to about 1.
Collectively, the western states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana have seen over 1,800 years of experience leave.
“These turnover rates signify a crisis in our democracy,” Issue One Founder and CEO Nick Penniman wrote in the report, calling on lawmakers in Washington, D.C., to deliver regular funding to election officials and address the rising number of threats.
Issue One found that, in the 11 states it researched, roughly 40% of the chief local election officials are new; in Arizona, that turnover rate exceeds 50%. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual turnover rate among people who hold state or local government jobs is generally around 20%.
Since November 2020, 55% of the chief local election officials in Arizona are new. In four out of the six biggest counties in Arizona, both the elections director and county recorder are new since November 2020, according to the report.
Some counties in the state still have critical vacancies since the exodus of officials began.
The Republican National Committee sued Maricopa County over the issue of the election workforce that had to fill 220 poll worker positions a week before the 2022 election and estimated that more than 500 temporary election workers quit leading up to the election. Many officials in Maricopa County received threats of violence, many citing long debunked conspiracy theories as rationale for the violence they invoke.
“The loss of these local officials means that the counties that run our elections will have to do more with less,” Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes said in the Issue One report. Fontes has previously called on the legislature to increase funding to to help add employees for training and certifying election workers.
“In order to curb this exodus, lawmakers and policymakers in Washington, D.C., and across the country must step up to show election officials that they have their backs in the face of threats and harassment,” the report says. “They can do this by strengthening protections and fully funding our critical elections infrastructure to ensure that all voters can safely and securely make their voices heard in our elections.”
The Arizona legislature did pass a measure this previous session that would allow public officials to add their addresses to the list of prohibited records. The bill passed nearly unanimously with members of the far-right Arizona Freedom Caucus voting in opposition.