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WASHINGTON – The Republican-controlled state legislature in Arizona voted Thursday to revoke the Democratic Secretary of State’s legal authority on election-related claims and instead transfer that authority to the Republican Attorney General.
The move added even more discord to the policies of a state already troubled by the widely derided move by Republicans in the Senate to commission a private company to recount the votes six months after the November election. And it was the latest in a long series of moves by Republicans in recent years to deprive elected Democrats of money and power in states under the control of the GOP.
The move was part of a series of proposals that were incorporated into key budget laws, including several measures that appear to address conspiracy theories against rigged elections that some Republican lawmakers have promoted. One of the items allocated $ 500,000 to a study that looked at whether social media sites attempted to interfere in the state election by promoting Democrats or censoring Republicans.
The State House approved the bill late Thursday. It now goes to Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican who is empowered to accept or reject individual parts of the measure.
Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Attorney General Mark Brnovich previously argued over election lawsuits, with Mr Brnovich arguing that Ms. Hobbs would not adequately defend the state against lawsuits, some of which were brought by Democrats, that seek to expand access to ballot papers. Ms. Hobbs has dismissed the charges.
The law passed on Thursday gives Mr Brnovich’s office sole control over such lawsuits, but only until January 2, 2023 – when the winners of the next election for both offices are close to taking power. This is to ensure that the authority entrusted to Mr Brnovich is not transferred to a Democrat who wins the next attorney general race.
On Friday, Ms. Hobbs called the move “egregious” and said Republicans would “use the process at gunpoint against my office.”
The move against Ms. Hobbs continues a Republican strategy of weakening the authority of elected Democrats that dates back at least to 2016, when the GOP-controlled legislature in North Carolina recently gave the state executive political appointments and control State and county electoral boards revoked Roy Cooper, a Democrat, who took over the office of governor.
Lawmakers at the time said Democrats had acted similarly in the past, citing a 1976 Democratic governor’s decision to overthrow 169 Republican-hired politicians. But similar tactics have since been used to weaken new Democratic governors in Kansas, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Democrats in many states with Republican-controlled lawmakers have sought to curtail their governors’ emergency powers to deal with the pandemic.
More recently, Georgia Republicans have been at the forefront of the GOP’s nationwide attempts to exercise more control over local election officials. In both Georgia and Kansas, lawmakers even voted to demean the offices of the Republican secretaries of state who had defended the safety and fairness of the elections.
Most of the other electoral regulations in Arizona budget law are billed as fraud protection, almost none of which were found in the last election. One ordered a review of voter registration databases in counties with populations over a million – those counties that are home to the Democratic cities of Phoenix and Tucson.
A new electoral integrity fund would provide money to the district’s electoral officials to increase security and to fund the hand-counting of ballots after the election. This appears to open the door to more fraud investigations such as the Republican-ordered review of the November ballot papers in Maricopa County, conducted by President Biden and the two Democratic Senators from Arizona.
These efforts have been derided by experts for their high-resolution inspection of ballots for counterfeiting, including bamboo fiber and watermarks, which, according to one QAnon conspiracy theory, are only visible under ultraviolet light.
However, the legislation requires that all future ballot papers contain at least three anti-fraud measures such as holograms, watermarks, ultraviolet-visible numbers or intricate engravings and special inks.
In addition, US $ 500,000 will be allocated to determine whether social media and search engine algorithms are biased for or against “one or more political party candidates” and whether candidates have been restricted from accessing them. Legislation suggests that such actions could constitute donations in kind to candidates or parties that were not reported under Arizona law.
Republican lawmakers have formulated the anti-fraud clauses as sensible steps to make elections safer. State Senator Sonny Borrelli, who proposed the changes to the ballot papers, said many of the countermeasures have already been used to make counterfeit money more difficult to produce.
“Shouldn’t your ballot have the same protection?” He said.
The bill was immediately criticized by proxies who called its provisions conspiracy theories. “This is legislation based on the big lie,” said Emily Kirkland, executive director of a group, Progress Arizona. “And it’s a really dangerous way to approach legislation.”
The county election officials said they were skeptical about whether the ballot countermeasures were either necessary or workable. Cost aside, it’s unclear whether there are enough print shops that can produce such ballots to provide competitive print job deals, said Leslie Hoffman, the secretary of the minutes in Yavapai County, whose capital is Prescott.
The ballots would also require new equipment to verify their authenticity before being tabulated, and it’s unclear whether existing tabs would even accept them, said Jennifer Marson, executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties.
“That gives the impression that everyone is ready for action and we just have to register for the new countermeasures,” she said. “And not everything is ready to drive.”