Protestors in support of former President Donald Trump gather outside Veterans Memorial Coliseum where Ballots from the 2020 general election wait to be counted on May 1, 2021. The Maricopa County ballot recount comes after two election audits found no evidence of widespread fraud in Arizona. Photo by Courtney Pedroza | Getty Images/pool
Bills based on unfounded and debunked claims of fraud that have become orthodoxy among Republicans passed the first hurdle to becoming law Thursday after a committee hearing full of misinformation about the 2020 election.
The Senate Government Committee on Thursday heard a litany of election related bills, one of which stemmed directly from claims made by the biased contractors the Arizona Senate hired to review the 2020 election in Maricopa County. Several were directly fueled by Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” that he, in fact, won the 2020 election but had victory stolen from him by rampant fraud.
There is no evidence that is true, despite numerous recounts and election audits, and courts at all levels have rejected such claims because there is no proof.
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“We need to get rid of the machines,” long-shot congressional candidate Jeff Zink who worked on the Arizona Senate’s partisan election “audit” told the committee. Zink’s son was also arrested for participating in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, which Zink contends his son was framed.
“Stolen elections have dire consequences, and we are seeing it as we live and breathe,” Zink ended his comments with.
Republican legislative candidate Steve Zipperman, who said he worked as an election observer in 2020, claimed he was told there was “nothing you could do” if a “semi-truck” filled with “forged” ballots came to a polling place, and that the ballots would have to be counted. There is no evidence of any forged ballots in the 2020 election.
The Republican Party has defended political violence to overturn an election as “legitimate political discourse.”
Republicans in Arizona and in state legislatures across the nation are pushing hundreds of measures to add barriers to voting and make it easier for them to overturn results they don’t like, often under the guise of stopping the exceedingly rare election fraud that they falsely claim is the reason why Democrats won close races in 2018 and 2020.
‘Big Lie’ backing crowd heckles Democrats
One such bill approved Thursday would bar elections officials from installing drop boxes for ballots that voters can use 24 hours a day during the early voting period.
“This is basically no more drop boxes,” Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, said of her Senate Bill 1058, drawing applause from conservative activists that filled the committee hearing room.
Drop boxes have become a target of election dead-enders, and some states have faced major court battles over their use. Republican lawmakers in other states are targeting their use: There are similar bills in Florida, Georgia, Texas, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania..
Before 2020, Arizona was one of only eight states that had laws explicitly allowing and regulating drop boxes. Rogers aims to prohibit their use unless a person is disabled. Rogers, who worked closely with the “audit” and who has built her political brand on spreading lies about the 2020 election, has sponsored numerous election bills based on conspiracies.
“We appreciate the exemption for (the Americans with Disabilities Act), but we are not allowed to ask people what their disability is,” Jen Marson, the executive director for the Arizona Association of Counties, told the committee. When Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, asked if the county had seen any problems with drop boxes, the crowd erupted into laughter.
Right-wing media this month has focused on videos of people dropping off ballots at drop boxes, alleging that behavior they find suspicious is evidence of fraud. But Marson and others have noted that no one in the videos is carrying multiple ballots.
Previous videos of alleged voter fraud involving drop boxes have been investigated with no evidence of fraud discovered.
The boisterous crowd in support of the election measures repeatedly disrupted the proceedings, and interrupted Democratic lawmakers more than once.
“If it was a mess and there was fraud, there has been no evidence provided to us—” Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, started to say before laughter from the audience cut her off.
And when she began to speak again, she was cut off by committee Chairwoman Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who said she would not allow lawmakers to “rehash” the 2020 election.
Password reform and increased access to election observers
One bill had its roots in the Senate’s so-called election audit, which found no credible evidence of fraud but nonetheless has been touted by Republicans as proving that the election was stolen.
Townsend’s Senate Bill 1359 requires that all election workers have unique passwords to log into any election system — and that those passwords must be changed every two weeks. She said that the bill came from finding out that election workers had been using the same password “across the board.”
The “audit” report alleged that Maricopa County had only one password on its system, something it said “violates every principle of password management guideline as published in every cyber security framework that currently exists.”
However, the county’s reply noted that there are several security checks before any employee enters the Ballot Tabulation Center, and the tabulators used to count all the ballots in Maricopa County require two-factor authentication and an administrative password, in addition to the user’s password.
The committee also approved Senate Bill 1360, which would give election observers “uniform access” to all stages of the election process.
Townsend said the bill came to fruition after she heard stories of observers being kicked out or kept at a distance from observing “in the name of COVID” and she wanted to make sure that it didn’t become a “partisan action.” The Arizona Republican Party sought to overturn Joe Biden’s win in Arizona in part because of alleged restrictions on election observers that prevented them from catching supposed fraudulent ballots, but a judge threw the case out, saying there was no proof the election outcome was affected.
Sen. Theresa Hatathlie, D-Coal Mine Canyon, said she has heard reports about observers being “belligerent” and “cussing” at people at voting locations.
Marson, with the Arizona Association of Counties, who has worked as a poll worker, said that in most cases the police or a supervisor is called to deal with those individuals. Marson said she would like to see some form of uniform training attended by both parties be added to the bill, something Townsend was agreeable to.
Despite the fraudulent claims, some Democratic lawmakers said the bill could ultimately be something they could support, as they saw merit to having trained election observers having better access to the process.
“I think that this is a bill that might have a light at the end of the tunnel,” Quezada said, though he noted that “there is a fine line between observing and interfering” that must be walked in the legislation.
All the bills passed out of committee along party lines and will head to the Senate floor for a full vote next.
***CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Steve Zipperman as a former employee for the state Senate’s election “audit” conducted in 2021. In fact, he worked as an election observer. The story has been updated to reflect that.
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