Arizona

In Arizona, losing candidates indicates a perceived conflict

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PHOENIX – Republican Kari Lake and supporters of her failed campaign for Arizona governor are attacking Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs for having a conflict of interest over overseeing the election she won.

Secretary of State across the country routinely monitors their own races, and Republicans had no such criticism when one of their own secretaries of state was in Georgia overseeing his own election to governor four years ago. Criticism of Hobbs continued after a heavily Republican county refused to confirm its own election results, forcing Hobbs to sue.

Lake said in a video posted to social media this week that Hobbs “is now threatening counties with legal action if they don’t crown their governor by confirming the election she botched.” You just can’t make that up.”

Hobbs defeated Lake by just over 17,000 votes and there was no evidence that voters were disenfranchised or that the result was inaccurate in any way. All counties in the state except Cochise County in the southeast corner of the state have confirmed their findings. Hobbs’ lawsuit against the county has its first hearing Thursday.

While most Republicans across the country who lost after spreading unsubstantiated claims about the 2020 presidential election have conceded, Lake has not. She has launched a campaign on social media and conservative media to claim that the election was marred by issues in Maricopa County, which includes the Phoenix area and accounts for more than 60% of the state’s registered voters. County officials say everyone was able to cast a vote and all legal votes were counted.

Trey Grayson, a Republican who served two terms as Kentucky Secretary of State, noted that he oversaw two of his elections – his re-election as secretary of state and then a run for the US Senate.

“The system is designed so that there are no conflicts of interest,” Grayson said. “I can understand why Kari Lake is asking this question. But if you look at the actual division of labour, there is no conflict.”

Grayson said he doesn’t think the appearance of conflict justifies elected officials withdrawing from the process, noting various safeguards built into the system. The secretary of state only administers laws passed by the legislature, and courts can intervene if someone tries to influence an election.

“If everyone had to forego the mere perception of a conflict, our system would fail,” he said. “There is no evidence that is necessary.”

Similar claims surfaced in 2018 when then-Georgia Secretary Brian Kemp and then-Kansas Secretary Kris Kobach, both Republicans, were both running for governor in their respective states. While Kobach lost his bid, Kemp won amid criticism from his Democratic opponent Stacey Abrams for refusing to step down from office before the election.

“Brian Kemp has overseen the systematic and systematic dismantling of our democracy for eight years, and that means there could not have been free and fair elections in Georgia this year,” Abrams said in an interview with MSNBC shortly after the 2018 election.

Earlier this year, a federal judge ruled against a group linked to Abrams in a four-year-old lawsuit that challenged various aspects of the state’s voting practices.

Kemp resigned shortly after Election Day 2018, and an interim Secretary of State later confirmed the findings.

Across the country, 15 secretaries of state were on the ballot this year, running for re-election or another office. Just ahead of the Nov. 8 election, a bipartisan group campaigning for electoral reform urged officials not to confirm themselves as winners of a close election. The Election Reformers Network had previously drafted legislation that would, among other things, ban a state election official from overseeing elections in which he is standing for election.

“Although many foreign ministers manage such situations of potential conflicts of interest with integrity, the current environment of anti-partisanship and voter distrust requires proactive efforts to ensure voter confidence in the results,” Kevin Johnson, the group’s chief executive, said in a statement at the time .

That year, most of those contests were not close, but Hobbs won the race for Arizona governor by less than a percentage point. The State Secretary there certifies the election results in the presence of the Governor, the Attorney General and the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court.

This week, Johnson said Hobbs should examine whether state law allows her to oppose certification of her own breed.

Hobbs spokeswoman Sophia Solis stressed that the secretary of state does not handle ballots or play a direct role in counting votes, saying that neither the courts nor state precedent require Hobbs to retire “on the basis of purely speculative allegations.” .

“In fact, Arizona has a long history of state officials tasked with overseeing election administration or confirming election results who have continued to ethically perform their duties during voting,” Solis said.

While Hobbs plays an important role in confirming an election, the procedure is routine and ministerial, meaning she is forced to sign off on the results unless a judge has intervened in the process.

Still, the issue was raised by many of the dozens of speakers urging county regulators across the state not to certify vote counts in their jurisdictions.

“I think that opens the door to fraud because she’s responsible for an election that she’s running in,” Prescott’s Lawrence Neigel told Yavapai County officials, saying Hobbs should have resigned. “I mean, that’s crazy.”

In Cochise County, two Republican overseers on the three-member board voted not to accept Monday’s election results, the deadline under state law, prompting a lawsuit from Hobbs and another representative of the county’s constituents. On Wednesday, a Tucson civil rights attorney filed a complaint with Cochise County, saying it was the first step toward a class action lawsuit on behalf of all 47,000 voters who risk having their votes uncounted.

Regulators did not raise concerns about vote counting but said they would like to hear more about debunked concerns that ballot counting machines are not properly certified for use in an election during a meeting on Friday.

The District Attorney has refused to defend the supervisors, saying their refusal to certify is illegal. Supervisors on Tuesday voted to instead hire a Phoenix attorney to represent the firm Cyber ​​Ninjas, which led a widely derided partisan review of the 2020 Maricopa County election.

It’s not clear if attorney Bryan Blehm is willing to take on the case. The superiors could not reach him before they voted to hire him.

Blehm and Cochise County Administrator Richard Karwaczka on Wednesday did not respond to emails asking if Blehm had agreed to represent supervisors.

Two prominent former prosecutors asked the attorney general and district attorney to investigate whether Republican wardens Tom Crosby and Peggy Judd should be criminally charged for failing to meet their voting obligations.

“We are not pleased with this recommendation from the prosecution, but we deeply believe that the rule of law dictates that officials be held accountable when they refuse to comply with their legal obligations,” said former Attorney General Terry Goddard, a Democrat and former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, a Republican, wrote in her letter.

Cassidy reported from Atlanta.

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