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Arizona lawmakers have introduced more than 70 election bills so far this year

Arizona voting
AP/Ross D. Franklin, File
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Volunteers help voters drop off their ballots Oct. 20 at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office in Phoenix.

Lawmakers in dozens of states have introduced bills they say are aimed at fixing problems with how elections are carried out. In Arizona, the largely Republican efforts range from requiring audits of election officials, to doing away with unmonitored ballot drop boxes, and eliminating the state’s automatic early voting list. Critics including Democrats, however, call many of these proposals voter suppression. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius spoke with Northern Arizona University political science professor Fred Solop about how the legislation could impact voting in the state.

Ryan Heinsius: So far this legislative session lawmakers have introduced more than 70 election-related bills. In general, what are many of them aimed at doing?

Fred Solop: Well, it depends on who you speak to, and that’s part of the controversial times we live in. If you talk to the Republicans who are introducing most of these bills, they’re trying to restore integrity to the election process. They are trying to clean up problems that have been identified in various audits. As we discuss the 2020 election, we find concerns, problems, and they’re trying to improve the system. If you talk to Democrats, these are opportunities for voter suppression, to limit the electorate, to try to skew the outcomes of elections. So we really have two different stories going on here.

RH: Statewide, only 230, I believe, potential cases of fraud were identified out of about 3.4 million votes cast in 2020. And in almost none of these cases were charges being pursued by prosecutors. Is this election integrity argument disingenuous on the part of the Republicans? Aren’t elections already pretty secure?

FS: If you look, not just at Arizona, but if you look nationally, the instances of fraud are minimal. Very few cases are picked up by the Justice Department and prosecuted each year. It’s just not a problem. And then, when you talk to election directors, county recorders, the people responsible for administering the elections – these people really believe in the electoral process and they do their best and they’re successful in having elections that are honest, that are legitimate, that reflect the voice of the people.

RH: Would these bills potentially make it harder to vote for tribal members, or lower income areas or communities of color in the state?

FS: Absolutely. They’re aimed at contracting the electorate, so making it more difficult for people of color, people with fewer resources, people who have to work multiple jobs and now are going to have fewer means of casting a vote; young people who are more transient. It limits the electorate, it’s meant to narrow and contract the electorate. So ultimately, fewer people will vote, and the people more likely to vote are older, are whiter, are of greater resources in the state. That’s where we see higher levels of participation. It will reshape the electorate.

RH: Of course, many observers nationwide have raised serious red flags about efforts underway to change how and where and when people can vote. What are your specific fears for the 2022 election and 2024 and beyond?
FS: My fear is that election outcomes will be close and this concept of fraud in the election system will be raised once again and call into question the legitimacy of the system. When we start to question the legitimacy of election systems, when we start to question the legitimacy of norms that we’ve had, such as a peaceful transition between presidents – when we start to question those norms that’s when democracies die. That’s the big fear.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.