Arizona Republicans Push For Changes To Oversight Of Election Procedures

Published: Monday, February 1, 2021 - 6:35pm
Updated: Tuesday, February 2, 2021 - 8:34am

Arizona lawmakers adopt the laws governing how elections are held. But it’s the secretary of state, working closely with county election officials, who writes a how-to guide for following those laws.

Now some Republican legislators want to have a say in what’s included in the elections procedures manual.

By law, the manual must be updated every two years, in alignment with each election cycle. The secretary of State must submit a draft of the manual by Oct. 1 of odd-numbered years. The governor and attorney general then have two months to review and approve the hundreds of pages of instructions.

On 5-3 party line votes, Republicans on the Senate Government Committee advanced two proposals that would take oversight away from the governor and attorney general.

Senate Bill 1329 would give oversight of the manual to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, a bipartisan group of senators and representatives that’s controlled by Republican lawmakers.

Senate Bill 1068 would give oversight authority to legislative council, the attorneys for the Arizona Legislature, and the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council, a panel of officials appointed by Gov. Doug Ducey who traditionally review new rules or amendments that dictate state agency operations.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale) described the two bills as an effort to give the public more input in the drafting of the procedures manual, which plays a significant role in Arizona elections.

In numerous legal challenges to the results of the 2020 general election, state and local election officials defended their actions by citing the manual. Judges deferred often to the manual, ruling that it has the force of law while rejecting claims that the election was fraudulent or compromised.

Democrats said there’s nothing wrong with the current process, and warned that Republican lawmakers were simply trying to further exert influence over the election process. 

Sen. Juan Mendez acknowledged the drafting and approval of the manual is already a process with potential for partisan drama — Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is a Democrat, while Ducey and Attorney General Mark Brnovich are Republicans, and they’ve disagreed over details of the manual in the past.

“Adding more people who have a specific interest in how elections turn out to be responsible for auditing the election process is a recipe for disaster,” Mendez said.

The Arizona Association of Counties, which represents the interest of election officials in the state’s 15 counties, also opposed the bill, warning that either bill could jeopardize the timeliness of approving a document that’s essential to county operations.