'A dark, undemocratic path': How Arizona has become 'Ground Zero' in the war against US democracy: report
Among political journalists, Arizona has been one of the most closely watched swing states in the 2022 midterms — and it is also a place where some disturbing events have occurred in late October. The Phoenix campaign office of Democratic Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who is running for governor against far-right MAGA Republican and conspiracy theorist Kari Lake, was the target of a break-in, and armed men in tactical gear have been hanging around ballot drop box locations in Maricopa County.
Laura Thornton, director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, has been observing authoritarian trends and movements all over the world. Thornton is worried about anti-democracy trends in the United States in general, but in an op-ed published by the Daily Beast on October 28, she lays out a list of reasons why she is especially worried about Arizona.
“For more than two decades,” Thornton explains, “I lived overseas working to advance democracy and credible elections, including leading multiple election observation teams, conducting election audits and reform efforts, and training election management bodies. In my new role at the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund, I work both abroad and at home and can view U.S. democracy through the lens of my experience and global best practice.”
Thornton now considers Arizona “Ground Zero” in the far-right movement to undermine democracy in the U.S.
“According to the Arizonans I met,” Thornton writes, “the state is in a dangerous place, and Maricopa is in the eye of the storm — representing one of the largest voting districts in the country…. Arizona election officials are still battling false claims over the 2020 results, while under intense scrutiny for the upcoming midterms. Rogue ‘poll watchers’ stake out drop boxes, photographing citizens, taking down license plate numbers, and harassing voters as they deliver their ballots. Vile, descriptive death threats inundate the inboxes of hard-working election officials. Enormous resources, machinery, and staff have been poured into the county to keep up with constantly evolving election regulations, such as a recent decision to mandate a recount for any election with a 1 percentage point or lower difference in results, to mitigate against problems that do not exist.”
Thornton cites Lake and Mark Finchem, the far-right GOP nominee for Arizona secretary of state, as “instigators” of Arizona’s “volatile state” who have been “propagating false allegations of fraud in the 2020 elections.”
“Kari Lake, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, has called for a 2020 ‘redo’ and has not committed to accepting the results of an election she does not win,” Thornton observes. “This has caused, according to Maricopa officials, a fresh onslaught of violent threats against their offices. Mark Finchem, secretary of state candidate, is one of the most prolific spreaders of Big Lie conspiracy theories, was part of the riots outside the U.S. Capitol on January 6, and has a laundry list of election ‘reforms’ he pledges to enact…. Election administrators told me they’ve seen an exodus of staff due to the threats and harassment, just when they need more personnel than ever to accommodate demands from policymakers to ‘enhance integrity.’”
Arizona is among the swing states that journalist Alex Shephard discusses in a report for The New Republic published on October 25. Shepard views Arizona and Pennsylvania as two of the swing states where Trump is using the 2022 midterm as a “test run” for a coup attempt in 2024. If Democrat John Fetterman defeats his Republican opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz, in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race, Shephard warns, Trump will claim that Fetterman’s victory was due to voter fraud.
According to Shephard, “Trump is using Pennsylvania’s election as a kind of test case for 2024, to see whether he and his allies can successfully challenge a legitimate result. Fetterman has consistently polled ahead of Oz since the general election campaign, but the election is expected to be close: Republicans have regained momentum in recent weeks, and many suspect that the polls are once again overstating a Democratic advantage. If Fetterman wins outright or the election is close enough to prompt a recount, Trump will swoop in and declare it illegitimate, claiming widespread corruption in Philadelphia involving voting machines and mail-in ballots.”
Trump, Shephard writes, is using the 2022 midterms to “lay the groundwork for challenging his own potential loss in 2024.”
According to Thornton, the election officials she has spoken to in Maricopa County, Arizona “are indeed worried about violence.”
“It might simply be too late to put this deranged genie back in the bottle,” Thornton laments, “but the leaders who created that genie must be held to account. Voters have the power to do so by refusing to elect them to office. Rewarding them for their lies will send Arizona down a dark, undemocratic path, and the few brave leaders whom I met will not be able to stop this trajectory.”
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