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What’s the matter with Arizona?

A voter casts their ballot at a secure ballot drop box at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center
AP Photo/Matt York, File
FILE – A voter casts their ballot at a secure ballot drop box at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center in Phoenix, Nov. 1, 2022. The Justice Department sent monitors to 24 states in an effort to ensure compliance with federal voting rights laws in Tuesday’s elections. The 64 jurisdictions where federal monitors were sent include Maricopa County, Arizona, where there have been reports of people watching ballot boxes, sometimes armed or wearing ballistic vests.

In 1896, in the midst of a contentious presidential election pitting William McKinley (R) against William Jennings Bryan (D/Populist), William Allen White wrote an editorial for The Emporia Gazette titled “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” Appalled that many Kansans were “raising hell” for Populism and “letting the corn go to weeds,” White declared that his once well-respected state had “traded places with Arkansas and Timbuctoo.”  “Let’s not stop this year,” he added. “Let’s drive all the decent self-respecting men out of the state. Let’s keep the old clodhoppers who know it all.”

These days, it seems appropriate to wonder, “What’s the Matter With Arizona?”

Since 2020, MAGA extremists in the now purple state, posing as anti-establishment populists, have been raising hell about “rigged elections” and letting John McCain’s Republican Party go to weeds. Although their claims have been definitively debunked and many of their high-profile candidates have been defeated, albeit by slim margins, Arizona’s know-it-all election deniers still have the motivation and the means to spread chaos throughout our democratic institutions.

Following Donald Trump’s narrow defeat in Arizona in November 2020, 11 Republicans in the state, posing as “alternate” Electoral College delegates, sent bogus “official” documents to the National Archives.

The pretenders included Kelli Ward, chair of Arizona’s Republican Party.

Reps. Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar, two of Arizona’s four Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, reportedly were among several House members with ties to some of the groups that helped organize and that participated in the assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The Arizona Republican Party censured Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, ostensibly for assuming “dictatorial powers” in enforcing COVID-19 restrictions, but also, no doubt, because he certified Biden’s victory in the state.

Long after Biden moved into the White House, the Republican-dominated Arizona state Senate hired Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based company whose CEO had spread conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, to audit the vote count in Maricopa County. The audit, which took months and cost $5.7 million, largely matched the results originally reported by Maricopa County election officials.

In January 2022, following scathing criticism by experts of their methodology — which included checking ballots for bamboo to determine if they had been sent from Asia — national public ridicule and a judge’s threat to impose a $50,000 fine every day until Cyber Ninjas turned over documents related to its audit, the company went out of business.

In 2022, the Republican candidates for U.S. senator (Blake Masters), governor (Kari Lake) and secretary of state (Mark Finchem), all of whom were election deniers, were defeated. At the moment, the Republican candidate for state attorney general (Abe Hamadeh) trails his Democratic opponent by about 500 votes.

Neither Lake nor Finchem has conceded.

“Arizonans know BS when they see it,” Lake tweeted. The “results from the machines,” claims QAnon sympathizer Finchem, who trails by well over 100,000 votes, “defy all math.” While awaiting a recount, Hamadeh has filed a lawsuit alleging that equipment failures, mistakes at polling places and ballot tabulation in Maricopa County led to an incorrect final tally. The suit includes no allegations of fraud.

After conspiracy theorists claimed that voting machines had not been properly certified (an allegation rejected four times by courts in 2020 and 2021), the supervisors of ruby-red Cochise County voted to delay submitting their official election results until proof of certification had been provided to these “experts.” Although the director of elections supplied the evidence, the supervisors refused to meet the Nov. 28 deadline, a violation of state law. On Dec. 1, Judge Casey McGinley ordered the supervisors to certify the results in Cochise County.

“I’ve had enough. I think the public has had enough,” the lone Democratic supervisor, Ann English, told the judge. The board eventually complied, with a 2-0 vote — one of the two recalcitrant Republican supervisors did not participate.

The supervisors of Mohave, another county with a substantial majority of Republican voters, also voted to delay. Their decision, supervisor Jeanne Kentch explained, was a “political statement” about “mismanagement” in Maricopa. This reasoning was “kind of ludicrous,” Mohave supervisor Jean Bishop (R) acknowledged. “We’re not Maricopa County. We’re Mohave County. Our vote is solid.” Just ahead of the deadline, the Mohave supervisors decided to submit their county’s results.

And again in 2022, as they had in 2020, the supervisors of Maricopa (four out of five of whom are Republicans) had to contend with death threats.

On Jan. 6, 2021, after order was restored in the Capitol, 147 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including Arizona’s four Republicans, voted not to accept the results of the presidential election. Those four — Reps. Biggs, Gosar, David Schweikert and Debbie Lesko — were just reelected, to what will soon be a House with a Republican majority. 

The Arizona legislature remains dominated by the Republicans who hired the Cyber Ninjas and just might consider anointing an alternate slate of Electoral College delegates if the 2024 presidential election doesn’t go their way.

Hamadeh may become attorney general.

Boards of supervisors in Cochise, Mohave and other Arizona counties continue to be run by extremists determined to undermine the legitimacy of elections if their preferred candidates lose.

Despite calls for her resignation, Ward is still chair of the state’s Republican Party.

Lake, a former news anchor, will almost certainly find mass media megaphones.

And so, supporters of democracy must hope that more and more Arizonans figure out what’s the matter with Arizona.

And then consign the “clodhoppers” to the dustbin of history.

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of “Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.”

Tags American democracy Andy Biggs Arizona Arizona election audit Arizona politics Arizona Republican Party Arizona Republicans Biden Blake Masters Censure Cyber Ninjas David Schweikert Debbie Lesko Donald Trump Doug Ducey election denialism election deniers Jan 6 Capitol riot Jan. 6 Capitol attack John McCain Kelli Ward MAGA Republicans Maricopa County Maricopa County audit Mark Finchem Paul Gosar William Jennings Bryan William McKinley

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