By Hannah fried, All Voting is local

march 21, 2023

Earlier this year, several states including Florida – home of the nation’s first election police (at least in a while) – pulled out of a nonpartisan voter registration management tool commonly known as ERIC, or the Electronic Registration Information Center. The reason for the withdrawal? A set of conspiracy theories that took hold first in fringe media outlets and made their way into the mainstream – despite a total lack of evidence to back them up. States pulling out of ERIC have no plan for how they will make up for the service it provides in verifying the accuracy of voter rolls, which threatens to make our election systems less accurate.

What’s particularly striking about the withdrawal from ERIC is that bipartisan state election officials created it, and control it – in some cases, the very same ones who are now condemning it, without basis. This, of course, is no way to make policy about our most sacred right. 

Take Arizona, where officials at all levels of government have, for three years, sought to degrade the very systems that make our elections secure. To do this, they’ve followed a playbook with four clear steps:

  1. Spread disinformation.
  2. Drive out officials who are experts.
  3. Replace experts with conspiracy theorists.
  4. Limit transparency and oversight.

The Arizona legislature – the very same one that wasted an estimated $9 million in taxpayer funds on a widely condemned, conspiracy-fueled investigation into the 2020 election – is currently considering multiple bills that strip the experts who run our elections of their authority. One bill would prevent secretaries of state from doing their job, for months at a time. Another would give untrained, partisan observers the unconstrained ability to challenge the signatures on mail-in ballots as they’re being processed and counted. Aside from the obvious chaos this would cause, it also undermines a process already in place in Arizona: the verification of signatures on ballots is already conducted by a bipartisan, and trained, group of election workers.

Meanwhile, in Cochise County, Arizona, recorder David Stevens – who enabled the small, rural county to bring the state’s election certification process to a near-complete stop in the midterms – is newly installed as the county’s chief elections official. Presently, Arizona splits local election responsibilities between a recorder and a county board. The latter is subject to state open meeting requirements that give the public access to the decisions that the board makes about administering the election, and certifying it – a process that enabled Arizonans to protest last fall when county officials pursued an illegal and insecure hand count of ballots.

The two people who delivered Stevens this power – in what the state attorney general called “an unqualified handover” – are the members of the county board who, with Stevens’ support, pursued the illegal hand count. And while Stevens is growing in his power, the county election director who bravely refused to go along with the hand count plan, Lisa Marra, announced her resignation after years of harassment by conspiracy theorists – part of a multi-year trend of election workers leaving their jobs, citing threats and “false political attacks on the election system.” As recently as last month, the same two Cochise board members were spreading disinformation about voting machines.

You might ask, when will they learn – but the better question is, why should they?

For election deniers, this isn’t about driving one bad policy. It’s not about policy at all. Their aim is to replace facts with lies; experts with conspiracy theorists; and in so doing degrade and dismantle the institutions that ensure fairness and transparency, that power is checked, and that officials are accountable to the people they serve. These are established tactics in the pursuit of authoritarianism. With less than one year to go until voting begins in the 2024 primaries, we cannot sound the alarm loudly enough.