State of Democracy Spotlight Series: Arizona
Movement Advancement Project (MAP)’s State of Democracy Spotlight Series is profiling a different battleground state each week leading up to the November election.
This series provides an overview of the current voting landscape, key issues that are coming up in that state, and why it matters for the overall state of democracy in this country. These spotlights outline policies that will impact what voting may look like in a number of battleground states and will provide overviews of how voting and election laws have changed since the 2020 election, for better or for worse.
See the full state democracy profile for Arizona, which outlines how Arizona ranks in the six categories of policies we track, and a detailed list of which voting and election laws Arizona has in place. Previous State of Democracy Spotlights have featured Florida, Georgia, and Michigan.
Arizona is an important state to watch this November: voters will decide a Senate race in addition to their next governor and secretary of state.
Voters in Arizona are also considering a constitutional amendment that would require voters to show photo ID to vote in-person and to have an ID to vote by mail. If voters pass the constitutional amendment on the ballot in November, moving forward, voters would be required to write their government-issued ID number on mail-in ballots, which could limit participation for voters and unnecessarily result in ballots being rejected. Voter ID requirements for in-person voting also create problematic restrictions that limit participation.
This election is taking place in a state that has been an epicenter of election conspiracy theories, which led to an illegitimate partisan audit conducted after the 2020 election. The state is also a focus of multiple lawsuits related to new voting restrictions passed since the 2020 election. Arizona had the closest margin of any state in the 2020 presidential race and is expected to have close contests again this year. With election deniers running for multiple statewide offices and already having power in the state legislature, Arizona could be primed for a repeat of 2020 when results were cast into doubt.
Arizona’s Democracy Tally Rates Just Above Average
Following the 2020 election, Arizona has passed multiple restrictive voting laws, including restrictions on mail voting and bans on automatic and same-day voter registration. Despite these new laws, Arizona still ranks 21st in the nation in our Democracy Tally for its voting and election policies. The Democracy Maps track 45 election-related laws and policies, which inform this tally.
Above Average Access to Voting by Mail
- Arizona currently rates above average in the category of Voting by Mail and is one of 36 states and D.C. that allow voters to utilize absentee ballots without providing an excuse.
- The state also has in place other positive policies related to vote by mail such as allowing ballot drop boxes, providing pre-paid ballot postage, and online absentee ballot applications.
Democracy Maps | Ballot Drop Boxes and Availability
In addition to returning absentee or mail ballots through the postal service, many states offer voters the option of returning their ballots to a secure drop box provided by election authorities.
Election Security Policies in Place
Despite rhetoric from some officials in the state that inaccurately alleged fraud, Arizona ranks highly in terms of election security.
- The state has five out of the six election security policies we track, including policies to improve the security of mail voting like ballot tracking, signature verification, and opportunities for voters to correct errors.
- The state also uses secure voting technology and conducts routine post-election audits that are independent and nonpartisan, which helps to secure vote counts and improve confidence in results.
- Arizona could improve even further by implementing best-practice risk-limiting audits, which use statistical methods to analyze random samples of ballots and verify the accuracy of election results. (These kinds of audits are also independent and nonpartisan, and are in place in twelve states, including Colorado, Georgia, and Indiana.)
- Even with Arizona’s high ranking on election security and policies in place to conduct legitimate independent audits, Republicans in the state legislature acted to jeopardize election security by conducting a partisan audit intended to cast doubt on election results.
Policy Spotlight: Five Approaches to Actually Secure U.S. Elections
MAP’s recent report details five policy approaches that states should adopt to truly secure elections, while also ensuring that every eligible voter is able to easily cast their vote.
Arizona rates just below average in terms of voter registration policies.
- Arizona is one of 42 states that offer online voter registration.
- Arizona has not adopted automatic voter registration, and has in fact recently passed a ban on the adoption of the policy in the state.
- Arizona also has a restrictive voter registration deadline (29 days before an election), and lawmakers last year passed a ban on adopting same-day registration in the state.
Below Average Access to Representation and Participation
Arizona ranks below average in the categories of Representation and Participation policies.
- The state lacks policies in important areas such as protections for Native American voters. This is especially concerning given Arizona is one of the highest states in terms of Native American population, with over 6% of Arizonans identifying as Native American. Native American turnout was integral in the 2020 election, with some counties that include reservations seeing double the number of voters casting their ballot compared to 2016.
Read more from Native American Rights Fund about suppression of Arizona had below average voter turnout in the 2020 election [65.9%], ranking 30th in the nation.
- Arizona is one of only 11 states categorized in our Democracy Maps as having the most restrictive policies related to the restoration of voting rights for formerly incarcerated people. The state requires that any fines and fees be paid in full before the right to vote is restored, and people with multiple felony convictions must petition the court to restore rights. People on parole or probation are not allowed to vote. The ACLU estimates that over 221,000 Arizonans are barred from voting due to their prior felony convictions, even though only 20% of those people are in prison. The margin in the 2020 presidential race in Arizona was just over 10,000 votes.
Independence and Integrity
Arizona rates below average in the categories of Independence and Integrity of elections.
- Negative policies include unnecessary criminal penalties directed against election officials and bans on private grant funding of election administration.
- Positive laws in place in this area include a ban on guns in polling places and an independent redistricting process.
- Arizona could improve the independence and integrity of its elections by implementing policies such as a state-level voting rights act and laws to explicitly protect election officials against threats.
Arizona rates just below average in the category of In-Person Voting.
- The state’s shortfall is driven primarily by a strict non-photo ID requirement, where voters who do not have the required ID must take additional steps for their ballot to be counted. If the constitutional amendment on the ballot this fall passes, the state’s ID law will become even more strict by requiring photo ID.
- Arizona does have some positive policies in place for in-person voting, including a strong early voting period, with 24 days of early voting. Early voting in Arizona began this week.
Arizona Has Been an Epicenter of Election Denialism and Conspiracies, Leading to Illegitimate Partisan Audit
Arizona became one of the focal points for election denial and false accusations of fraud following President Biden’s narrow victory in 2020. This effort was led in part by Republicans in the State Senate, who, following the election, brought in a partisan group called the Cyber Ninjas to conduct an “audit” of the results in Maricopa County. The so-called “audit” was not conducted under routine procedures and focused on sowing doubt on the election by partisan players who simply did not like the results of the election. It also cost taxpayers millions of dollars. These kinds of illegitimate partisan audits fly in the fact of best practices for election security. As noted above, Arizona already conducts independent, nonpartisan audits after elections.
The partisan group Cyber Ninjas also violated chain of custody requirements for ballots and election equipment, resulting in the need to replace some of the equipment. Despite all this waste, the audit did not find any errors in vote counts and confirmed President Biden’s victory.
Proper audits are conducted by government entities under routine schedules and procedures that are set in advance and maintain security and chain of custody. Arizona is already one of 39 states that have laws in place to conduct legitimate post-election audits, and should rely on proper procedures in the future.
With candidates for top state offices espousing election denialism, the 2022 elections may well see a replay of 2020 when election results were questioned for partisan gain.
Voters in Arizona Will Weigh in on Ballot Measure that Would Implement Restrictive Policies
Voters in Arizona will weigh in on a proposed constitutional amendment in November that would enact restrictive voter ID requirements for both in-person and mail voting. The measure was referred to the ballot by the state legislature as part of a trend by lawmakers in the state to implement restrictive voting policies. Strict voter ID laws that require a photo ID to cast an in-person ballot without alternatives have been shown to particularly impact communities of color. If passed, Arizona would join the ten states that currently have the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country.
Democracy Maps | Voter ID Requirements for In-Person Voting
In a majority of states, voters show some form of identification when casting their ballot in-person. States that do not require some form of ID typically ask for a signature or other identifying information to confirm the voter’s eligibility.
The measure would also implement additional ID requirements for mail voting; voters would be required to provide a government ID number when returning their mail ballot. Similar new laws in Texas and Georgia have led to an increase in ballot rejections, which unnecessarily limits participation. A competing ballot measure that would have implemented positive voting policies such as same-day voter registration was taken off the ballot after a controversial decision by the state supreme court.
Multiple Lawsuits Focus on Arizona’s Voter Registration Policies, as well as the Role of Poll Workers
Arizona has been the focus of election-related litigation on multiple fronts heading into the midterms, due in part to newly passed restrictive laws that impact voter registration. Two current lawsuits focus on voter registration requirements in the state.
In the first suit, a federal judge issued a decision last month blocking two parts of a new law; one provision would have imposed the potential of vague felony penalties on volunteers helping people to register to vote, while the other would have required county officials to cancel the registrations of voters without proof of citizenship on file and refer those voters to prosecutors.
In the second registration-related case, the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) filed suit against Arizona over a new law that requires proof of citizenship to vote in a federal election. Such laws require extensive documentation — like birth certificates — to register, which some voters do not have access to, despite the fact that they are eligible to vote. DOJ officials called the law a “textbook violation” of the National Voter Registration Act. A similar law passed in Kansas following the 2016 election was ruled unconstitutional.
Another lawsuit, filed by the state and the Republic National Committee, alleges that Maricopa County violated election law because county officials did not make an effort to have a partisan balance of poll workers. The lawsuit claims that Republicans in the county were not given an equal opportunity to be poll workers by county officials. The Maricopa County Recorder has stated that “the idea that a Republican Recorder and four Republican board members would try to keep Republicans out of elections is absurd,” and called the lawsuit a “political stunt.” The lawsuit appears to be yet another attempt to discredit Maricopa County, as it is the latest in a series of legal battles between the county and the Republican Party.
Arizona is certainly a state to watch heading into the midterms, with voters deciding on a new senator, governor and secretary of state. Arizona had the closest margin of any state in the 2020 election, with just over 10,000 votes deciding the contest for President. Efforts by Republicans in the state to restrict voting methods and cast doubt on election results through illegitimate audits will surely have an impact on the health of democracy in Arizona in 2022.