Part one of a three-part report on the fight over Arizona voting bills.
Republican lawmakers have introduced dozens of bills that would impact Arizona elections. In some cases, even some Republicans concede the measures would make voting harder and more complicated.
They’ve justified these proposals as a way to restore confidence in the state’s election process. Voters have doubts about the outcome of the 2020 elections and the integrity of the vote, Republicans say, and it’s up to lawmakers to address those concerns. Sen. Sonny Borrelli described it as election reform by popular demand.
“We get thousands of emails on this subject,” the Lake Havasu City Republican said during a Senate debate in early March. “And we’re supposed to ignore that? Our citizens are screaming for this! They want it fixed. They want to make sure that their vote counts.”
Democratic senators say the idea that anything about the election needs fixing is a part “the big lie” — a term for the notion that the presidential election, and perhaps other races, were somehow stolen.
Former President Donald Trump is considered the originator of “the big lie.” Even before November, he had already claimed the only way he’d lose the election is if the vote was rigged. But Republicans like Borrelli have repeatedly echoed the president’s claims of fraud, a fact not lost on Sen. Martin Quezada.
“The reason why there’s doubt out there about our elections right now is because of uncorroborated claims, misinformation and flat-out lies that have been told over and over again about this last election, from the president’s office all the way down to this very body,” the Glendale Democrat said during a Senate Government hearing in January.
Put another way, Quezada says Republican lawmakers are at least in part responsible for eroding the public’s trust.
For example, Borrelli spent the days and weeks after Nov. 3 tweeting “#StopTheSteal.” At one point, he claimed “the FIX was in” and called for a redo of the presidential election, or at least a full recount. Similar opinions were put on full display in late November, when Borrelli and other Republican lawmakers played host to Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, for a so-called legislative hearing about Arizona’s recent election.
Giuliani and others who testified aired a wide variety of errant claims and grievances about the election. They said voting machines in Arizona were connected to the internet (they weren’t); that 5 million illegal immigrants live in Arizona (they don’t) and must have somehow voted; and that signatures on mail ballot envelopes aren’t verified (they are).
Lawmakers like Rep. Leo Biasiucci, a Republican seatmate of Borrelli’s, described the testimony as validating while invoking Pennsylvania, another state where Trump and his supporters made demonstrably false claims about the election.
“You know, before this hearing, before Pennsylvania, I think I, like so many other millions of Americans, we knew something was wrong. Right? We knew something was off with this election. We didn’t know what, but it didn’t feel right,” Biasiucci said.
Rep. Mark Finchem, a Republican who would later draw scrutiny for his presence in Washington, D.C., when rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, was more explicit in his accusation.
“It’s exceedingly hard for me to place a label on what we’ve heard, other than racketeering,” Finchem said. “Good old-fashioned mobster racketeering, but on a grand scale.”
Days after hearing from Giuliani, Borrelli signed a statement calling to decertify Arizona’s election results. And in January, in an interview published by Prescott E-News, he repeated claims that election fraud wasn’t simply a possibility, but a foregone conclusion.
“We know that there’s, there’s a record amount, there’s election fraud all over the place,” Borrelli said. “It’s always been going on, these stuffed ballot boxes in other states. I mean, it’s … this is nothing new.”
Borrelli then hinted at the wave of election bills to come.
“This is why the Legislature meets. We find a problem, we fix it, we solve it legislatively and have a law put in place,” he said. “That’s what we do.”
To Democrats, this is a prime example of a common legislative critique: Solutions in search of a problem. In this case, Borrelli says his constituents are “screaming” to fix problems he’s spent months insisting are real.
Back in January, Quezada said there’s a better way to ease voters’ concerns with the election, and it’s not passing unnecessary legislation — a method Quezada warned only exacerbates voters’ doubt.
“We should be telling people our elections are good, our elections are fine,” he said. “The system we have in place works.”