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What the Devil won't tell you

On guard: Watch out for conspiracy theories morphing into voter suppression moves

Tight races, late counts could provide an excuse for anti-voter laws

In 1996, I was in Flagstaff watching election returns come in, tabulating the results between U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth and former Al Gore staffer Steve Owens. When the Associated Press called the election, fewer than 400 votes separated the two — but there was a matter of thousands of what they called “questioned ballots” that still needed to be counted.

Enough votes remained uncounted that my editor called the AP and said “this race may be too close to declare a victor” and the wire service’s editor’s basic reaction can be best described as “Oh. Yeah. Guess that’s true. We’re sticking to our guns.”

The AP turned out to be right. The race was called for Hayworth after all the votes were counted.

Reporters all over the state are getting sick of this and royally pissed off because they can’t put their election coverage to bed two weeks after the polls closed. It’s just how the cookie crumbles here.

I was at the County Administration Building late at night in 2000, when the questioned and provisional ballots dictated a few races.

I was on the phone with former state Sen. Frank Antenori when he first won his state House seat days after ballots were cast and we both realized together that future Tea Party organizer Trent Humphries had fallen behind Marilyn Zurell in her race for the Legislature.

In 2014, Republicans rejoiced as former A-10 pilot Martha McSally held a tight lead over incumbent U.S. Rep. Ron Barber after these provisional ballots were counted. (And recounted. And re-recounted.)

This year, the U.S. Senate race between McSally and Kyrsten Sinema hung on the stacks of early ballots that were dropped off on Election Day and needed to be checked out before they were added to the count. (TucsonSentinel.com was the first news organization to call that race; the AP hung way back.) The secretary of state and superintendent of public instruction races also stayed close even as more ballots were counted. So were some legislative races.

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And so it goes with Arizona elections. These tight races aren’t part of some twisted conspiracy and most Arizonans know that. There’s been little online chatter about voter fraud among even the most strident conservatives in this state.

But that hasn’t stopped one president, a GOP lawyer and a handful of conservative voices and a clueless Phoenix broadcaster to suggest or claim outright that the fix is in.

Yet in Trump’s Republican party, the typical course of things becomes a grand conspiracy if it doesn’t work for Tribe Elephant. The flip side of normalizing the dangerous is demonizing the normal.

And when it comes to voter suppression laws, the Right hasn’t needed a reason; they just cast about for an excuse to figure out ways to keep the Left and moderates legally at bay.

The GOP is now losing skin-tight elections and will send six Democrats and five Republicans from Arizona to Washington, and seem to have just a one-seat edge in the state House. Then Trump tweets about fraud and there's both the reason and the excuse. 

Voters need to be on guard in 2019 for the Legislature confusing contentiousness in this election with with fantasies of conspiracies, and enacting laws to artificially maintain their power through voter suppression.

Which of Trump’s fever dreams will create our new normal? The man thinks we need ID to buy Cocoa Puffs. He claims voters are doing passenger-seat quick changes in their cars to vote again and again and again. So God only knows what laws may be coming to regulate Corn Flakes and costume nose-glasses.

The "late earlies," provisional and questioned ballots verified and counted in the days following the election this year are exactly like the same kinds of ballots verified and counted late in previous years.

What’s different this year is that Republicans lost a bunch of tight key races and a lot of people voted.

Legally, they have a point to make that isn’t outlandish.

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Arizona’s 15 counties go about verifying questionable early ballots differently. Pima County has for years called voters if the signature on the ballot doesn’t match the signature on the voter rolls. Maricopa County began doing that this year. Others haven't taken that step.

So Republicans up to and including Sen. Jon Kyl demanded a uniform approach to voting verification. That’s a reasonable request. Republican votes shouldn’t be tossed in the trash at a greater rate than Democratic votes.

They are claiming Republican county recorders are systematically disenfranchising Republican voters by failing to take the extra step to verify the authenticity of the ballot.

A good fix

An easy legislative fix is to force all counties to make the call — or not make the call – to verify the signatures so long as it’s done properly.

Here’s what I mean by "properly."

Say an illegal immigrant (oh, for the love of God) decided to vote (seriously, going down this ridiculous rabbit hole under protest) in your place, knowing you would not show up to the polls. The probability is close to one they’ve never seen your signature before. So they are going to sign something that looks nothing like your handwriting.

It should be easy to eyeball.

Ballots should not be discounted if the swoop of the “S” is different here and that “T” is crossed at less of an angle than what appears on the voter rolls. No. That’s not the job of an election worker. Check for obvious fraud and if none exists, count the ballot. Done.

If you haven’t been contacted by Antiques Roadshow to verify Stan Musial’s autograph then don’t go tossing Stan Murchison’s ballot in the trash because you think you spot a hesitation between the C and the H.

Signatures change.

Then there’s voter purging, which will be harder to do with Democrat Katie Hobbs elected secretary of state. Her office oversees statewide voter registration and Democrats tend to want more registered voters because they do better when more people vote.

Leading up to the 2018 election, 290,000 voters were cut from the rolls because the state did not keep up with address changes on state driver’s licenses or IDs. The practices is required by the 1993 “Motor Voter” law.

Other states have been more aggressive. Georgia and Ohio operate a “Use-It-or-Lose-It” system to maintain their voter rolls. Voters who fail to vote over a given number of cycles are sent notice that they will be removed from the rolls if they don’t meet respond. Then they are purged from the system. 

The 1993 law banned the practice of purging voters for failing to vote but states have argued the ban isn’t for failing to vote. It’s for failing to respond to notices triggered by the failure to vote.

A rose by any other name is still a shit show.

Georgia has purged more than 100,000 voters because of this law and Ohio has eliminated more than 2 million voters in total since 2011. To put that number into perspective, Trump and Hillary Clinton combined to win 5 million votes in 2016.

That’s a lot of people to be dying or picking up stakes and bailing for warmer climes.

Back to the start

What voter purges do is require parties to rebuild their turnout model from scratch every election cycle. It’s not enough to identify, persuade and get voters to the polls. They now have to get find those voters in the first place and get them registered.

If one party is less likely to be financially secure than the other party, then that party’s voters are more likely to move from rental to rental. If one party is less likely than the other to vote in the first place, then they are more likely to lose what they don’t use.

Let’s be clear, Democrats are historically more likely to fill both bills and historically, Republicans suffer the more people vote.

I can sense the smirk as I type. Well, if Democrats are the kinds of people who aren’t voting then they set themselves up for stricter scrutiny and if Democrats are the ones who can’t hold onto an apartment then they are going to have to go through the same steps.

Gotcha. More later.

Card the shifty

That’s the same logic that is at the heart of voter ID laws, that studies show disproportionately affect minorities and older, poorer voters.

Getting an ID is no big deal for most people, so what does it say about a person who won’t drive their lazy asses down to the Motor Vehicle Division?

Weighing their rights against even the threat of losing election integrity is just an unreasonable step for the rest of society to take, right? So let’s err on the side of caution, even if there is no evidence of voter widespread fraud.

They're shifty, I tell you. Shifty.

I mean seriously, what kind of person doesn’t have an ID? What kind of person moves every few years? What kind of person isn’t exercising their civic duty in the first place. Why should the rest of us suffer for their transient ways?

No right is absolute. All have certain restrictions to protect the society against abuse. I get it.

Same logic, new right

So, here’s a deal: If someone lets their ID lapse, can’t hold down a lease for more than a year or two or doesn’t vote, then let’s take their guns away.

I mean, it’s not the failure to vote that costs gun owners their firearms, it’s the failure to reply to the state’s request for more information. What kind of person doesn’t do that? Not a person who can be trusted with the franchise of voting, apparently and certainly not a person who demands for themselves to the right to decide who lives and who dies.

At least gun deaths are a thing. There are about 35,000 of them a year. Voter fraud is the fear of a thing happening someday maybe or a specious excuse for losing an election. There’s no chalk outline around the body.

The right to bear arms is assured in the 2nd Amendment. The right to vote is assured in the 15th , 24th, 19th and 26th amendments.

The rights exist in equal legal authority so let’s apply equal restrictions. What’s good for the goose is good for the gun nut.

If you believe that you have the right to be your own first responder against violence as a first principle of citizenship, then the right to select who controls the state’s “monopoly of violence” should also be a first principle.

What? No? That doesn't work for the new nationalists? So voter restrictions aren't about reasonable safeguards, just as other people's rights aren't guaranteed. They are about targeting political opponents and, frankly, sometimes it feels like gun control laws are, too.

Gun control isn't on any legislative agenda in Phoenix. The people of Arizona have to watch the Legislature next year to make sure they don't draw a bead on voters, looking to silence them altogether.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is a former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things the Devil won’t.


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