Town of Marana Deputy Town Clerk Hilary Hiser, a certified election official, provided an Op-Ed piece to the Arizona Daily Star regarding Election Integrity and what steps are taken to ensure fair elections.
A voter recently called me asking how to unregister to vote. The citizen expressed skepticism about our ability to keep her information confidential and general ambivalence regarding the election process. As an election official, I have received a surprising number of similar calls during and since the 2016 election.
The “new normal” includes not only assisting people with registering to vote and directing them to their polling place, but also reassuring them that the fundamental integrity of the election is protected and the results are valid.
Misconceptions regarding election integrity come primarily from the fear that voter fraud is a real and widespread threat. However, the empirical data from state and academic sources do not support that view. Since 2008, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office has received only 30 referrals for incidents of voter fraud, resulting in 20 convictions across six counties, as reported by the Arizona Republic.
Justin Levitt, of the Brennan Center for Justice, indicates in his 2017 study that the public often conflates voter fraud with problems or issues related to the administrative process of elections. It is this misunderstanding about the actual procedures of an election that creates a sense of distrust among citizens.
But just because an election official makes a mistake, does not mean we should assume the worst about the process as a whole. In his review of the 2016 Arizona special election, election attorney Joseph Kanefield notes that “elections are rarely perfect endeavors.” He acknowledges that even under the best of circumstances election officials will make mistakes, but those mistakes are quickly resolved.
If anything, our ability as election officials to quickly resolve any issues speaks to the professionalism of the electoral process. Local, county, and state elections occur on an almost yearly basis, from large national elections to small municipal elections. Both Title 16 and Title 19 of the Arizona Revised Statues so thoroughly regulate election procedures and establish voter protections that an actual election runs like a well-oiled machine. Election officials from local, county, and state levels participate in consistent training and are awarded certifications documenting their understanding of the process.
Just like posted public meetings, the administration of an election is open to citizen observers. The Official Canvass of the Vote documents in detail every vote cast during an election. Even the physical security of the ballots is provided the same care and attention as a bank vault full of money.
Running an election is one of the more transparent and heavily audited functions within the government. For example, Pima County’s Election Integrity Commission is a citizen advisory board whose sole purpose is to review election procedures and help improve the electoral process within Pima County, enforcing an additional layer of accountability on election officials.
Is there room for improvement in our management of elections? Of course there is. The 2014 Presidential Commission on Election Administration identified several areas including more accurate voter rolls, investment in new technologies, improved information security, and more efficient voter registration methods.
Shrinking government budgets and increasingly long election cycles only magnify these challenges. However, they are not insurmountable. At a local level, from town and city clerks to county recorders, election officials continue to experiment with voter engagement using the internet and social media.
Local election officials understand the magnitude of what it means to cast a vote, and we take very seriously our responsibility to protect that fundamental right.