98% of Arizona ballots will be overseen by an official who started since 2020, report says
Since the 2020 presidential election, Arizona has seen a mass exodus of election administrators at the local level. Experts warn that the loss of institutional knowledge could further inflame election conspiracies in 2024.
In Arizona, 12 out of 15 counties have new election officials since 2020. And in four of Arizona’s six most populous counties, both the elections director and county recorder are new to the job.
According to a new report from Issue One, a democracy-focused advocacy group, that means roughly 98% of Arizona voters will cast ballots overseen by someone new compared to 2020.
Michael Beckel is the group’s research director and the report’s lead author. He said Arizona was a unique case because each county splits election administration duties between two officials.
“We saw that double potential for turnover, both among recorders and among election directors,” Beckel said. “A lot of new folks in both of those roles. And this doesn't even get into the staff level.”
Average experience for officials drops from 10 years to 1 year
The report warns that the turnover increases the likelihood of small mistakes, rooted in lack of experience. The typical number of years of experience held by officials in Western states dropped from about eight years to about one year. But in Arizona, the drop was more severe; from about 10 years to one year.
“There's really no substitute for going through that lived experience,” Beckel said. “You have to face challenges with every election. Sometimes those challenges can be predicted. Sometimes those challenges are unexpected.”
Those inexperience-borne mistakes, said Beckel, could be interpreted as malicious acts by election conspiracy theorists.
“Nobody wants that kind of additional stress or additional pressure,” he said. “And I think one of the themes of our report is that policymakers and lawmakers should be doing more to strengthen our elections infrastructure and protect the dedicated public servants who keep it functioning with the ability to provide more resources and more support for election officials. That's how we keep these great public servants in these positions.”
Lawmakers 'can really help remedy this crisis'
Keeping people in those positions longer, Beckel said, allows them to gain that essential experience and allow the checks, balances and transparency procedures built into the elections process to function properly.
Beckel says the high turnover rates make for a crisis, but one that there’s time to respond to ahead of the 2024 election.
“While election officials have a track record of rising to the occasion and performing heroically despite limited resources,” Beckel said, “lawmakers at the state and federal level can really help remedy this crisis by providing more funding and providing more protections to help support these dedicated public servants.”
Increased training, Beckel noted, will also be essential to help close the gap left by the more than 1,800 years of combined experience that previous election officials took with them when leaving their posts.