With midterm voting underway, what is the impact of Arizona’s Election Integrity Unit?

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Oct. 31, 2022 at 6:53 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The midterm election is almost here, and already, there are questions about who might - or might not- accept the results. It could put Arizona’s election integrity unit back in the spotlight. Now in its third year, the unit has taken fire from both parties, but that hasn’t stopped states like Georgia, Florida, and Virginia from using Arizona as a model for their own election units - or even police forces.

Say the words “election integrity,” and many Arizonans think of the sprawling audit of the 2020 vote in Maricopa County.

But, Arizona’s Election Integrity Unit was actually created the year before that pivotal election, with $530,000 annual funding written into the state budget.

“People want perp walks. They want arrests. They want people to be jailed,” said Washington Post reporter and Arizona native Yvonne Wingett Sanchez.

In an article she spent five weeks researching, Sanchez wrote that the unit was founded on the promise of a problem.

“We know there have been 20 prosecutions since this unit was set up - a slight increase from previous years,” she said.

Those include half a dozen felons who voted when they shouldn’t have, and several women who voted for their moms, who had died recently.

The Attorney General’s website says the majority of voter fraud cases prosecuted in Arizona are related to double voting. We looked through the list of all the voting or election prosecutions since 2010. In a state of four-million plus voters, there are 36.

The EIU has fielded thousands of complaints. The attorney general’s office did not grant our interview request, but has said they will only proceed with facts. For some, that’s proven frustrating.

“But if you don’t have the evidence, to respond in that way, your gonna be stuck in a vice. You’re going to find yourself stuck in a situation like Attorney General Mark Brnovich finds himself in,” said Sanchez.

A Catch-22, where no one seems satisfied: Some call the unit a waste of resources, while others say the state hasn’t gone far enough to restore voter trust.

“Has the Election Integrity Unit been successful in doing that? To some degree, yes, to some degree, no, because here we are...and there’s still a lot of distrust,” said Arizona Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita.

Ugenti-Rita has made election integrity a cornerstone of her office for years. She believes the unit can only do so much, and instead lays the blame for what she calls “election purgatory” at the feet of county leaders.

“I am concerned that if they continue the posture of ‘Trust me, I know better, don’t ask any questions,’ you’ll continue to have the public be skeptical about how the process is being managed,” said Ugenti-Rita.

The time it takes to count ballots is a key factor.

“That timeline has been exploited and criticized in an era where everyone wants answers or many people want answers immediately,” Sanchez said. She warns, if the midterm fuels more widespread questions about legitimacy, it could hamper Arizona lawmaking - and worse - threaten democracy.

Brnovich, Ugenti-Rita, and others favor new laws requiring drop box monitoring and increased election crime penalties. Opponents say more new laws could have a chilling effect on voter rights.

But how will the Arizona Election Integrity Unit figure into the solution? It will depend on who wins, and if they want to spend more.

The unit’s civil investigation into the 2020 vote in Maricopa County (which is separate from the Cyber Ninjas audit) continues. In his interim report from April, AG Brnovich cited concerns about signature vetting and ballot chain of custody, but did not allude to fraud. Maricopa County has repeatedly produced evidence to fervently refute the claims.