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Report: Arizona sees high levels of threats against election officials leading to turnover

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Alex Gonzalez

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(Arizona News Connection) A new report examines election official turnover since 2000 and found it's something that has been increasing steadily and might continue to rise.

Rachel Orey, senior associate director of the Elections Project with the Bipartisan Policy Center, is among several researchers who dove into the issue. She said their analysis draws on an original dataset of more than 18,000 local chief election officials across more than 6,000 jurisdictions in all 50 states.

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Orey said local election officials around the nation have experienced intense levels of scrutiny and hostility, especially prevalent in certain states such as Arizona.

"We know that counties like Maricopa have been in the limelight, and it makes it challenging when these election officials are receiving a lot of public scrutiny. We had an official in Maricopa County last year come out publicly and say that he was experiencing PTSD," she explained.

According to the report, the Federal Bureau of Investigation received more than 1,000 tips about threats to election workers since June of 2021, 11 percent of which warranted the FBI opening an investigation. The agency deemed Arizona as one of the states with "an unusual level of threats to election workers."

But Orey said turnover is being seen nationwide. While the report states it "discourages" legislators from making statutory changes in an election year, they can still help ensure officials have adequate resources and funding to do their jobs.

Despite the high turnover rates, Orey said there is no cause for concern when it comes to the integrity of elections, including the likely high-stakes rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. Orey said their research shows 65 percent of local election officials have experience administering a presidential election.

"Where there are new officials, we find that they have an average of eight years of experience in an election office. Typically that looks something like a deputy clerk position where they're supporting that chief election official. "

The report recommends investing in training and mentorship, evaluating training programs as well as calls for developing comprehensive systems for capturing institutional knowledge to not only mitigate the immediate impacts of turnover, but promote a more resilient election official workforce over time.