Two-hundred-and-eight days after Joe Biden became just the second Democrat presidential candidate to win Arizona’s electoral votes since 1948, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is still getting death threats.
Ms Hobbs, 51, has had to travel with a 24-hour security detail since 7 May, when Governor Doug Ducey assigned Department of Public Safety officers to protect her following her multiple threatening phone calls. One caller asked what she was wearing that day to ensure that she’d be “easy to get”. Another incident involved a videographer from the far-right conspiracy website The Gateway Pundit chasing her and an aide.
She also received police protection for a period immediately after the outcome of the 2020 presidential race became clear, when she brought on expert outside counsel to defend Arizona’s election results against lawsuits filed by various pro-Trump groups, including the state Republican party, who sought to challenge the results on dubious grounds.
Speaking with The Independent on Friday – hours after GOP senators voted to block an investigation into 6 January, and at the same time Texas Republicans were preparing to unveil legislation meant to make it harder for Americans to vote and easier for GOP officials to overturn elections – Ms Hobbs warned Republicans’ attempt to downplay what happened at the US Capitol is giving tacit approval to the implicit and explicit threats of violence being directed at election officials across the country.
Such threats, she said, appear to be the reason that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger – a Republican who incurred his own party’s ire for defending the conduct of last year’s election after Mr Biden became the first Democrat to carry the state since Bill Clinton did so in 1992 – recently announced support for a “so-called audit” of results from heavily Black Fulton County.
“He got death threats and his wife got death threats for [him] doing his job and certifying the results of a valid election,” she said. “Now, he’s shifting course…and trying to appease these folks.”
Ms Hobbs and Mr Raffensperger are not the only election officials who’ve received threats on their lives for nothing more than doing their jobs. In Fulton County, Georgia last November, far-right media outlets and online conspiracy theorists – including former President Trump’s adult sons – sent one Black election worker into hiding by spreading a video which falsely claimed that surveillance video of ballot counting showed him throwing out ballots.
Another pair of election workers, both of whom are also Black, became the subject of far-right conspiracy theories after many Republicans, including Mr Trump’s attorney Rudolph Giuliani, accused them of introducing a “suitcase” of fraudulent ballots into the counting process (the “suitcase” was a standard container which Georgia uses to store ballots).
Such false claims are nothing new. Although Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security officials have repeatedly said the 2020 election was the most secure in American history, many Republicans insist that Democratic victories are the result of fraud in cities with significant non-white populations.
Asked whether death threats are going to be part and parcel of being an election official, election worker, or volunteer in America going forward, Ms Hobbs told The Independent that she “certainly hope[s] that is not the case”.
“It is a sad state of affairs if that is where we are now,” she said, calling threats against election workers and officials “certainly a concern that we have,” and one that is “not unique to Arizona”.
Ms Hobbs said that while she and her colleagues across the country “have been looking at ways to develop a competent corps of election workers,” the climate of threats and fear perpetuated ty the GOP in the wake of Mr Biden’s 2020 win is already taking a toll in the form of attrition among the nonpartisan staff in offices like hers.
But it is not just threats against election officials and workers that concern Ms Hobbs. Spurred on by Mr Trump and his allies, Republicans in state legislatures are also taking aim against the election process itself by taking elections out of the hands of officials who accepted Mr Biden’s win as legitimate or pushed back against GOP attempts to overturn the election.
In her own state, Republican state legislators – including at least one who’d been a willing participant in the 6 January insurrection at the US Capitol – are attempting to strip her office of the ability to retain outside lawyers to defend against election-related litigation, but only for the remainder of her term in office. Instead of letting Ms Hobbs, a Democrat, continue to do the work for which voters elected her in 2018, the GOP is entrusting the responsibility for defending Arizona’s elections to state Attorney General Mark Brnovich. Not coincidentally, Mr Brnovich was one of the 18 state attorneys who sought to have the US Supreme Court simply throw out the election results last December.
In Georgia, GOP legislatures have already retaliated against Mr Raffensperger by removing his chairmanship of and vote on the state’s board of elections in a sweeping post-election rewrite of the Peach State’s election law. The GOP-backed election law also made it more difficult for Georgians to vote absentee, and enabled the Republican-controlled legislature to seize control of elections in the heavily-Democratic counties which provided Mr Biden his margin of victory.
Such pro-Trump rewrites of election law are also occurring in states that Mr Biden lost. In Texas, for example, Republican state lawmakers are pushing a suite of changes that would allow an election result to be overturned if the loser can show that there were violations of the state election code, even without proving that such violations caused the loser to lose.
In Ms Hobbs’ estimation, the hard-core antidemocratic movement that is supporting sham election audits, that supported attempts to throw out Mr Biden’s victory via the courts, and is amending state election laws to make it possible to overturn future Democratic wins does not represent a majority of American voters. It does, however, represent a majority of Republicans.
“I think the majority of the electorate is not a part of this cult of Donald Trump, and they want to move on and have different conversations than this partisan fight that we’re in the middle of,” she said.
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Ms Hobbs wishes more Republican leaders would push back against the Trump-backed drive to continue delegitimizing Mr Biden’s victory, but she lamented that that such displays of courage are becoming increasingly unlikely because of the way the House Republican Conference punished Wyoming Representative and former conference chair Liz Cheney for speaking out against Mr Trump.
Yet even if the antidemocracy majority in the GOP remains a minority of American voters, Ms Hobbs warned that the existence such a movement cannot be taken lightly.
“We obviously need to pay attention to it,” she said, “because at some point it can become detrimental for our democracy.”
While many Democrats have fretted that the Biden administration does not appear sufficiently committed to pushing back against antidemocratic measures, she thinks Mr Biden and his advisers “can walk and chew gum at the same time” while enacting policies that give them a mandate to push through pro-democracy bills such as the “For the People Act” and “John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,” both of which would block many Republican efforts to shrink the electorate and undermine elections.
Asked whether Democrats, independents, and moderate Republicans need to spend more time raising awareness of these GOP-backed antidemocratic measures, Ms Hobbs acknowledged that more people need to be brought into the conversation over how best to protect American democracy. But that conversation, she said, is “bigger than just [her]”. Moreover, she said she might not be the best messenger for such a message because many people “are never going to believe anything I say because they think I belong in a noose at Gitmo”.
But regardless of who becomes the messenger for pro-democracy reforms, Ms Hobbs warned that national leaders need to take charge because the movement that is still trying to overturn and undermine last year’s election is actively trying to control the next one.
“I think that we should be very worried,” she said.