I was elected to work with others—even with those who I normally wouldn’t agree. Such is the case with my support of SB1324, a bipartisan piece of legislation concerning ballot imaging that is sponsored by former Secretary of State and current State Senator, Ken Bennett. This bill, which is similar to legislation passed in other states such as Colorado, would allow people to compare ballot images to a cast vote record.
Last November, Arizona voters gave me a 122,000-vote margin of victory over my opponent. Democrats, independents and a good number of Republicans entrusted me to do everything in my power to find common ground to confront every challenge, big and small, facing our state.
In recent polling, a significant percentage of Arizonans said they do not trust our elections. That figure represents tens of thousands of Arizonans: our neighbors, co-workers, and family members. As Secretary of State, I see no greater challenge than this wide and deep gulf of distrust that threatens to permanently divide us from one another.
I was elected to work with others—even with those who I normally wouldn’t agree. Such is the case with my support of SB1324, a bipartisan piece of legislation concerning ballot imaging that is sponsored by former Secretary of State and current State Senator, Ken Bennett. House Speaker Ben Toma is also sponsoring a House version of the bill.
This bill, which is similar to legislation passed in other states such as Colorado, would allow people to compare ballot images to a cast vote record. This bill would bring public verifiability to an election process that is currently sagging under the weight of voter distrust and discord.
We see evidence of this widespread lack of confidence in our elections across our state. Elections officials, including myself, receive almost daily threats of bodily harm and intimidation. This situation has become so intense that today 11 out of 15 Arizona counties have lost a top election official—many of them citing a rising tide of threats as the reason to leave their jobs.
Burying our heads in the sand and hoping this tide will pass is not a viable option. When it is possible to engage skeptical voters who are willing to enter in a dialogue based on electoral fact, not fiction, we have an obligation to the furtherance of our democracy to do so.
Like many voting rights advocates, I have concerns about maintaining voter privacy. However, it is my obligation to those voters that compels me to engage with the legislative process to ensure these concerns are being addressed. Thanks to our efforts, amendments to this legislation that would protect the identity of voters—particularly those who cast their ballots in small, mostly rural precincts—are moving forward.
I am dismayed to see some advocates spread falsehoods about this piece of legislation to sow fear about privacy breaches among voters. I am even more disappointed by the rhetoric by certain members of our Legislative majority to engender and capitalize on very real concerns about transparency in our electoral system.
We cannot have misinformation from both sides of politics and hope to get good policy.
Here’s the truth about this proposal to put ballot images and the cast vote record online. Much of this information is already available. There is no way to tie a ballot to a voter. The reconciliation of ballots as listed in poll books will increase confidence in our elections while reducing lies.
Privacy of voters is incredibly important. But we cannot use those concerns as an excuse not to engage in good faith efforts to reach a sizeable part of our electorate who distrusts our elections. To do so would mean consigning ourselves to a permanent state of partisan warfare, with the future of democracy and the rule of law decided by a razor-thin margin at the ballot box.
To truly emerge from the bottomless pit of election denialism, we need to form a grand coalition of Americans who can agree to disagree on the issues, but not on the essential foundations of democracy itself.
It is important to note that I supported this ballot imaging measure back in 2017, well before election denialism emerged on the political scene. It was a good idea then. Today, it’s still a good idea whose time has surely come.
Adrian Fontes is the Arizona Secretary of State.