Arizona governor and secretary of state at odds over video ballot assistance

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Gov. Doug Ducey’s office and Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs are at odds over a potentially illegal move to help disadvantaged voters via video chat or telephone.

Yuma County Recorder Robyn Stallworth Pouquette, a Republican, emailed Ducey’s office Monday about new guidance she’d received from Hobbs’ office regarding assisting voters using video or audio assistance when requested and no others are able to help.

“As all counties have faced challenges due to COVID-19, security and integrity remain a priority and I feel strongly that the recommendations diminish security and integrity and I do not feel I’m able to accommodate any such requests for the recommended procedures,” Pouquette said.

Maricopa County currently offers voter assistance but Stallworth Paquette contends extending the assistance to all counties via the state office is a last-second change that’s not been vetted.

Ducey wrote Hobbs later Monday, saying her office cannot change policies as far-reaching as what she’d proposed just days before early voting begins.

“Across all spectrums, COVID-19 has changed the way we operate and we’ve had to quickly evolve to accommodate the unforeseen demands and challenges of this pandemic – but at no point in addressing these challenges should we disregard the laws, policies, and procedures that exist to protect the integrity of our election systems,” Ducey said. “Substantive policy changes such as the ones described by election officials should endure legislative scrutiny or approval by the attorney general and the governor through the rigorous election procedures manual process described in state law.”

Hobbs said in a letter to Ducey that they had consulted his office and the Department of Health Services on the change and were simply acting on their recommendations to ensure the special elections board could assist voters without potentially exposing them to COVID-19.

“Raising these objections during the development of the guidance would have certainly been preferable and would have presumably eliminated any need for the current correspondence,” she said.

Hobbs added that “in-person” requirements elsewhere in Arizona law had been satisfied by video conferencing, a community college governing board for instance.

Ducey’s chief of staff, Daniel Scarpinato, said on Twitter Wednesday that Ducey had no plans to allow the remote voter assistance.

“As we near the general election, and with limited time to implement or vet such practices, we are not entertaining a discussion on these policies,” he said. “Now is not the time to experiment.”

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