Arizona gubernatorial election should be invalidated by Hobbs’ conflict of interest

by Samantha Flom

Op-ed by Samantha Flom | Photo: Alamy

When the Associated Press called Arizona’s gubernatorial election for Democrat Katie Hobbs Monday night, Democrats — and Wyoming’s humiliatingly defeated “Republican” Rep. Liz Cheney — were quick to flood social media with their boastful claims of victory.

But whether those claims are true is another story.

No one can dispute that Arizona’s midterm elections were marred by obvious integrity problems, from malfunctioning machines in Republican areas to the suspiciously drawn-out counting process

But even if those issues were not present, one other problem still needs to be underscored: Katie Hobbs, as Arizona’s current secretary of state, oversaw her own election.

Under Arizona law (A.R.S. section 38-503), “Any public officer or employee who has, or whose relative has, a substantial interest in any decision of a public agency shall make known such interest in the official records of such public agency and shall refrain from participating in any manner as an officer or employee in such decision.”

As Arizona’s chief election officer, Hobbs’ duties include certifying candidates, ballot measures, voting machines, and election results. While one would think her candidacy for governor would present a clear conflict of interest for those tasks, Hobbs did not find it necessary to do the honorable (and, apparently, legal) thing and recuse herself, as two former Arizona secretaries of state suggested she do. 

“I think it would be wise if the secretary of state seconded responsibility for ministerial oversight to either the attorney general or the Maricopa County recorder,” Democrat and former Arizona Secretary of State Richard Mahoney told TIME before the election. 

Republican Ken Bennett, who also formerly held Hobbs’ office, agreed, stating, “She should recuse herself from the official acts that she would normally perform as secretary and let a deputy secretary or somebody else take care of those.”

Nonetheless, instead of heeding her predecessors’ advice, Hobbs doubled down on her refusal to recuse, insisting in an interview with CNN that she had no obligation to do so. 

“Elected secretaries of state in Arizona have overseen elections where they’re on the ballot since statehood,” she claimed. “This has never been an issue until now, and I’m not going to recuse myself from the job that the voters elected me to do, and for which I took an oath of office to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the constitution and laws of the state of Arizona.”

Regardless of precedent, however, the state’s conflict of interest law is clear and should invalidate the results of Arizona’s gubernatorial election. 

Lake, who repeatedly called for her opponent’s recusal, has made it clear that she does not believe the election was fair.

“Arizonans know BS when they see it,” she tweeted Monday.

And Lake was not the only person who felt that way.

“Please watch this fiery video and remember that Katie Hobbs is now overseeing an extremely disputed and tight election in Arizona while at the same time being a candidate for Governor in what appears to be a very close race, all because she refused requests to recuse herself,” Glenn Greenwald tweeted Nov. 12, sharing a 2018 video of former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder calling out Georgia’s then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp for the same apparent conflict of interest.

Accusing Kemp of “trying to rig the system,” Holder said incredulously: “This is a guy who’s running for a governor while he’s the secretary of state. That’s like Lebron James suiting up for the Lakers and telling everyone in the game that he wants to referee the game in addition to playing for the Lakers. … That’s just not right; that’s just not fair. You can’t do both — he needs to resign.”

For what may be the first (and probably only) time, I have to agree with Holder in this case. With the possibility of foul play on the table, no election can ever truly be secure.

Both Hobbs and Kemp should have recused themselves. But while it is too late to do anything about Kemp’s election, there is still time to correct the glaring error with the 2022 Arizona gubernatorial election.

To clear the air of any appearance of impropriety or conflict of interest, a new election must be held where Hobbs is not in a position of authority. And not an election conducted like the chaotic debacle that we have now come to expect from Arizona elections, but one with just one day of in-person voting using paper ballots to be hand-counted by the local precincts.

It is high time we stopped leaving the door open to fraud in our elections. Let reform start here and now with Arizona.

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