PHOENIX - Less than a month after publicly declaring ballot harvesting an opportunity for fraud, Secretary of State Michele Reagan offered to do just that for staffers at the governor’s office.
Reagan acknowledged Saturday she told a gubernatorial staffer on March 22 that she and staffers were available in case anyone had forgotten to mail in their early ballots for that day’s presidential preference election.
Reagan told Capitol Media Services she does not know whether a staffer, who had gone back to follow up, actually collected any.
But Reagan said she did nothing wrong, pointing out that the law she got legislators to approve and Gov. Doug Ducey to sign, making “ballot harvesting” a felony, does not take effect until later this year.
Reagan said it would not matter, adding that the law exempts election officials “engaged in official duties.” And Reagan said that includes her, even if she is not working at a polling place.
Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said that’s stretching it. “She’s not doing this as part of her official duties,” he said. “She’s doing it because she’s helping out somebody that’s a friend,” Farley said, the very thing the legislation is making a crime.
Reagan, however, said everything she does is part of her official duties.
She said she and others in her office all have been certified as election officials. That, said Reagan, allows them to not only be around ballots but also have access to the counting equipment.
“We’re the very same people that went and, prior to the election, checked all the equipment, sealed all the equipment, had them all on live video feeds so that we could watch all the equipment,” she continued. “So I would say if there’s a group you’re going to trust it would be the very same people that just verified the equipment as accurate and working properly.”
Reagan was the prime force behind the legislation that makes it a felony to collect voted or unvoted early ballots from another person, with a presumptive sentence of one year in state prison.
Last month, speaking at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference before the bill saw approval, Reagan decried the “outrageous loophole” in Arizona law that would make it easy to “cheat.” And she said it is “the radical Left who uses ballot harvesting.”
Farley said even if he accepts her argument she and her staffers can collect ballots around the Executive Tower where she, the governor and other state employees have offices, her actions are no more acceptable. “The fact that’s legal for her and illegal for everyone else makes it just as bad as if she was illegal herself,” he said.
And Farley said most telling is that Reagan felt compelled to seek out unmailed early ballots.
“It just points out the fact that there are many situations in which people want to be able to vote,” he said, “and then the time passes them by and all of a sudden it’s too late and they can’t make it. Why not have somebody else bring it in?”
Farley noted that while proponents of the legislation could cite many instances of people dropping off multiple ballots, “zero proof of fraud” exists.
That lack of evidence came up when the measure was first debated in the House. But Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, brushed that aside.
“What is indisputable is that many people believe it’s happening,” he said in voting for the measure. “And I think that matters.”
The situation was the same when the bill was debated in a Senate committee. Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, said he got an email from someone claiming to have evidence of and witnesses to fraud.
“I’ve been told the way they do it is they collect the ballots early, they put them in a microwave with a bowl of water, steam them open, take the ballots,” he explained. “If they like the way it’s voted they put them back in. If they don’t like the way it’s voted, they lose that ballot.”
Questioned about what happened, Shooter said it was reported to law enforcement who reported it to the secretary of state’s office which investigated.
“Nothing really happened other than the fact that they did a press release, I think, or something to that effect,” he said.