The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

2 secretaries of state undercut Trump’s fraud claims in key, GOP-controlled states. Republicans have now voted to strip both of power.

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) removes her mask as she addresses Arizona's representatives to the electoral college on Dec. 14, 2020. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)
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Update: The Republicans in Arizona’s state legislature voted this week to move forward with stripping Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) of a key power related to election lawsuits. The budget bill now goes to GOP Gov. Doug Ducey.

The below post, from last month, has been updated.

Georgia Republicans earlier this year passed new voting restrictions, leading corporations including Major League Baseball to protest. What followed was a big to-do about whether that was an overreaction. The bill didn’t exactly match up with Democrats’ claims of a modern-day “Jim Crow,” and many of the new provisions were within the mainstream of even blue states.

But the bill was also watered-down from much-bolder proposals that had previously passed, including one transparently targeted at limiting voter drives by Black churches. Mix in the effort’s proximity to Republicans losing the state for the first time in 28 years — and to similar efforts in other GOP-controlled states despite no proof of actual, significant voter fraud — and it wasn’t difficult to draw conclusions about why this was done.

And there was perhaps one part of the law that best drove home how much this was aimed at gaming the system. It removed Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) from the state election board. This effectively allowed the GOP-controlled state legislature to appoint a majority of the board.

Raffensperger had emerged after the election as perhaps the chief Republican critic of President Donald Trump’s fraud claims, declining Trump’s entreaties to help him overturn the state’s results. It was rather purely punitive for a guy whose conduct was never shown to have been anything except unhelpful to his party’s efforts to claim fraud and a “stolen” election. The law also allowed the GOP-controlled state legislature to suspend county elections officials — another provision critics warn could mean an election like 2020 could turn out very differently in the future.

And in case that could be dismissed as anything other than a power play, consider this: It’s happening again.

The second-closest state in the 2020 election, after Georgia, was Arizona. Arizona was also the other state in which the sitting secretary of state, Katie Hobbs (D), was particularly unhelpful when it came to Republicans questioning the election results. Hobbs has also sharply criticized Arizona Republicans ongoing, far-flung and messy efforts to audit the nearly seven-month-old election.

So what are Arizona Republicans moving to do? Strip Hobbs of power, just like Raffensperger.

And this proposal might actually be more brazen than Georgia’s. It would effectively take away Hobbs’s ability to defend election lawsuits, transferring that power to Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich. And the law, particularly notably, would only apply through the end of her term as secretary of state in January 2023. (Hobbs is running for governor in 2022.)

Basically, Arizona Republicans are moving to temporarily transfer this authority from a Democrat to a Republican for one election cycle only (at which point they could seemingly decide, depending upon who controls each office, who should be in charge of this).

Hobbs issued a statement calling it “unlike anything I have ever seen before” in her previous time in the state legislature. She later called it “egregious” and said Republicans were “weaponizing the process to take retribution against my office.”

And it’s difficult to dispute that.

There are two states in which the secretary of state was a fly in the ointment of efforts to question an extremely close race and where Republicans actually have the power to change the law as a consequence. They’ve now moved to do so in both of those states — to transfer that secretary of state’s power to either the GOP-controlled state legislature (in Georgia) or to a GOP attorney general (in Arizona).

This would be a very strange coincidence if your goal isn’t actually to game the system for your side and punish dissent.