Sierra Vista Herald: Experience guides Reagan’s call for changes

 

 

 

 

Eric Petermann
The Sierra Vista Herald/Bisbee Daily Review

 

Michele Reagan now has the experience that only comes from a challenging year highlighted by four completely different elections. Arizona’s Secretary of State says she is using that experience to recommend changes to state laws and new cybersecurity measures for the voter registration database.

“We held every kind of election that can be held in 2016,” Reagan said Friday in a Herald/Review interview. “It was the first time in our history that we had four elections in a single year and each one of them was completely different.”

Arizona voters went to the polls for the Presidential Preference Election on March 23, 2016, then a statewide referendum on May 17, the Primary Election Aug. 30 and the General Election on Nov. 8, 2016.

It was a tumultuous year for the Secretary of State’s office, which is responsible to work directly with Arizona’s 15 counties in all matters involving state and federal elections. Reagan’s office was publicly battered after the presidential primary in March, when Maricopa County voters waited hours in line at fewer polling places.

“That wasn’t our responsibility, but it happened in Maricopa County and if you’re an election official in Phoenix then you have to be part of the solution,” Reagan said.

She is considering a legislative initiative that would require counties to check with the Secretary of State’s office when the number of polling places are reduced. Cochise County experienced long voter lines during the Nov. 8 election and officials have subsequently recommended that in the future more polling places be added for presidential elections. The county changed from voting at 49 precincts to 18 vote centers in 2016, but only experienced long lines in the General Election, when more than 50,000 of the county’s approximate 76,000 registered voters cast ballots — representing the largest turnout of the year.

Reagan said her office was still seen as accountable for the voter delays in Maricopa County, even though the decision to reduce the number of polling places was out of her control.
“If you’re going to be looked at for a solution, then you need to have some say in the process,” Reagan said.

She’s also calling for a bill to address what she called “loopholes” in state law that allow a candidate to run for two offices simultaneously, and another that requires the appointment of a replacement candidate in a primary election, if the original candidate is disqualified.

Reagan said one candidate was petitioning for both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives last year, which is currently allowed under Arizona law.  “He said if he won both offices, he’d take the Senate,” Reagan said. “We need to put something in the law that stops this from ever happening.”  

Replacing a disqualified candidate doesn’t make sense in a primary election either, she said. Last year a candidate for the Legislature was disqualified after being criminally charged. Election law currently requires the appointment of a replacement to represent the voters who signed the petition of the original candidate. “In this case, we had three qualified candidates for the primary until one was disqualified, and then for some reason there had to be a replacement appointed,” Reagan said. “It didn’t make much sense.”

Reagan said she has established a close working relationship with federal cybersecurity authorities after reports last June that Arizona’s voter registration database may have been hacked.

That turned out not to be the case, but the alarm prompted the Secretary of State to shutdown the centralized voter registration database for about a week, while technicians made sure the state’s computer system was secure.

“It’s great that our system held up and that our security was not compromised, but we need to be vigilant in preparing for future attacks,” Reagan said.  The Secretary of State is about to seek bids on upgrading the software for the centralized voter registration database. She said there are three systems being used in Arizona at this time and her goal is to move the database to one software program.

She said Maricopa and Pima counties have developed their own voter registration software, while the state’s 13 other counties and her office use another program.

“It’s gotten to a point where we can no longer make these systems work together,” Reagan said. “For our own security and because we want what serves the best interests of all the people in Arizona, we’re going to move to one system for voter registration.”

Reagan has announced she will be a candidate for reelection in 2018. She is a Republican and is expected to face Democrat Greg Stanton, currently the Mayor of Phoenix, in that November General Election. She was in Sierra Vista to attend the Arizona Federation of Republican Women conference, held at the Windemere Hotel and Conference Center.