Allie Bones, Arizona’s assistant secretary of state, had a front-row seat to 2020’s hard-fought presidential election. Arizona’s 11 electoral votes will narrowly go to Joe Biden if the votes are certified as expected — the first time a Democrat will win the state since 1996. That is one reason it finds itself, along with a few other states, in the crosshairs of President Donald Trump’s legal team and most ardent supporters.
Bones, who is Jewish, planned for the challenges of holding an election in the midst of a global pandemic but not for all the ups and downs that happened subsequently. She spoke with Jewish News about the excitement of Election Day, the threats and lawsuits that followed and why she’s looking forward to an odd political year, when there won’t be many elections or election drama.
In October, you were fairly confident about how voting would go. How did it play out in your view?
October really felt like the calm before the storm. We felt like we had prepared as much as possible. Our key words were preparation and partnership, and we felt like we had done everything that we could to prepare. The counties had all the supplies they needed to deal with voters who wanted to vote in person in the middle of the pandemic, all the security measures in place and all of the preparation — we felt really ready in the days leading up to the election. There was definitely a calm.
Hard to believe now — it feels like a decade ago.
FOX News and the Associated Press called Arizona for Joe Biden late on Election Night. What did your office make of that?
All of us were like, we can go to bed now.
It had been a relatively uneventful day. We had a few items pop up throughout the day that we had to deal with. There was nothing that was catastrophic. When results started pouring in, we knew there was going to be a big number posted, because that was what the counties had counted so far of the early mail-in ballots.
Sure enough, it was a big number.
When the state was called it was way earlier than any of us ever anticipated that Arizona would be called in the election. A lot of people said that it was probably premature based on how many votes were still outstanding, and we found that to be true over the course of the next week. But ultimately they ended up getting it right.
Did knowing the call was likely premature add to the drama?
It created a lot more media interest in our office. The secretary’s calendar was jam packed from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. some days with media interviews, both local and national, because the race came down to four states that everybody in the country was watching — Arizona being one of the them.
We don’t call races. We were just focused on making sure that the counties had all the resources they needed to be able to count all of the remaining ballots and provide us with as good information as they could, on a day to day basis of what they had left.
We really felt that it was important to provide transparent information to the public and media about what was leftover on a daily basis — where the ballots were still to be counted, how much of those were provisional — because we know that not all provisional ballots end up being counted.
What kind of legal action did you anticipate?
Part of our preparation was thinking about what types of lawsuits might come forward, but I don’t think that any of us could have imagined “SharpieGate” or anything that came about because of it.
There was just so much anxiety about this election from voters and the public about making sure their vote counted, and we tried to make sure all of that information was available through the public portal on the voter registration database. But we never would have imagined that an issue around Sharpies would have been the subject of our first, and ultimately three lawsuits, that we’ve been dealing with, but we have a great staff and great legal support and have been so far successful in court.
In the last few days, Sec. Hobbs’ 2017 tweet, “@realDonaldTrump has made it abundantly clear he’s more interested in pandering to his neo-nazi base than being @POTUS for all Americans,” became an issue with critics charging she isn’t fulfilling her role fairly. How is your office handling that?
It’s really unfortunate, quite frankly, how the public has reacted — or how certain members of the public have reacted to this tweet. It’s important to understand the context of what was happening at that time.
It was right after Charlottesville when a known neo-Nazi ran his car through the crowd and killed one of the protesters, and the president’s was unwilling to denounce the folks who were doing that. Sec. Hobbs tweeted that out. In context, this is a completely appropriate sentiment to have. The president was pandering to his base of supporters. That doesn’t mean she was calling all Trump supporters or anyone who voted for Trump a neo-Nazi.
It’s been really unfortunate, especially for our staff that had to bear the brunt of people calling into our office incredibly angry — people who don’t understand the election process and the auditing process that we have in place for how ballots are counted. They’re taking it out on our staff, and it’s been really hard on everyone having to deal with that.
But what’s really been disappointing is the level of threat and vitriol that has been directed towards Sec. Hobbs herself and what she’s had to deal with.
A lot of people call, tweet or post on social media: “I’m a Trump supporter and I’m not a neo-Nazi.” Without understanding the context of her tweet, it’s not fair to make assumptions about what it is that she was saying.
Were you worried about the “count the votes” protest outside the Capitol?
The ones outside of the Maricopa County Tabulation Center were scary. The staff inside definitely felt intimidated. It was absolutely not okay for people being intimidating and threatening when the people inside were doing the exact thing that they were demanding — which was to count every vote. It was frustrating and upsetting.
We were in pretty close communication with the county recorder’s office and election officials in Maricopa County to make sure if they needed any support. They felt the sheriff’s office had it fairly well under control. But we were there to support.
Does being Jewish add to the fear when you look out to see armed people standing and chanting things?
Oh, absolutely. Especially when you see some of the symbolism that people are bringing to that space. It’s obviously very upsetting. Nobody should have to work in those conditions.
Respecting our democratic institutions and our democratic processes should be part and parcel of being an American citizen, and you had people intentionally trying to intimidate temporary staff and the full time county staff that were there just doing their jobs, trying to ensure that every legal vote was counted. They should not be threatened, and I’m sure there were people who are Jewish doing that work too. And they should not have to worry about being a target in any way shape or form.
Anytime we see some of those groups that are out protesting and they bring symbols of Nazi groups or even Confederate groups, it’s with the intention is to intimidate certain groups of people.
What types of legal challenges are you still dealing with?
We have a lawsuit pending right now in Maricopa County Fair court that the secretary’s office moved to intervene in Monday, because they’re challenging the headcount audit that was done by Maricopa County, based on the Secretary’s elections Procedures Manual. We are defending the Procedures Manual and what it states.
We’ll see what happens with that the court. We’re dependent on them to make a determination about what they’re going to do but counties have until next Monday to canvass the results of their election or certify the canvass of the election. Then our office will be doing our own canvass of the election on November 30.
Those are kind of the big deadlines that are coming up that will probably spark people to say certain things. After the canvas is the December 14 day for electors for the Electoral College. We’ve heard so far that legislative leaders do not have any plans or will not be attempting to do anything with the seeding of the presidential electors in Arizona. We’re going to hold them to that. They were elected in Arizona and should be seated on December 14 for President-Elect Biden.
Have people reached out to congratulate or thank your office for its work?
There’s a group on Facebook called WomenUp, and two of the founders are fellow Jewish women. They started this group as a way of connecting their friends, and it turned into this huge group. Since the election, they have been great about saying thank you and reaching out. That has been nice.
I’ll post something on the election and people will just say, “thanks for all you’re doing.”
On a personal level, to have been had any role to play in this 2020 election which, for all intents and purposes has been historic, has just been one of the honors of my lifetime, and I can’t tell you how proud I am of the work that we did that contributed to a close to an 80% participation rate in this election by Arizona voters in the middle of a pandemic.
I don’t think that any of us could have imagined that and it’s just great to see. JN