Update from your Senator Lela Alston

Published on 07/03/2020 • Posted in

Wednesday July 1, 2020

Elections During COVID-19

Dear Friends,

Today’s newsletter focuses on our elections and the challenges that COVID-19 presents to voters this year. The 2020 Primary Elections are on August 4 and early voting by mail starts on July 8. The General Elections are on November 3, with early vote by mail starting in early October.  An unprecedented number of voters are expected to come out on both dates, and most Arizonans (75-80%) are expected to vote by mail. But not all Arizonans are on the Permanent Early Voting List (PEVL); many voters will come to the polls. COVID-19 presents voters, our county recorders and our AZ Secretary of State with unprecedented obstacles to voting.

Joel Edman is the Executive Director of Arizona Advocacy Network. I asked Joel to contribute to this week’s newsletter because I consider him one of Arizona’s most talented elections and voting rights experts. Joel is also a gifted writer and in his brief column he describes the additional challenges that COVID-19 presents to voters and the offices that oversee our elections.

Democracy Depends on All of Us, Especially Now

Joel Edman

Executive Director

Arizona Advocacy Network & Foundation


COVID-19 has impacted virtually every aspect of our lives – elections are no different. From Wisconsin to Georgia to Kentucky, voters were forced to choose between their vote and their health. And like the health and economic impacts of the pandemic, that burden has fallen disproportionately on voters of color. With November only four months away, and the August primary just around the corner, we have much work to do to hold elections where all voters have access to safe voting.

Even before the pandemic, roughly 75-80 percent of Arizona ballots this November were expected to be cast by mail; making Arizona arguably better prepared for upcoming elections than other states. But voting by mail is not a panacea, especially not for those voters without reliable access to mail, like many voters living on Tribal lands or experiencing housing instability – a growing segment of the population right now. That’s why local election officials must still provide robust in-person voting opportunities across the state, especially for communities least likely to vote by mail.

Maricopa County is planning to operate a reduced number of voting locations (75-90 for the August primary, more for November), but to make them all county-wide vote centers and to open many of them earlier in the early voting period. Officials are prioritizing larger facilities, where more check-in stations can be placed at a safe distance from each other, to allow voters to move through them quickly and safely.

Keeping our democracy going during a pandemic isn’t just on election officials – it’s a job for all of us. The first thing you can do is confirm your registration is up-to-date at My.Arizona.Vote. While there, you can also request a ballot by mail, sign up for the Permanent Early Voter List (PEVL), or find your nearest in-person voting location.

Looking for more ways to help? Some counties are struggling to maintain the poll worker capacity needed to operate in-person locations. Sign up to serve at azsos.gov/pollworker. Or team up with the Election Protection Coalition of Arizona and serve as a nonpartisan poll monitor, helping your fellow Arizonans with any issues they may have while trying to vote.

Democracy depends on all of us, especially now.

The AZ League of Women Voters

The League of Women Voters of Arizona is a non-partisan, political grassroots organization. The League of Women Voters celebrated its Centennial Anniversary on February 14, 2020. The photo to the left is from the League’s AZ Capitol Lobby Day. I asked AZ League President Pinny Sheoran to contribute to this week’s newsletter because since the AZ League was established in 1941, the organization has fought hard for fair and free elections for all Arizonans. They group has been at the forefront of registering voters, fighting against legislation that impedes voting rights and supporting legislation that promotes equitable and accessible voting. The League keeps a watchful eye over institutions that were established as a result of of citizens initiatives. Three initiatives that the League was instrumental in helping pass (including help write parts of the initiatives) are the Citizens Review Board for Judges, The Clean Elections Commission and The Independent Redistricting Commission.

The League is currently advocating for expanding mail in ballots this year, given the rising cases of COVID-19. Below is the link to the League’s article published by the Tucson Tribute:

Keep Arizonans Safe. Expand Mail Ballots

LWV Calls on States to Expand Absentee and Mail-in Voting

“We call on all states to take the necessary measures to ensure voters have increased time and opportunities to request and return mail-in ballots and to make ballots available for pickup and drop-off at any polling location, especially for voters in vulnerable communities. Secretaries of State should work directly with local election officials to educate voters on these more flexible expanded methods for casting ballots.” Read more about the LWVUS call to states.

The League has been a strong voice in support of fair elections, and in a future newsletter, we will be dedicating more to the work the League has done for Arizona and our nation.

The Secretary of State’s Tribal Relations/Outreach Coordinator

Donovan Carr—New Position & Unprecedented New Challenges

Earlier this year, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs appointed Donovan Carr (Donovan) to the inaugural position of Tribal Liaison/Outreach Coordinator, just before the pandemic changed our world.

COVID-19 placed new and unprecedented obstacles to voter outreach in Arizona’s 23 Indigenous tribes and nations. Fortunately, Donovan, a member of the Navajo Nation, brought along his years of experience and relationships with our Indigenous communities, to his new job.

Donovan works closely with our county recorders and tribal leaders to make certain that everyone is in close communication and every idea for voter outreach is considered.

Vote by Mail

Donovan admits that PEVL will not work for all community members because mail can be inconsistent in remote communities. However, given the crisis that COVID-19 has created and with enough voter education and outreach, it is possible for more community members to vote by mail. It will require dedicated outreach and follow up to be successful, but he is hopeful.

Early Voting & Voting in Person

One idea that worked well during the March 4 Presidential Preference Election was a mobile Voter Van. The van was used for voter registration and may be used for upcoming elections in secluded voting sites. County recorders would need to rent vans for the outreach and onsite voting, and Donovan states that the August 4 Primary Elections will demonstrate the effectiveness of the one Voter Van that will be used.

Coconino County Recorder & the Native American Elections Outreach Team

According to Donovan, Coconino County is a stellar example of what can be accomplished when our county recorders work in partnership with our SOS and tribal leaders. In February of this year, Coconino County Recorder Patty Hansen & the Native American Elections Outreach Team received the Outstanding Innovations in Elections by the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission (EAC), for the office’s work with the 5 Indigenous communities in Coconino County. One example of their efforts is the work that Recorder Hansen’s team does with the Havasupai community members living in Supai Village at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Because Supai Village is not allowing anyone in or out during the pandemic, getting information to the village is difficult. The only way of getting mail to Supai Village is by a weekly helicopter delivery and by mule. On a positive note, Recorder Hansen states that while other areas/communities/counties are struggling to find polling place volunteers, she never has a problem finding people who are willing to travel to beautiful Supai Village to assist with voter education, registration and interpretation.

Outreach, Outreach, Outreach

For Indigenous voters who want to vote in person, the SOS and our county recorders are working diligently to make certain that voters have the information they need to cast their ballots. Early onsite voting centers are in the planning and voter registration is promoted on Navajo radio stations, newspapers and online.

Donovan states that voting will be strong this election cycle and there will be many new voters casting ballots for the first time. “People are angry and they want to vote. They also want to vote in person.”

Donovan had so much to say about elections that I asked him to be part of another newsletter, after the primaries. I am excited that Donovan is part of SOS Hobbs innovative team and I know others will want to hear about the results of the primaries in our Indigenous communities.

Final Thoughts

I have done several Zoom forums with college students lately and one question I frequently receive is “How do I get involved with my community and with elections?”

I always think of three extraordinary young men that I have known for years—Joel Edman, Executive Director of Arizona Advocacy Network, Geoff Esposito of Creosote Partners and Joaquin Rios, Arizona Director of State Innovation Exchange (SiX).

(Joel & Geoff in College)

They have been friends since their early teens, all went to Corona del Sol High School in Tempe, all have been living and breathing policy, civil rights and fair elections since high school. They were the volunteers who collected signatures, the canvassers and organizers that every campaign relies on. Their community engagement as teens shaped their future lives.

Joel and Joaquin graduated from ASU with degrees in Political Science. Joaquin then graduate from Sandra Day O’Conner College of Law where he co-founded the Law Journal of Social Justice. Joaquin practiced immigration law and was Chief of Staff for Councilwoman Kate Gallego before he began working for SiX.

 Joel attended Harvard Law and then returned to Arizona, did a clerkship with a Supreme Court judge, became involved with campaigns supporting fair elections and civil rights. He is now the Executive Director of Arizona Advocacy Network.

Geoff graduated with a Political Science degree from UArizona and has been involved with so many campaigns since his teens, that I don’t know if he can name them all. He is an education policy expert, was the Director of Policy & Programs for Expect More Arizona, Policy Analyst for the AZ School Board Association and former Chief of Staff for Councilwoman Kate Gallego. He is a gifted negotiator and political analyst. Geoff is also genuinely kind, giving and funny…he is very funny!

Joel, Geoff and Joaquin are all married to remarkable young women and Joaquin is the father to a beautiful little girl. These men represent true passion for civil rights, social justice and the belief in fair elections—and it all began with three teenage boys who were eager to get involved with elections. As we celebrate America’s Independence, please join me in thanking Joel, Geoff and Joaquin for their dedication to Arizona.

I leave you today with our latest COVID-19 statistics and some information from our Secretary of State.

We now have 84,92 COVID-19 cases identified, an increase of 4,848 since yesterday. 1,720 people have died, an increase of 88 since yesterday.

  • Please stay home when at all possible
  • Wear a mask in public
  • Maintain social distancing
  • Wash your hands frequently

Please continue writing to me because your comments and questions are important to me.

Lela Alston

Arizona State Senator, LD 24