'I'm scared to death': Arizona braces for tense election

UWith only hours to go before the polls open for the midterm elections, some Arizona voters are on edge. At separate campaign stops Monday for the two most popular Democrats, Sen. Mark Kelly and gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs, supporters expressed concern not only about the prospect of their candidates losing, but also about the possibility of political violence and instability in the coming days and weeks.

“I’m scared to death,” Ruthie Goldkorn, 67, told TIME at a Hobbs vote event in Peoria. “I’m scared to death as a voter. I’m scared to death as a survey worker. I’m scared to death as a Jew. At the same event, Eleanor Ralph, 89, said she planned to stay out of public after the polls closed on Tuesday. “We’ll stay home,” she says. “We’re not going to go out on the streets or be in danger or make any statements anywhere. It is our personal choice.”

Arizona was the epicenter of false theories about the election being stolen two years ago, when President Joe Biden and Kelly won by just over 10,000 votes. In this election cycle, the specter of outbreaks looms large.

Last week, a federal judge abbreviated election watch group from detecting or carrying firearms near ballot boxes, taking photos and videos of voters, posting personal information about voters, or spreading false information about election laws. The group Clean Elections USA said its goal is to thwart voter fraud. The judge said they were trying to intimidate voters. Arizona election workers have too received hundreds of threats ahead of the Nov. 8 election, Reuters reported.

“It’s a very scary place to live right now,” Goldkorn says. Although she plans to work as an interviewer at the Sun City Senior Center, she said she is not worried about her safety. She emphasized that Maricopa County is providing heavy security ahead of the highly charged election.

The candidates themselves are also no strangers to harassment and threats.

Kelly is the husband of former lawmaker Gabby Giffords, who was shot in 2011 in an attempted assassination, leaving her with a severe brain injury. Hobbs, who is currently Arizona’s secretary of state, had her house surrounded by protesters in 2020 when she was instrumental in certifying Biden’s election victory in the face of a campaign of intense pressure from former President Donald Trump and his aides. She has also received a barrage of threatening voice messages over the past two years, with callers saying she “must be hunted down”, hanged “for treason” and that she “will pay with your life”.

And on Sunday, a staffer for Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Cary Lake open bag with white powder in it, prompting law enforcement to evacuate their campaign headquarters. “We are in dangerous times,” Lake said at a campaign rally later that evening. “I was threatened many times.

Read more: How the threat of political violence transformed America

Along with fears of political violence, Democrats are bracing for a possible spread of misinformation as votes are counted over the next few days. Because of the large percentage of Arizonans who vote by mail, election officials may not finish counting all ballots until Friday or Saturday, Hobbs said, but acknowledged that she thinks voters should have a “good feeling” about where things are going Wednesday .

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Hobbs emphasized his belief that the election will be tantalizingly close, saying he expected the results to be in “countdown territory.”

Any delay could increase the window for the spread of misinformation that could wreak havoc in the coming days. Researchers have identified in recent days, Russia’s attempts to interfere in the midterm elections by spreading false information to inflame anger among conservative voters, according to the New York times.

“I think this is something that the American people need to watch out for,” Kelly told TIME. “It’s a very difficult thing to fight. I expect the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring this, but it really worries me.

Kelly spoke Monday afternoon at a news conference with Republicans backing him against his opponent, Blake Masters. One of his supporters at the event said he was alarmed by the rise in political violence in America. “Look what happened to Mrs. Pelosi,” Felipe Moreno, 73, told TIME, referring to an assassination attempt on the House speaker and a brutal attack on her husband.

Moreno, who says he was recently released from prison for having sex with a minor, says he admires Kelly because he sees him as an individualist in the vein of the late Republican Sen. John McCain, whom Lake recently dismissed as a “loser” at a campaign event . McCain’s son, Jack, attended Kelly’s news conference Monday but declined to speak to reporters.

“When there’s something he doesn’t agree with on his own side or on the other side, he tries to work with them, not against them, like what’s going on now,” Moreno added of Kelly.

Besides the possibility of a chaotic week filled with uncertainty, Arizona Democrats also expressed deep concern about the statewide GOP candidates, all of whom deny that Biden actually won presidential elections, including in Arizona, despite numerous studies that found no evidence of significant fraud.

“I don’t know if democracy will survive,” Goldkorn says. “People will, but do we have to live in the shadows? I do not know. That’s the scariest part for everyone.”

More election coverage from TIME


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