JIM SHARPE

‘Just say no’ to election threats in Arizona and beyond

Mar 26, 2024, 12:00 PM

Starting in the fall of 2020 (after Donald Trump’s fall at the ballot box), lots of threats were made against election officials in lots of places across the country — thanks to conspiracy theories that the presidential election was stolen from Trump.  

There’s potential for those threats to ramp up again this year — but there may also be a way to convince those theorists to come off their conspiracies: by getting them some help. (I’ll explain in a moment.)

Despite the infamous audit of Maricopa County’s 2020 ballots (which was funded by Trump allies) showing that nothing funky happened here — we still somehow became the country’s clearinghouse for cuckoo conspiracies. But that seemed to only be a warmup for the 2022 midterm election, when Kari Lake took her turn claiming a stolen election after losing the governor’s race to Katie Hobbs. 

Admittedly, that election didn’t go as smoothly as it should have in our county. However, anyone who had trouble casting a ballot was offered the chance to vote before Election Day was over.

Buuut… the damage was done. And crazies countrywide converged their conniptions on our county and state. They weren’t/aren’t deterred by facts, by Lake losing every 2022 election court challenge she brought nor will they be by her inability to back up any of her outrageous claims with so much as a shred of evidence. 

Those kooks made threats against Maricopa County election officials as well as Arizona’s secretary of state, whose office oversees — but doesn’t run — elections. (Because that’s the job of Arizona’s counties).

Speaking of electoral jobs that aren’t supposed to be done, it’s not the job of people from other states to police our elections — but US Attorney for Arizona Gary Restaino says that’s what’s been going on. 

“We’ve now got seven federal cases, including Frederick Goltz, convicted in Texas; and Walter Hoornstra, [with] currently pending charges in Missouri; in which outsiders threatened our fellow Arizonans.”

As for this year’s presidential election, Restaino thinks our battleground state status means we’ll remain in the “crosshairs, so to speak, of these threats.”

But maybe hope can be found in the story of an Ohio man who admitted leaving voicemails threatening the life of then-Arizona Secretary of State (and now governor) Katie Hobbs because he didn’t like the results of the 2022 election.

Joshua Russell, who pleaded guilty last August to a federal charge of making interstate threats, was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison earlier this week.

Now, I don’t think the threat of getting prison will lower the number of knuckleheads threatening Arizona election workers and office holders.

Nope — the hope comes from this part of the story: Even though U.S. District Judge Steven Logan concluded Russell must spend time in prison (because he traumatized people), he did commend Russell for getting his life together after undergoing substance abuse treatment.

Russell’s lawyer even told the court that his actions were driven mostly by his substance abuse problems.

So, if we can just convince the cadre of conspiracy crazies to put down the pipe… 

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‘Just say no’ to election threats in Arizona and beyond