August 2022
Calling Out the Big Lie
Major Blow to Local Elections as Key Officials Quit Under Threat

“Somebody has to stand up for us, and I have no problem doing that.”

Leslie Hoffman, now formerly the Yavapai County Recorder, has been standing up against the Trump Big Lie since early July, when she announced she was leaving her office. After nine years of service, Hoffman resigned effective on July 22 because of constant harassment by the public, prompted by Republican candidates and elected officials who continue to lie about the existence of voter fraud as a means of pandering to Trump supporters.

Elections Director Lynn Constabile and Recorder Leslie Hoffman

For the same reasons longtime Elections Director Lynn Constabile had already resigned from her post two weeks before Hoffman’s announcement, and taken an online job.

Through interviews with CNN, PBS, The Washington Post, The Arizona Republic, Arizona Capitol Times, several other news sources as well as wire reports printed in dozens of newspapers across the country, Hoffman is getting the word out that election officials are fed up with being the whipping boys for Trump-backers who refuse to believe he lost the election.

She said other election officials have thanked her with emails, cards and phone calls because most of them are too afraid to speak up themselves.

The harassment had been going on for Hoffman and the elections department in Yavapai County since November 2020, despite a recount of votes that found no evidence of systemic fraud. In addition, in Yavapai County Trump won 2:1, but that didn’t stop irate Trump supporters from writing threatening posts on social media, protesting any time Hoffman or an election official appeared at a Yavapai County Board of Supervisors meeting, and still claiming that fraud had occurred. County police began patrolling her home shortly after the election because of vague but credible online threats.

A conservative Republican herself, Hoffman said she’d finally had enough. She accepted other work and made her announcement about stepping down with the goal of bringing attention to what she calls “a nationwide problem.” She’s right, says a survey by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law, finding that one in three election officials said they knew someone who left a job because of threats and intimidation. Another one in six were personally threatened.

While she didn’t exactly live in fear, Hoffman said she did “start shrinking my social presence.” She’s close with her neighbors in Chino Valley, who keep an eye out for her.

The biggest frustration for Hoffman is the way some Republicans continue to attack election officials, long after any opportunity for finding credible evidence of fake votes has yielded nothing. Some of the most strident Republican officials include State Reps. Mark Finchem and John Fillmore, State Senate Whip Sonny Borrelli, and State Sen. Candidate Steve Zipperman, running in Legislative District 1.

“All that bad information that’s going out is absolutely making it worse,” Hoffman said. “And (Steve Zipperman) is saying absolutely false things, like the Board of Supervisors spent $9 million on election equipment. All you have to do is look at the board meeting minutes to find out it was $600,000 over four years.”

Instead, Hoffman points out that the Cyber Ninjas, hired by Senate Republicans led by Prescott State Senator Karen Fann, found no voter fraud in the 2020 Arizona elections, at the cost to Arizona taxpayers of $9 million.

Facts don’t seem to matter to the people who are attacking public officials, however, says Hoffman. In the course of her work she has given talks to various groups, provided tours and answered any questions people have about how elections work and how the equipment used to accurately tally votes operates.

“People were complaining about our vendors, which we’ve used since the ‘70s, then coming to our offices and protesting … anything that Lynn or I had on the agenda, whether it was election equipment or mailing vendors or a ballot-tracking program,” Hoffman said.

It not only impeded their offices’ ability to get work done, but often the protesters were hostile and “nasty,” accusing them of corruption and of perpetrating a “scam” on the public.

The irony is that the equipment they were looking to purchase would not only make elections more secure, but more transparent. The ballot-tracking software, for instance, would have connected voters with information about the processing of their ballots, so that they knew in real time when they were tallied. Instead, the Supervisors didn’t vote on the proposed purchase because they didn’t want to deal with the controversy of buying anything election-related, Hoffman said.

During the protests, Hoffman said a lot of the protesters at the county building left trash behind, which she feels shows “the caliber” of the protesters, with no respect for the area or our public officials. So it probably wouldn’t have mattered to the protesters that Hoffman has been regarded statewide as one of the most professional and innovative county recorders, and was even asked by Secretary of State Katie Hobbs to provide guidance and a framework for improving communications between her department and recorder departments across the state.

During her tenure Hoffman helped modernize the voting departments and identify new equipment and better procedures to speed up and improve the way elections are conducted. In prior years voting machines broke down frequently on election nights.

Hoffman credits her staff for developing some of the creative methods for dealing with problems that previously plagued the elections department. Her department’s systems have been adopted by most of the state’s 15 counties.

“They’re the most incredible staff there is,” Hoffman said. “They’re just genius and brilliant, and I know Lynn said that about hers as well. They’ve made me look good just putting programs together.”

One of the systems they put in place has reduced the number of people needed to do a job from two people to one, from two or three days to two hours, for instance.

“Having those higher-level thinkers has been a huge advantage in putting our new voter-registration database together and teaching other counties how to use it,” Hoffman said. “Right now, our GIS (Geographic Information System) department was a huge part of working with that statewide voter-registration database on how to do math layers, and they use our GIS as a reference. So it’s not even just my department.”

Despite that two years have gone by with no evidence of election fraud anywhere in the country, Hoffman said that she is concerned that the ongoing campaign to harass election officials will continue unless federal action is taken to protect them.

“It’s very, very scary, because it’s not protecting our democracy, it’s tearing it down,” Hoffman said. “We’re the worker bees, and if we don’t follow the law we go to jail, we don’t have a lot of discretion in what we do. We have the elections procedures manual, we have Arizona state statutes, we have federal statutes. We follow those because most of them, if we don’t, carry a Class-A felony.”

Hoffman said that she thinks the politicians attacking the departments consider election workers “an easy mark” and continue telling their followers to harass the workers for that reason.

“The ones that are the loudest, they don’t want the answers,” Hoffman said. “They don’t want to pick up the phone and call. They don’t want to come in and tour the office, they just want to make accusations, watch videos and read (conspiracy-theory) articles that are just crazy.”

Hoffman said she sometimes feels like asking them where their sense of decency is, but she doesn’t think they would listen.

“Civility and humanity are gone,” Hoffman said. “Even if they don’t agree, I would like for them to be able to listen with an open mind, without being hostile.”

Journalist Toni Denis is a frequent contributor to 5enses.

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