On Friday, VICE released an interview with Ken Matta, Arizona's longtime head of election security, who is now leaving office for the private sector — and warning that the efforts by pro-Trump conspiracy theorists to hijack and intimidate election offices is becoming a dire problem for both the election process and for the well-being of the officials running it.
"Right now with the threats, the hostility, the public bashing of election workers and election officers based on misinformation, disinformation, and mal-information, it’s tough to stay," Matta told Todd Zwillich. "The job is fairly thankless anyway; we only get bad press."
Arizona, which voted for President Joe Biden by barely 10,000 votes, has been a hotbed of election conspiracy theories, and state-sponsored attempts to gather evidence for them — most infamously, a months-long partisan "audit" of Maricopa County done by a private security firm at the request of the GOP-controlled state Senate. That investigation, which explored bizarre ideas like hunting for bamboo fibers in ballots to look for Asian forgeries, ended with Biden netting slightly more votes — but then the state launched another "investigation," this time of the voting machines, headed up by a man who attended a pro-Trump "Stop the Steal" rally.
According to Matta, he feared for his own safety through all of this — and even felt the need to walk around armed.
"Working out of the Arizona secretary of state’s office, you can imagine we got hit pretty hard. Just mean abuse, horrible and harassing language. Just hundreds of them. For a while there, a good part of my day was just listening to these horrible messages," said Matta. "I started carrying a gun. When they started sending me to the partisan review in Maricopa County, what some people call an 'audit,' as I’m driving through, there’s people out front with full autos and assault rifles. They’re looking in our cars, they’re seeing who’s going in and who’s going out. I decided I was going to start carrying. I have a concealed-carry permit in Arizona."
Matta's biggest fear, he warned, was these same people taking jobs like the one he is now leaving.
"A lot of the people coming in to take those empty spots are going to be election deniers or conspiracy theorists," said Matta. "We have a lot of concerns about their entry into the process. This is really important: In the elections community, I can still say everybody is on board with the rules-based integrity of their jobs and the importance of elections. I can say I’d still trust my vote to any of these people. That will not continue to be true, starting in 2022 and definitely in 2024. It’s just impossible for that to remain true nationally."
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