Arizona’s Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has spent much of the last year fending off threats to America’s democracy. She’s spoken out against restrictive voting measures, calls to overturn the 2020 presidential election results and a so-called election ‘audit’ now underway, which experts say ignore best practices and lack transparency. (Among the audit’s irregular features is its use of UV lights on individual ballots—without any clear reason.)
Hobbs has been the target of death threats for criticizing that process, after facing similar threats during the 2020 election when former President Donald Trump baselessly promoted conspiracy theories about Arizona’s election results. Last November, a group of protesters stood outside her home, chanting “We are watching you,” NBC 12 News reported.
On June 2, Hobbs announced that she was taking her fight to the campaign trail and is running for governor in Arizona’s 2022 state election. She spoke with TIME about her decision to run, the ongoing challenges to Arizona’s presidential election results, and the state’s new law restricting mail-in voting. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
TIME: As Secretary of State, you’ve been dealing with Arizona’s so-called ‘audit’ and a new voting law that purges infrequent mail voters from an early voting list. What’s your job like right now?
A lot of what I’m dealing with right now are not things I expected would be part of this job. I don’t think any Secretary of State could have imagined this is where we would be in terms of the spotlight that was thrust upon us during and after the 2020 election.
I knew that there were going to be unprecedented post-election challenges. I mean, people were saying that Florida in the 2000 election was going to be preschool compared to 2020. But nobody thought we would still be dealing with the 2020 election at this point. Yet here we are. Most reasonable people know that the elections are over. Just like in sports, we have a winner and a loser—and the loser can try again next time.
Why did you decide to run for governor? Is this something you’ve thought about for a while?
I was elected to to the state legislature for the first time in 2010. I served in that capacity for about eight years. I certainly never ran for one office to get to another office. I ran for Secretary of State because I wanted to help ensure that every eligible voter was able to participate in the process. And I think we did a pretty good job of that this year, in the face of multiple challenges, including a global pandemic.
The spotlight on Secretaries of State has stayed upon me in a way that, you know, I don’t necessarily enjoy, because I’m kind of tired of talking about this audit, to be honest with you. But also what the response has shown is that Arizonans are tired of partisan politics. The majority of voters don’t support [the audit]. This is a moment that calls for leadership that the current governor hasn’t displayed. Somebody has to speak out for what’s right and Arizonans are desperate for that leadership.
What would you do differently from Gov. Doug Ducey?
I became the Senate Minority Leader in the same year that Ducey was elected governor. What I noticed about him is that he only engages in partnership when it’s convenient for him. He’s quick to call something bipartisan if it has one vote from a Democrat. His governance style has been especially glaring during the pandemic: he wasn’t calling on science, he wasn’t prioritizing safety when it came to his moves to re-open. I would have a more inclusive approach, not focused on short term political gains.
You mentioned the way in which Secretaries of State have been thrust into the public spotlight in an unprecedented way. In your case, it’s been pretty extreme—having received death threats for your work. How do you deal with your mental health? Are you able to unplug at all now that you have a campaign to run?’
That’s a good question because I’ve not always been good about taking care of my mental health. I try and spend time with people I care about but it’s challenging and I’m incredibly busy. Most of my adult life, I’ve worked more than one job—so that’s not new. It’s going to be a challenge but that’s the nature of campaigns. It will also be temporary and I will get through it.
Have you visited the site of the ‘audit’ that’s taking place right now?
Oh, I am not stepping foot in that audit site. It is not a valid audit and I don’t intend to lend it any validity by going there.
Many voting experts would agree and say what’s happening in Arizona can barely be called an audit. You wrote a six-page letter to Senate Audit Liaison Ken Bennett about the process’ flaws. What feels most egregious to you about it?
For decades, the way that elections work is that we trust those systems, which include checks and balances baked into statute. The fact that we can now just turn all that on its head because somebody says: “I don’t believe you, and none of this stuff happened and the election was stolen,” then we can drag it out. I mean, that’s not how this works.
After the election you can bring election-related challenges to court. We also do audits and other logic and accuracy tests, to ensure that we’re certifying accurate results. Those things happened in Arizona, where we had eight court challenges after the election.
People who say they have evidence, who didn’t bring any of it to courts, are still able to continue to undermine voter confidence and question processes… Everyone knows this. We all know there are some Donald Trump supporters who believe they can still overturn the election. It’s not going to happen.
Republicans from different states, including Pennsylvania, have visited Arizona’s ‘audit’ site. What’s your response to the idea that this model could spread to other states?
Certainly election officials across the country are very concerned about that. Some of these Republican election officials who really just wanted to ignore it and pretend it wasn’t happening are now finally getting it now, that their elections might be the ones being questioned. Most election officials don’t want this coming to their state. And so I’m telling them: here’s what we’ve done to try and stop this. At every opportunity, you have to shut this down.
In Arizona, and I’m sure in many other states, this kind of thing isn’t even contemplated in statute. And so I hope that some forward-thinking legislators are looking at how we could codify ways to prevent this from happening in the future.
Are all the Secretaries of States like on a group text chat or is this more of a formal communication that you guys have?
It’s more formal communication; we have weekly election committee meetings that began with the onset of the pandemic. They have proved useful so we still do them. There have been multiple conversations around this but for the most part a lot of Republicans want to shut the conversation down.
You called on Ducey to veto Arizona’s new law that purges infrequent mail voters off of an early voting list that automatically delivers ballots by mail to voters. You have previously said that it would “aren’t just unnecessary—they’re detrimental to voters.” What did you mean by that?
First of all, it was trying to fix something that doesn’t need to be fixed. We have had no-excuse absentee voting in Arizona for decades. We did it before it was cool. It’s wildly popular and was implemented by a Republican majority legislature. Then the permanent early voter list was an added feature that was also implemented by Republican majority legislature so that voters didn’t have to request a ballot for every election.
It’s not just missing an election that can get you purged from the list. You could vote, but if you don’t vote using your mail-in ballot, you can still be purged. I don’t think everybody quite understands that. At the end of the day, it’s just going to make it harder for people to vote and creates confusion that doesn’t need to be there.
Is there a particular moment that you feel is emblematic of the chaos of the last six months, as it relates to voting rights?
There was a statement that Arizona state Rep. John Kavanagh made in the early part of the legislative session. He said something about how we should focus on the quality of voters, not just the quantity. I mean, how arrogant is that? Just the fact that you want only your voters to be able to vote.
It’s a false narrative that we can’t have both security and access. This last election proves that we can. It was the most secure election, not just in Arizona, but across the country, with historic participation in the face of multiple challenges. That tells you that Americans want to vote and they are going to go through a lot of shit to get to be able to vote. It is our job as election officials to make sure that we remove those barriers as much as possible so that they can show up to vote.