‘I’m Scared to Death’: Arizona Voters Brace for Tense Midterm Election

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With just hours to go until polls open for the midterm elections, some Arizona voters are on edge. At separate campaign stops on Monday for the two top-of-the-ticket Democrats, Sen. Mark Kelly and gubernatorial hopeful Katie Hobbs, supporters expressed concerns about not only the prospect of their candidates losing, but of the possibility of political violence and instability in the days and weeks ahead.

“I’m scared to death,” Ruthee Goldcorn, 67, tells TIME at a Hobbs get-out-the-vote event in Peoria. “I’m scared to death as a voter. I’m scared to death as a poll worker. I’m scared to death as a Jew.” At the same event, Eleanor Ralph, 89, said she planned not to be in public after the polls close on Tuesday. “We are going to stay home,” she says. “We’re not going to be out in the streets or in harm’s way or making any kind of a statement anywhere. That’s our personal choice.”

Arizona was the epicenter for false theories about the election being stolen two years ago, when President Joe Biden and Kelly eked out narrow victories by a little more than 10,000 votes. In this election cycle, the specter of flare ups looms large.

Last week, a federal judge curtailed an election-monitoring group from staking out or carrying firearms near ballot drop 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 their aim was to thwart voter fraud. The judge said they were trying to intimidate voters. Arizona’s election workers have also received hundreds of threats ahead of the Nov. 8 election, Reuters reported.

“It’s a very scary place to live right now,” Goldcorn says. Despite planning to serve as a poll worker at the Sun City Senior Center, she said she was not worried for her safety. Maricopa County, she stressed, was providing heavy security ahead of the highly-fraught election.

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

Kelly is the husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was shot in 2011 in an assassination attempt, suffering a severe brain injury. Hobbs, who’s currently Arizona’s Secretary of State, had her house encircled by protestors in 2020, when she played a major role in certifying Biden’s election victory in the face of an intense pressure campaign from former President Donald Trump and his associates. She has also received a barrage of threatening voicemails over the last two years, with callers saying that she “should be hunted,” hanged “for treason” and that she would “pay with your life.”

And on Sunday, a staffer for Arizona’s Republican nominee for governor Kari Lake opened an envelope with white powder in it, prompting law enforcement to empty out their campaign headquarters. “We’re in dangerous times,” Lake said at a campaign rally later that evening. “I’ve been threatened many times.”

Read more: How the Threat of Political Violence Is Transforming America

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

Speaking with reporters on Monday, Hobbs emphasized her belief that the election would be tantalizingly close, saying she anticipated that the results would be in “recount territory.”

Any delay could increase the window for the spread of misinformation that could sow chaos in the days to come. Researchers have identified in recent days Russian efforts to meddle in the midterms by spreading false information, with the goal of stoking anger among conservative voters, according to the New York Times.

“I think it’s something that the American people need to be on the lookout for,” Kelly tells TIME. “It’s a very difficult thing to combat. I expect that the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring this, but it does worry me.”

Kelly spoke on Monday afternoon at a press conference with Republicans who were supporting him over his opponent Blake Masters. One of his supporters at the event said he was alarmed about the rise of political violence in America. “Look at what happened to Ms. Pelosi,” Felipe Moreno, 73, tells TIME, referring to an attempted assassination on the Speaker of the House and a brutal assault 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 a maverick in the spirit of the late Republican Sen. John McCain, who Lake recently dismissed as a “loser” at a campaign event. McCain’s son Jack was in attendance at Kelly’s Monday press event but wouldn’t speak to reporters.

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

Beyond the possibility of a volatile week filled with uncertainty, Arizona Democrats have also conveyed anxiety over the GOP statewide candidates, all of whom deny that Biden really won the presidential election, including in Arizona, despite multiple probes finding no evidence of substantial fraud.

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

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