Battles over Props 127, 305 and Senate seat, with last-minute push for voters

Arizona voters go to the polls Tuesday to finish the job started by almost 1.6 million people who cast early ballots, more than all the ballots cast in the last midterm elections in 2014. (File photo by Natasha Khan/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Election Day is just a few heartbeats away, with the race for an open Senate seat resting on a razor’s difference between Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema, big-money battles over Proposition 127 and a last-minute push for non-traditional voters like millennials to show their might at the Arizona polls.

McSally, a Republican, and Sinema, a Democrat, are drawing national attention as they vye for the seat being vacated by Sen. Jeff Flake, who said he would not seek another term because he was weary of partisan politics.

Voter excitement in Arizona and the rest of the country showed in an unprecedented number of registered voters for a midterm election.

Also spurring interest on the ballot: the governor’s race, Prop 305 to expand the voucher program and a slew of Congressional, statewide and local races.

There also are other unique markers: Teachers and Native American women are on the Arizona ballot in unprecedented numbers. And Maricopa County voters want to know whether voting will be easy or run into delays.

Preventing problems at the polls

Voters in Maricopa County are hoping for a smoother voting process than in August’s primary election where computer glitches at 62 locations caused voters to be relocated, wait in long lines and worry if their votes would even be counted.

Don’t worry, Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes said. Polls are expected to be in working order.

“There is a lot of energy going on,” he said Monday. “There are a lot of people helping out. Everybody is dedicated and focused in getting the job done and the job done well.”

Steve Chucri, chair of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, said an independent audit on primary problems led the way to solutions.

“We felt as though we owed it to our constituents to make sure that we get to the bottom of it” to protect voters in the for general election.

As one of the fastest growing counties in the U.S., Chucri said, public officials are responsible for making sure the voter process runs smoothly on Tuesday.

Update: By Monday evening, 200 polling locations were not ready, according to azcentral, but election officials said they expected the remaining ones to be handled by the time polls opened.

Gabriella Bachara

Work Election Day? Get paid if you vote (maybe)

Arizona law allows people to take time off work to vote without being penalized by their employer. But there’s a catch: Employees had to let their employers know before Election Day.

Under the “voter leave law,” each person is allowed three hours at the beginning or end of their work day. Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Employers are not required to promote the law, so some voters may not know the grace-period exists.

“Some employees are afraid of retaliation and they need to know that employers are not permitted to retaliate against employees who decide that they want to take some time off to vote,” said Jodi Bohr, an employment and labor-law attorney.

Jennifer Alvarez

Classroom teachers converted into candidates

PHOENIX – The #RedForEd movement, launched last spring to increase teacher salaries, inspired more than 30 teachers to run for office in Arizona.

“Through that movement, the teachers found their voice, and they found their collective power,” said Jennifer Samuels, running as a Democrat state representative in north Valley’s District 15 against three other candidates.

The 36 teachers on Arizona’s November ballot are among more than 1,800 teachers vying for office across the country, according to the National Education Association.

“What makes them good educators is exactly the kind of common sense that you need, making political decisions,” said Lily Eskelsen, NEA president.

Eskelsen said most of the candidates are Democrats – about 1,000 are aligned with that party – but about 500 are running as Republicans.

“Good teachers come in all parties, and all parties should look at good teachers,” she said, adding that even if teachers are new to a political career, they are veteran learners.

Christine Marsh, the 2016 Arizona teacher of the year, said teachers’ emphasis on teamwork means they will go to others to seek help.

“Teachers are used to collaborating,” said Marsh, who has been teaching for 25 years. “They’re used to going to the teacher next door to ask for resources about whatever the topic might be.”

Imani Stephens

Native American women run for office

Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Cameron, who became the first Native American woman to serve as a state senator in 2016, theorizes that the reason it took so long trace back to 1492.

“The day that Christopher Columbus set forth on the shores, that first initial contact, put us indigenous women to the backburner,” she said.

But that’s changing. At least four Native American women are running for the Legislature.

“We’re really taking back our power and saying, ‘You know what? We have something great to contribute to this society,'” said Peshlakai, who marvels that she made the shift from sheepherder to the state Senate. “We’re stepping forward. You look at the national trend, state legislators. It’s going to continue.”

Rebecca Tsosie, who has taught law for 24 years and is a special adviser to the provost for diversity and inclusion at the University of Arizona, noted three trends resulting in more Native women in office: more Native women are getting college degrees, the attitude toward Native Americans in leadership roles is shifting and Native people are changing the way they view themselves.

“I never started out thinking that I was the material to be a state senator or state representative because I grew up thinking that that was another world,” Peshlakai said.

“The changing of that mindset of what is possible was what the greatest challenge”

– Sammie Gebers

Encouraging the Latino vote

Alexis Garcia, 17, a first-generation American, isn’t old enough to vote. But he still organized a team going door-to-door in Phoenix to encourage people of color to vote.

“I could be chilling, watching Netflix, but I’m not, I’m out here in the streets because it very important,” Garcia told his team that included millennials and Gen Xers. The youngest two teammates were 14 and 16.

Garcia, a civic engagement organizer for advocacy group LUCHA Arizona, said his parents are undocumented and ineligible to vote. Instead, Garcia wants those who can vote to represent the voices of people who can’t vote.

“At the end of the day, you have you, your community, and the people behind you,” he said.

“Until all the systems of oppression are finally over with and our people are liberated, that’s when we’re going to see the real change.”

A PEW research study shows that the number of eligible Hispanic voters has seen steady growth from 2014 to this year. Much of this growth has been driven by young U.S. born Hispanics turning 18 years old, as well as Hispanic immigrants gaining their citizenship and the right to vote.

More than 50 percent of registered Latino voters say they’ve given the upcoming election “quite a lot” of thought. That’s a 16 percent increase compared with the 2014 midterms.

Stephanie Maldonado, a LUCHA co-campaign manager, said local Latino advocacy organizations educate communities of color that voting is a reinvestment.

“There’s a lot of voters, there’s a lot of power in those communities,” she said.

Brittany Watson

Prepping polls for ASU students

Justin Heywood, a junior at Arizona State University, said having a place to vote on campus makes all the difference.

“No matter what you’re doing, everyone can find time in between class and the lines are always super short,” Heywood said.

Zoe Stein, organizing director of NextGen America in Arizona, said the group opens voting locations at campuses to make sure the youngest generation available to vote can do so.

“If we want young people to vote, and we want to make it easy for them to vote, it has to be accessible,” Stein said.

The polling place on ASU’s Tempe Campus was designated as a voting center by the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, meaning it’s open to any eligible voter, regardless of where they live.

Alyssa Neil, an ASU student and first-time voter, appreciates the convenience.

“I feel like when it’s on campus, it’s easier to get there and it makes it more like you’re gonna vote more,” Neil said.

Taniyah Williamson

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