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Arizona election officials push forward prep for 2024 count, despite constant threats

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Arizona election officials push forward prep for 2024 count, despite constant threats


As election season gets underway, officials in a key battleground state said they are prepared to handle the task of counting and certifying ballots despite a rise in threats.

Nearly four years ago, the staff at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center in Phoenix was hounded by former President Donald Trump’s supporters, who pushed his false claims that votes in his favor were not counted.

Maricopa County election officials and workers have been harassed and threatened over those false claims long after the election was certified, according to Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer.

Supporters of President Donald Trump gather to protest the election results at the Maricopa County Elections Department office, Nov. 6, 2020, in Phoenix.

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“This isn’t just a normal political lie,” he told ABC News. “This is a lie that then leads to targeting of people.”

Richer, a Republican who has been in his position since 2021, said he has taken steps to ensure that his office completes the certification process properly and transparently.

Richer has been offering public tours of his facility and posting live streams of many of the processes that take place there — from tabulating votes from voting machines to hand-checking the thousands of mail-in ballots that come in every election.

PHOTO: Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer shows off the equipment at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center in Phoenix.

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer shows off the equipment at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center in Phoenix.

ABC News

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During a tour of the facility with ABC News, Richer showed how the ballot processing team takes on counting those mail-in ballots and how every aspect is thoroughly vetted.

“These are teams of different parties, so by the lanyard that they’re wearing, either Republican or Democrat — or yellow is an Independent,” he said of the ballot workers.

Richer said “millions of dollars” have been added since 2020 to help improve his office. But despite the transparency and extra resources, Richer said the police have made arrests against people who have threatened him and his staff.

“We’re talking about the stuff like, ‘we are coming to hang you, we are coming to shoot you,’” he explained.

Richer is facing a reelection challenge from State Rep. Justin Heap (R), who has been backed by state lawmakers who have also denied the outcome of the 2020 election. Heap did not respond to ABC News for comment.

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When asked by ABC News about the large number of election denial claims coming from his own party, Richer said, “We’re better than the drivel that you might see on the 27th comment on a blog post.”

PHOTO: Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer speaks with ABC News' Averi Harper.

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer speaks with ABC News’ Averi Harper.

ABC News

“But some of that has been elevated by people who are in positions of power and words matter, and words matter from these people,” he added.

Those words have already affected some Maricopa election officials’ future.

Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman said he won’t seek reelection this year following threats against him and his family since 2020. He is one of two Maricopa election officials who declined to run for reelection.

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“Your own party is shoving knives in your back when you walk out the door. And it’s very difficult. It’s been very difficult to deal with for myself [and] my colleagues,” Hickman, a Republican, told ABC News.

Hickman said he received several death threats and at one point 100 people came to his house while he, his wife and children were home. Two sheriff’s deputies were stationed outside to guard his home.

PHOTO: Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman speaks with ABC News.

Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman speaks with ABC News.

ABC News

“It’s horrible to talk to citizens and say, ‘Hey, can you come out and help run an election? Can you observe the election?’ I don’t want any part of that because of bad behavior, because of criticism,” Hickman said. “It’s ridiculously horrible. If you can’t get the best, expect the worst.”

Richer said that despite the threats, he is confident he and his team will conduct their duties this November.

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PHOTO: Election ballots are sorted at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center in Phoenix.

Election ballots are sorted at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center in Phoenix.

ABC News

“The board is committed. Their side of the operation is committed. Everyone understands the game plan. Arizonans are going to be able to participate. Their votes are going to count. It’s going to be valid. It’s going to be bipartisan. It’s going to be fair, and it’s going to be certified eventually,” he said.



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Arizona

Oakland star Trey Townsend has decided where he’ll play his final season

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Oakland star Trey Townsend has decided where he’ll play his final season


The Trey Townsend mystery tour has reached its final destintation.

Townsend, who starred for Oakland for four years and recently helped lead the Golden Grizzlies to the best season in program history, will finish his college career at the University of Arizona. Townsend and Oakland head coach Greg Kampe both confirmed Townsend’s next stop to The News on Wednesday.

Townsend, 21, had made multiple official visits as one of the hottest transfer targets on the market, including to Arizona and Ohio State. His final choice came down to those two schools.

Townsend also made an unofficial visit to Michigan, to meet with new head coach Dusty May, and he spoke on the phone with Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo, but he canceled his visit to East Lansing this week. Michigan State was interested in both Townsend and fellow forward Frankie Fidler from the University of Omaha; Fidler committed to Michigan State on Tuesday, a day after Townsend’s visit to MSU was canceled.

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Townsend had significant interest from at least a dozen other schools at the power-conference level.

At Arizona, Townsend will help fill the void left by forward Keshad Johnson, who averaged 11.5 points and 5.9 rebounds as a senior. Johnson is expected to be a second-round pick in the NBA Draft.

Townsend, 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds, is coming off a stellar fourth season at Oakland, averaging 17.3 points and 8.1 rebounds in being named the Horizon League player of the year. He also was named MVP of the Horizon League tournament, after scoring 38 in a championship-game victory over Milwaukee to earn the Golden Grizzlies their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2011. In the NCAA Tournament, Townsend posted double-doubles in a win over Kentucky and an overtime loss over N.C. State, to draw significant interest in the transfer market.

Townsend is an Oxford native whose parents, Skip and Nicole Leigh, both played basketball at Oakland. Since the age of 8, Townsend wanted to play for Kampe, and he did for four years. He earned his degree, and his No. 4 someday will hang from the rafters at the O’Rena.

After this season ended, Townsend declared for the NBA Draft and hired an agent, to test the process, but he always was expected to play a fifth collegiate season and take advantage of his Name, Image and Likeness opportunities. Townsend, who averaged 16.5 points as a junior and 13.3 points as a sophomore, was expected to get an NIL deal worth well into the six figures by transferring to a power conference.

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Arizona, coached by Tommy Lloyd, will play in the Big 12 Conference next season. The Wildcats are coming off an appearance in the Sweet 16, falling to Clemson as a No. 2 seed.

Townsend, who was named the Lou Henson Award winner as the top mid-major player in college basketball, is one of several big roster losses for Oakland this offseason, along with Blake Lampman, Jack Gohlke and Rocket Watts, who have graduated and have exhausted their college eligibility.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

@tonypaul1984



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Arizona Democrats attempt to repeal the state’s 19th century abortion ban – The Boston Globe

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Arizona Democrats attempt to repeal the state’s 19th century abortion ban – The Boston Globe


For a third straight week, Democrats at the Arizona Legislature are attempting Wednesday to repeal the state’s near-total ban on abortions, again spotlighting an issue that has put Republicans on the defensive in a battleground state for the presidential election.

Republicans have used procedural votes to block earlier repeal efforts, each time drawing condemnation from Democratic President Joe Biden, who has made his support for abortion access central to his campaign for reelection.

Arizona Republicans have been under intense pressure from some conservatives in their base, who firmly support the abortion ban, even as it’s become a liability with swing voters who will decide crucial races including the presidency, the U.S. Senate and the GOP’s control of the Legislature.

The vote comes a day after Biden said former President Donald Trump, his presumptive Republican rival, created a “healthcare crisis for women all over this country,” and imperiled their access to health care.

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The Arizona Supreme Court concluded the state can enforce a long-dormant law that permits abortions only to save the pregnant patient’s life. The ruling suggested doctors could be prosecuted under the law first approved in 1864, which carries a sentence of two to five years in prison for anyone who assists in an abortion.

A week ago, one Republican in the Arizona House joined 29 Democrats to bring the repeal measure to a vote, but the effort failed twice on 30-30 votes. Democrats are hoping one more Republican will cross party lines on Wednesday so that the repeal bill can be brought up for a vote. There appears to be enough support for repeal in Arizona Senate, but a final vote is unlikely May 1.

The law had been blocked since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision guaranteed the constitutional right to an abortion nationwide.

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After Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022, then-Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, persuaded a state judge that the 1864 ban could be enforced. Still, the law hasn’t actually been enforced while the case was making its way through the courts. Brnovich’s Democratic successor, Attorney General Kris Mayes, urged the state’s high court against reviving the law.

Mayes has said the earliest the law could be enforced is June 8, though the anti-abortion group defending the ban, Alliance Defending Freedom, maintains county prosecutors can begin enforcing it once the Supreme Court’s decision becomes final, which is expected to occur this week.

If the proposed repeal wins final approval from the Republican-controlled Legislature and is signed into law by Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, a 2022 statute banning the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy would become the prevailing abortion law.

Planned Parenthood officials vowed to continue providing abortions for the short time they are still legal and said they will reinforce networks that help patients travel out of state to places like New Mexico and California to access abortion.

This past summer, abortion rights advocates began a push to ask Arizona voters to create a constitutional right to abortion.

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The proposed constitutional amendment would guarantee abortion rights until a fetus could survive outside the womb, typically around 24 weeks. It also would allow later abortions to save the parent’s life, or to protect her physical or mental health.

Republican lawmakers, in turn, are considering putting one or more competing abortion proposals on the November ballot.

A leaked planning document outlined the approaches being considered by House Republicans, such as codifying existing abortion regulations, proposing a 14-week ban that would be “disguised as a 15-week law” because it would allow abortions until the beginning of the 15th week, and a measure that would prohibit abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, before many people know they’re pregnant.

House Republicans have not yet publicly released any such proposed ballot measures.





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Arizona early childhood care COVID-19 relief funds expire this summer

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Arizona early childhood care COVID-19 relief funds expire this summer


A classroom sits empty in Imagination Childcare and Preschool in Litchfield Park as children play outside on April 2. Families at this preschool have received funding from Quality First, a quality rating and improvement program. (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)

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PHOENIX – Early childhood care and education programs struggled to recruit, retain staff and meet labor costs before the COVID-19 pandemic. Then the worldwide shutdown made matters worse, as parents turned their homes into conference rooms, classrooms and day care centers.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2023 Kids Count Data Book, 16% of children 6 and under in Arizona had a family member quit, change or refuse a job because of child care problems. In fact, the 2023 report ranked Arizona 39th overall for child well-being, noting an annual cost of $10,883 for “center-based child care.”

“Families struggled to find affordable child care, child care programs struggled to keep up with their labor costs, but once the pandemic hit everything, you know, everything, all these problems just got bigger,” said Heidi Walton, program specialist at First Things First.

Heidi Walton, program specialist at First Things First, speaks on child care funding: “Families struggled to find affordable child care, child care programs struggled to keep up with their labor costs.” (Photo courtesy of Heidi Walton)

Heidi Walton, program specialist at First Things First, speaks on child care funding: “Families struggled to find affordable child care, child care programs struggled to keep up with their labor costs.” (Photo courtesy of Heidi Walton)

First Things First, Arizona’s Early Childhood Development and Health Board, invests funds to improve and maintain early childhood care across the state. Many of its funds come from a tobacco tax approved by Arizona voters in 2006. In 2021, the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) received $1.3 billion in additional federal funding for its Child Care and Development Fund from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

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The federal funds were used by First Things First to expand Quality First, a quality rating and improvement program. Quality First services were extended to an additional 400 care centers across the state that had high ratings for providing quality care for families and children in the care of the Department of Child Safety.

The DES also increased child care reimbursement rates from 35% to 50% for programs with at least a three-star rating and allocated funds to increase Quality First scholarships for essential workers and for families who could not afford care. All of these efforts worked together to eliminate the list of families waiting to get access to the facilities rated by Quality First.

But with federal pandemic relief funds set to expire on June 30, child care accessibility and affordability could be at risk for both families and care providers, as scholarships and increased reimbursement rates shrink.

Families face child care dilemma

Chalk drawings outside of Imagination Childcare and Preschool in Litchfield Park on April 2. (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)

Chalk drawings outside of Imagination Childcare and Preschool in Litchfield Park on April 2. (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)

Jacqueline Cordera is particularly worried about the loss of those relief funds.

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When Cordera prepared to enroll her daughter in the same preschool her son attends, Imagination Childcare and Preschool in Litchfield Park, she realized she couldn’t afford it.

“I go back to work relatively quickly after I have my children just because I can’t afford to be off,” Cordera said. “So when it came to putting my daughter in, it was just, well, how the heck am I going to do this? Like, am I going to have to start working or stop working?”

The director of the facility directed Cordera to Quality First, where she got scholarships that let her put both children in the school. But she worries for the future as funds are set to expire.

“You have no idea what to expect,” Cordera said. “We’re just kind of sitting here waiting and wondering what’s going to happen and if we’re going to have to pull our kids from day care to find something else we can afford.”

More than 1,300 care and preschool providers benefit from Quality First funding. Staff members receive professional development training and guidance on center improvements. Funds can also be used to improve a facility’s library and learning materials, classroom furniture, outdoor equipment and building maintenance. Care centers have access to Quality First health care, mental health and special needs experts to meet the varied needs of students.

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Before pandemic relief funds came into play, hundreds of families and providers had to wait for care; the looming expiration of pandemic relief funds could place those providers and families back on the waitlist. Families may lose scholarships or access to a Quality First-rated care center or preschool.

Some Arizona legislators are looking at ways to allocate funds for early childhood care across the state. Gov. Katie Hobbs proposed investing $100 million from the general fund for child care in her fiscal 2025 budget earlier this year. DES press secretary Tasya C. Peterson said efforts like this are essential to support quality child care in Arizona.

Raising the bar

A children’s book peeks out of a cubby at Imagination Childcare and Preschool in Litchfield on April 2. (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)

A children’s book peeks out of a cubby at Imagination Childcare and Preschool in Litchfield on April 2. (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)

While the 2020 Kids Count Data Book ranked Arizona 42nd for overall child well-being, the state rose to 39th in the 2023 Kids Count Data Book, boosted by decreases in the percentage of kids living in poverty, kids raised by single parents, teenage pregnancies and kids whose parents don’t have a high school diploma. Still, Arizona’s consistently low rankings are attributed in part to children living with high housing costs, children whose parents don’t have stable jobs and young children not attending school.

Child care advocates emphasize the need to adjust provider-to-child ratios in care centers and increase affordability.

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Barbie Prinster, executive director for the Arizona Early Childhood Education Association, and Kelley Murphy, vice president of policy at the Children’s Action Alliance, worry about the threat that unaffordable child care poses to employers.

Kelley Murphy, vice president of policy at the Children’s Action Alliance, says early childhood care is "an economic development issue for the state.” (Photo courtesy of Kelley Murphy)

Kelley Murphy, vice president of policy at the Children’s Action Alliance, says early childhood care is “an economic development issue for the state.” (Photo courtesy of Kelley Murphy)

“It’s a business issue,” Murphy said. “It’s an economic development issue for the state. If I’m an employer and I need employees who can’t get child care, they can’t come to work. We can’t attract business to the state if we can’t hire employees.”

According to Murphy, some families pay 20% to 30% of their income on child care, leaving many to decide between child care and unemployment. Scholarships can help some families, and child care assistance from the DES is available to families at or below 165% of the poverty level, but those above that income level have to find assistance elsewhere.

Bill Berk, CEO of Small Miracles Education, said 90% to 95% of families at Small Miracles will be hit hard by the loss of pandemic relief funds. Small Miracles owns 15 preschools across the state, many of which offer education for low-income families with the help of Quality First.
“One of our core beliefs for Small Miracles is that every child deserves a high-quality learning experience and we hope that our schools can appeal to families of all demographics ,” Berk said.

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According to First Things First, 90% of a child’s brain develops by age 5. Preschools and day care centers that offer early social and learning opportunities can help prepare children for kindergarten and further education, according to industry advocates and professionals.

Barbie Prinster, executive director for the Arizona Early Childhood Education Association, expresses concern about the future of Quality First providers, “We really don't know what's going to happen after that,” she says. (Photo courtesy of Barbie Prinster)

Barbie Prinster, executive director for the Arizona Early Childhood Education Association, expresses concern about the future of Quality First providers, “We really don’t know what’s going to happen after that,” she says. (Photo courtesy of Barbie Prinster)

The HighScope Perry Preschool Project, started in 1962, tracked kids who participated in high-quality early learning programs and found they had a 19% lower arrest rate than kids who did not. Children in the control group who weren’t in the program were five times more likely to engage with the criminal justice system.

“Research tells us that kids that have high quality, early education experiences, arrive at kindergarten more ready to learn,” Murphy said. “They tend to have higher third grade reading scores, which then goes on to mean that they are more likely to graduate from high school, which means they’re less likely to end up in the prison system or on welfare.”

Child care experts say maintaining high-quality early childhood education is critical for the development of future generations. The Pima Early Education Program Scholarship works to improve access and affordability of care throughout the county, but legislators and providers want to see stable funding on the state level.

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With the June 30 deadline approaching, providers are wondering how to help families navigate the potential loss of child care assistance.

“We really don’t know what’s going to happen after that,” Prinster said. “That’s been the hardest, I think, thing to swallow.”



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