(CNN)In the key battleground state of Arizona, Republican legislators this week moved to weaken the authority of Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, by limiting her ability to defend election lawsuits.
Late Thursday, the Arizona House passed a series of GOP-backed election measures, which were included in budget legislation that had passed the state Senate on Wednesday. It now heads to the desk of GOP Gov. Doug Ducey, who is expected to sign the legislation. Among the measures is one that establishes Arizona’s attorney general as the “sole authority” to defend state election laws. That law will be in place only until January 2023 — with both the secretary of state’s office and the attorney general’s office potentially changing party hands in the 2022 election. Hobbs is running for governor, and Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich is running for Senate. “This statutory sleight of hand is set to expire at the end of my term, leaving no doubt that this was prompted by my efforts to protect the freedom to vote and because they did not like the outcome of the Presidential Election,” Hobbs said in a statement.It also bars the secretary of state from using any public funds for hiring outside lawyers. Additionally, it limits Hobbs to hiring the equivalent of one full-time lawyer to represent her office. Read MoreThose restrictions are among several election-related provisions included in the budget in a state where Republican legislative leaders have embraced and advanced former President Donald Trump’s lies about widespread voter fraud. The GOP-led state Senate ordered up the problem-plagued audit being conducted by Cyber Ninjas of the 2.1 million votes cast in last year’s election in Maricopa County. The budget bill tasks members of the Senate Government Committee with serving on an election audit committee that will review the audit’s results — which experts have said could be rife with errors. Progress Arizona, a liberal advocacy group, criticized the legislation in a statement, saying, “Republicans in the Arizona state legislature are continuing to spread lies about an election that trusted officials conducted and verified. What’s more, they are now passing bills based entirely on those lies.” The measure also allows third parties designated by the legislature to sift through the state’s voter database and flag voters for removal. Ballot security measures could require counties to include watermarks, QR codes or other similar markings on ballots, potentially increasing the cost of printing those ballots, and could complicate their counting since election officials would have to determine how to verify those markings appear on each ballot. The budget includes $500,000 in funding for an investigation of social media bias as an unreported in-kind campaign contribution. A Republican state representative, Jake Hoffman, was banned from Twitter last year after running a troll farm that pushed conservative messages.