Democrat Adrian Fontes has an early lead in his bid for a second term as Maricopa County recorder, leading Republican challenger Stephen Richer by nearly 90,000 votes.
Fontes has 53% of the vote to Richer’s 47%.
Fontes won the office in 2016, defeating 28-year incumbent Helen Purcell in the wake of a high-profile fiasco during that year’s presidential preference election. Purcell dramatically reduced the number of polling places in the county, causing long lines that stretched for blocks and left some voters waiting for hours. Fontes filed to run for county recorder the next day.
But Fontes has had missteps and controversies of his own.
The Republican-controlled Board of Supervisors stripped the recorder’s office office of election day duties — in many counties, those duties are handled by the county elections director, not the recorder — in response to polling places that opened late during the 2018 primary election and to policies that Fontes unilaterally enacted during the election season, including controversial decisions surrounding emergency voting centers.
One of the hallmarks of Fontes’s tenure has been a penchant to push the boundaries of the law in order to expand or ensure voting rights, especially as election officials across the state and country grapple with the COVID-19 epidemic.
Shortly before the 2018 general election, Fontes announced that he would give all voters whose signatures on their early ballots didn’t appear to match the signatures an opportunity to confirm that they had in fact signed their ballots. Election officials use those signatures to verify the identities of voters who cast early ballots, and though they’ve long given most voters a chance to “cure” their ballots if the signatures don’t appear to match, that was an opportunity denied voters whose ballots didn’t arrive until election day.
A judge ordered that all counties adopt the same policy, and the legislature enshrined that policy into law a year later, imposing a week-long curing period.
Other proposals by Fontes haven’t found success in the courtroom.
In March, Fontes announced that he would send early ballots to all registered Democrats for the presidential preference election, not just voters who signed up for the state’s Permanent Early Voting List or who personally requested early ballots. After Attorney General Mark Brnovich took Fontes to court, a judge blocked him from carrying out his plan.
More recently, Fontes sent instructions with all early ballots during the 2020 primary election informing voters that if they mistakenly voted for a candidate, they could cross out the name and vote for someone else. Though such votes will be counted, the Arizona Supreme Court concluded that the instruction itself violated state law.
Richer told The Arizona Republic that wants to “make the Recorder’s Office boring again.” He campaigned on a platform of bringing an end to Fontes’s antics, pledging on his campaign website to “deliver fair and competent elections” while ending “partisan activism” and “rogue policymaking.”