More Changes in Our Elections: Is Less Messiness in Our Future?

Bill Gates (l) and Stephen Richer (r)

Maricopa County elections have had a very interesting last few election cycles. They started in 2016 with a new County Recorder (Adrian Fontes) who was then in charge of all aspects of county elections. After a poor execution of in-person voting for the 2018 primary, Fontes then decided to punt responsibility of in-person voting to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, a very bold move that was looked on with disfavor from many in his own party at the time but has since proven itself to be wise.

Meanwhile, in 2020 Maricopa County elections received even more heat from the former President, incredulous that he lost the state and needing a scapegoat. Fontes took quite a bit of that heat, even though he lost his re-election campaign to Stephen Richer (if you’re going to fix an election, you would probably start with your own, ehh?). Cries of a stolen election turned into angry shouts as in 2022 the Trump-backed statewide GOP candidates all lost, and vague misunderstandings of the election process became feet in the doors for unhinged conspiracy theories.

Mind you, the elections were then being run by a Republican County Recorder and a Republican-dominated Board of Supervisors, and there is no rational incentive for them to fix the election for their political opponents, but a good conspiracy theory isn’t about to be stopped by reason or common sense.

Perhaps in response to this came the newest news from the Elections Department: they will have a new communications team. This communications team will be separate from the Recorder’s office, and will be aligned with their different obligations: the Board of Supervisors and new communications team focused on in-person voting communications, and the Recorder’s team focused on vote-by-mail and related communications.

At the outset, it seems to be a further fragmentation of the entire process. What used to be housed entirely within the Recorder’s office is now even more fully split in two. If consolidating assets means streamlining processes, then fully undoing it would seem to imply potential bureaucracy and inefficiencies.

That said, running elections for a county of over 4 million people is always going to be messy, as every single election bears out. Hearing Stephen Richer and Bill Gates from the Board of Supervisors, both respectable public servants but neither being charismatic giants, explain the intricacies and difficulties of elections as outrage brewed was…sort of painful.

Obviously the devil is in the details as to who they hire, but it very likely can’t be worse than Richer and Gates. Better communication could have gone far to eliminate usurping conspiracists and supported the efforts to do the job right without partisan interference. It could have deepened Arizona’s reputation as a bedrock of democracy and functional and fair elections. So if that is how it might play out, then I think we all can agree that it would be a welcome change.