Feb 8, 2023 - Politics

Stephen Richer and Adrian Fontes to talk AZ election reforms

Side by side photos of two men speaking.

Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images (Richer), Rebecca Noble/Bloomberg via Getty Images (Fontes)

Democratic Secretary of State Adrian Fontes and Republican Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer will host a Wednesday discussion on whether and how to change the way Arizonans vote and conduct elections.

What's happening: Fontes and Richer will talk at Valley Bar in downtown Phoenix at 6:30pm for a discussion on one of the hottest topics in state politics — the election system.

  • ABC15 reporter Garrett Archer — a former election official and campaign operative known to the political world and his Twitter followers as the "Data Guru" — will moderate.

Context: After two consecutive elections plagued by prolonged counts, errors, conspiracy theories and bogus fraud allegations, many politicians are proposing significant changes to election laws.

  • Printer problems at many voting centers in Maricopa County on Election Day 2022 spurred delays and widespread concern as tabulation machines repeatedly rejected ballots.
  • Some critics argue the biggest problem is delays caused by voters who drop off early ballots on Election Day. They point to examples in 2018, 2020 and 2022 when it's taken a long time to name winners in high-profile races.

Yes, but: Other recent complaints about Arizona's elections are more far-fetched.

  • Former President Trump and many local supporters falsely claimed the 2020 election was rigged against him.
  • Some Republicans promoted similarly baseless claims in response to GOP losses, particularly Kari Lake in the gubernatorial race and Abraham Hamadeh in the race for attorney general.

What they're saying: "I'm really looking forward to this friendly exchange of ideas with my colleague @stephen_richer," Fontes tweeted last month. "We don't agree on everything but having smart, civil, and informative conversations about improving our systems is what makes our democracy stronger."

Because officials can't begin verifying or counting "late early" ballots — those dropped off in person on Election Day — until after the election, debate swirled over how and whether to reform the system.

  • Richer issued a set of policy proposals last month, including options for late early ballots, such as banning them or requiring voters to cast them in the same manner as standard ballots. He's said the simplest solution would be to ban Election Day drop-offs, which Fontes opposes.

The intrigue: With Republicans in control of the Legislature and Democrat Katie Hobbs — Arizona's former secretary of state — in the governor's office, any election reforms will need bipartisan support.

  • That effectively eliminates GOP proposals like abolishing early voting and machine counting.
  • Hobbs told Axios Phoenix in December she's open to requiring voters to show IDs when they drop early ballots so they can be counted like other Election Day ballots.

Catch up quick: Fontes and Richer are former rivals who now occupy the two most prominent election-related positions in Arizona, and are united in fending off false claims of rigging that arose after Trump's 2020 defeat.

  • Fontes was elected Maricopa County recorder in 2016, and Richer defeated him in his reelection bid four years later.

Of note: Valley Bar is famous for its menu of cocktails named after local politicians, so you can order The Adrian Fontes or the Richer Daiquiri while you listen to the debate.


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