Maricopa Board Expressed Concern to Fontes Over 'Emergency Voting' Centers

McSally concedes as actions of Maricopa County recorder endure scrutiny

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November 12, 2018

PHOENIX, Ariz.—The chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors emailed County Recorder Adrian Fontes on the Monday before Election Day, expressing concern over the emergency voting centers Fontes established, according to the document that was obtained exclusively by the Washington Free Beacon.

Shortly before 6 p.m. local time Monday evening, the Associated Press called the Arizona senate race for Democrat Kyrsten Sinema over Republican Martha McSally.

As the election count for the closely contested seat progressed after November 6, Democrat Recorder Fontes and the actions of his office endured heightened scrutiny. Of particular concern were the "emergency voting" centers opened by Fontes that would operate the Saturday and Monday before Election Day.

Emergency voting centers are allowable by law, but both sides are debating what should count as an emergency, or if some emergency voting centers are "de facto" extensions of early voting.

After the controversy first gained traction on the weekend preceding Election Day, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Steve Chucri sent an email to Fontes, and copied the county attorney on the email as well.

"Due to recent inquiries, I am formally asking you to place aside all ballots cast at emergency voting sites after early voting ended on Friday, November 2, 2018, until your legal authority to open emergency sites has been clarified," Chucri wrote in the email.

"By legal authority, I am looking to the Arizona Revised Statutes or the Secretary of State's election procedure manual. To be clear, this is about the integrity of the election; it is not the fault of the voters who may have utilized this option."

Chucri told the Washington Free Beacon that no person on the board ever received any response from Fontes.

"Last Monday, when we caught wind that just days earlier, that Mr. Fontes announced that he would have 4 or 5 emergency voting centers, which he's entitled to do by statute, we raised an eyebrow as to how he was enforcing—or should I say, detailing what an emergency is," Chucri said.

"If you look at the elections pamphlet in parallel to statute, it is very clear as to what you can do and not do with emergency voting centers."

The pamphlet Chucri is referring to is the "Elections Procedure Manual" published by the Arizona secretary of state.

"While some of it can be interpreted, to us, it was very clear that if you just felt like voting on that Saturday or Monday, that was not the impetus nor was that the intention of what an 'emergency polling' place is, or what emergency voting is."

"The concern we have is that it was never asked what your emergency was. It was simply 'If you feel like coming and voting, you can come in and vote,' which I believe is the antithesis to what the intent was of even having emergency centers labeled or described in statute as well as in the campaign, or, elections pamphlet," he added just moments later.

An earlier report by the Arizona Republic estimated that there were about 3,000 votes cast at the emergency polling locations.

Fontes was pressed on that issue this past weekend by political reporter Brahm Resnik on the 12News show "Sunday Square Off."

Resnik: And I could have gone, without any illness and—for any reason I could have gone to one of these centers for any reason at all.

Fontes: You would have had to had an emergency.

Resnik: Are you sure about that?

Fontes: Yep.

Resnik: Uh, Democrat candidates were putting this number and address out on door hangers saying, 'Just show up.'"

Fontes: The law says you can have emergency voting available, if a voter has an emergency.

Resnik: You weren't checking for emergencies at the door.

Fontes: It's not my business what your emergency is, Brahm. I've got HIPPA [health privacy laws] laws that prevent me from asking. You've got your privacy that I have to respect, and by the way, what, pray tell, is the problem with giving voters access to the ballot box? That's my first question.

The request by Chucri and the Maricopa attorney is significant because it shows a second entity requested Fontes' office keep the ballots cast at the emergency voting centers separate, on the chance legal questions about the centers should arise.

As has been widely reported, the Arizona Republican Party sent out letters to all county recorders concerning what might be disparities between the methods deployed by some recorders, but clearly asked Fontes to keep these ballots separate from the general milieu.

When it was discovered that Fontes had not respected the request of the Arizona GOP, they reacted by declaring that Fontes had destroyed evidence.

Fontes did not respond to a request for comment on the email sent by Chucri.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors has some supervisory role over the recorder's office such as setting the budget, but final decisions on issues such as emergency voting centers rest solely with the recorder, and the board has no other legal powers over the person holding that office.

Chucri reiterated to the Free Beacon what he said in the email to Fontes about voting availability, and those who did vote at emergency locations.

"It's not the fault of the voter, they're only doing what the county recorder told them they could do," he said.

"So we don't want their votes not to be counted if you will, because that's their right. We certainly don't want to punish the voter. But we also believe that we've got to be uniform in carrying out election law."

Published under: 2018 Election