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Starting fresh: County Recorder-elect shares plans, goals for office


Elizabeth Medora

NORTH VALLEY – Adrian Fontes has been elected Maricopa County Recorder, and he will officially take office on Jan. 1, 2017. Fontes is planning on updates for the recorder’s office and has campaigned on making sure that eligible voters are able to vote without facing the obstacles of hours-long wait times or incorrect registrations.

“We’ll start fresh,” Fontes said of the office in a Nov. 18 interview with The Foothills Focus. He is meeting with the recorder’s office team this week and will soon be meeting with Secretary of State Michele Reagan. His bipartisan transition team will be co-chaired by Andy Kunasek, who served many years as a county supervisor and is now retiring, and Felecia Rotellini, attorney and former candidate for Arizona Attorney General.

Fontes said that as far as changes being made to the current recorder’s system, there needs to be a “systemic analysis before we make any determinations.” He plans to look at best practices in other areas and utilize available resources to ensure voters don’t have long waits at the polls. Maricopa County made national news during elections this year when a reduction in polling places caused long waits for voters; some voters in the Presidential Preference Election in March waited for five hours to cast their votes.

While state law governs many areas of the recorder’s office, Fontes is looking at what can be changed and updated, if needed. According to Fontes, Maricopa County has far fewer polling places now than it did in the 1980s, despite the population growth the Valley has seen.

Fontes is new to holding elected office. His background includes active duty in the United States Marine Corps from 1992-96, followed by working as a prosecutor for the Maricopa County Attorney and the Arizona Attorney General. He entered into private practice in 2005.

Fontes’ inspiration for running for county recorder is evident when he speaks of eligible voters who were discouraged from voting by hours-long lines or voters who were improperly turned away when their registration and ID was correct. He stresses that voting is a fundamental right.

“This is what fires me up,” Fontes emphasized, speaking of workers running the polling places who aren’t trained properly and incorrectly deny eligible voters ballots.

“They are the government when they’re sitting at those tables, denying American citizens their fundamental right to vote – that fires me up,” Fontes said. “That’s why I ran for this. If you’re an American citizen and you are eligible to vote, those people ought to be helping you get your vote counted.”

Fontes says that the system of counting early ballots doesn’t fit the way people vote today, with the large numbers of voters who choose early ballots. Sketching a simple timeline of the counting process, Fontes said that early ballots are counted prior to Election Day but that as Election Day goes on, early ballots are put aside and ballots in person are counted.

This system of counting is based in the past, when the number of in-person ballots greatly outnumbered early ballots, which is no longer the case. Also, in the Nov. 8 election, some Maricopa County voters’ early ballots didn’t get counted, because if they were dropped off at the polls on Election Day instead of mailed, ballots with signatures that could not be verified by 7 p.m. on Nov. 8 could be rejected as invalid.

Fontes aims to ensure that eligible voters can vote and can get their votes counted. He says he’s about making sure voters are registered and have the information they need so they can vote, and making sure that their votes get counted.

The recorder’s office is a partisan seat; Fontes ran successfully as a Democrat. However, he has emphasized that partisanship holds no place in a recorder’s office, and says that the role should be “as far away from politics as possible” and should focus on the voters, not the political party.

Fontes has had a strong social media and online presence throughout the campaign, and he plans to bring that interaction to the recorder’s office, offering further ease of contact and more media accessibility to help keep voters informed of potential concerns.

“We will looking at all areas of the office to make improvements,” Fontes noted. He plans to distribute information to voters in as many avenues as possible, which he says “helps keeps the voters informed and gets information out that impacts their fundamental right [to vote].”

Fontes is looking at a variety of ways to make the recorder’s office a more approachable office and to encourage more Maricopa County citizens to register to vote and get out and vote. He referenced a “fun idea” he had recently of having a special event in which a registered voter would accompany a non-registered voter and help them get set up to vote and then both would get freebies from a taco truck outside the recorder’s office. Fontes says the idea is in its early stages and would need private funding, but it’s an example of ways the office can reach out and encourage citizens to register to vote.

“We’re willing to think outside the box to engage voters,” Fontes said.

Fontes is making an effort to meet with voters from all over the county and get to know the over two million registered voters in Maricopa County and find out what they need and expect from the recorder’s office.

“As we begin to move forward with transitioning into the office and getting ready to serve all these folks, I owe it to those folks to listen,” Fontes emphasized. “I take that responsibility very seriously.”