Maricopa County Recorder: Arizona Flip-Flopped on Sending Voter Data to Kobach Panel

The barrage of phone calls and emails started on Friday.

When the news broke that Arizona might send voters' information to a Trump administration panel on voter fraud, Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes heard from voters. Immediately.

“Internally, we received dozens of phone calls, emails of great concern, people saying, ‘I want to be taken off the voter rolls,’ messages on social media," Fontes told Phoenix New Times.

Other county recorders were soon inundated with messages, too. And according to Fontes, Secretary of State Michele Reagan's initial statement that Arizona would send some, but not all, of the information contained on voter rolls sparked the backlash.

"There was a public outcry, and I think it was in response to Friday’s message from the Secretary of State that said Arizona was going to comply," Fontes said.

On Friday afternoon, Reagan released a statement that said Arizona would not send voters' social security numbers or dates of birth to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, but would provide publicly available information such as addresses and voting history.

Yet on Monday, Reagan sent a letter to commission head and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach in which she said Arizona would not comply.

"Without any explanation how Arizona's voter information would be safeguarded or what security protocols the Commission has put in place, I cannot in good conscience release Arizonans' sensitive voter data for this hastily organized experiment," Reagan wrote in the July 3 letter, according to a copy provided to New Times.

Reagan’s office received more than 1,000 emails weighing in on Kobach's ask, according to spokesman Matt Roberts. Nevertheless, Roberts said "the Secretary made the decision to reject the request shortly after we saw what it was asking for."

"While the Secretary was aware of the opposition, it had more to do with what data we could legally provide under state law," Roberts said in an email to New Times.

Fontes described the Secretary of State's letter to Kobach as "180 degrees different than their Friday statement."

"On Monday, they flip-flopped and came back to where everybody else is standing," Fontes said.

For him, the answer was clear from the beginning. "I would have denied it on the face of the request, because it did not comport with the law," he said.

In his letter to all 50 states, Kobach said that "any documents that are submitted to the full Commission will also be made available to the public." Acceding to the commission's request and throwing voters' privacy to the wind would violate Arizona law, Fontes said, because state statutes put narrow limits on the use of publicly available voter information.

Making information public was "their stated goal," Fontes said. "There’s no reason for me to turn that over to them."

As Kansas Secretary of State and now as the vice chairman of President Trump's panel, Kobach has aggressively campaigned against voter fraud. Experts say Kobach's supposed epidemic of voter fraud is imaginary. And voting-rights advocates contend that laws ostensibly designed to curb fraud are a pernicious form of voter suppression.

The latest reports show 44 states will not comply with Kobach's request.

Legal questions aside, the way the episode played out has Fontes concerned. He emphasized that his office has yet to receive any request for voter data from the commission, but explained that the Secretary of State and county recorder have separate responsibilities.

"The Secretary of State does not run voter registration. That is a county recorder function," Fontes said. "And I frankly think that it was improper for the Secretary to refuse the request. What she should have done is passed the request on to the 15 county recorders and let us do our jobs."

"Not only did that office flip-flop, but they answered for us, which I don’t think is appropriate," Fontes added.

You can read Secretary of State Reagan's letter to Kobach below.

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Joseph Flaherty is a staff writer at New Times. Originally from Wisconsin, he is a graduate of Middlebury College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Contact: Joseph Flaherty