Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes promised smoother elections. Tuesday's primary was anything but smooth.EXPAND
Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes promised smoother elections. Tuesday's primary was anything but smooth.
Aaron Abbott

After Primary Election Fiasco, GOP Attacks County Election Chief Adrian Fontes

When Adrian Fontes ran an insurgent campaign for Maricopa County Recorder, he promised he wouldn’t allow the sort of fiasco that left many voters disenfranchised during the 2016 primary.

"I just don’t see it as a realistic possibility,” he told Phoenix New Times in February.

So much for that. Problems during Tuesday’s primary election disrupted voters' plans and possibly left some people without a chance to cast a ballot.

Technical malfunctions shut down at least 62 voting machines in the county, leaving early morning voters scrambling to find another polling place. Whether it was part of the same problem, some voters waited more than an hour to cast their ballot after polls closed at 7 p.m.

The meltdown made national news. The effect of the problems on election results are unknown.

Following multiple attempts to set up a phone interview, Fontes declined to comment.

“He is busy reassessing what happened yesterday and what is needed moving forward,” a staffer said in a text message.

The debacle seems poised to dog the County Recorder for the next two years and potentially undermine his progressive vision for the office, which includes battling voter suppression and increasing turnout.

Conservatives have been after Fontes since he won the election in 2016 and became the first Democrat to hold the seat in 50 years. He won on outrage over former County Recorder Helen Purcell’s decision to shrink the number of polling locations for the March 2016 Presidential Preference Election, leading to long lines, disenfranchised voters, and numerous lawsuits.

Fontes’ opponents have tried to kick him out of office, chip away his powers, and have dubiously tied him to Democratic donor and right-wing boogeyman George Soros.

Tuesday’s failures are already proving to be rich material for Fontes’ opponents.

As election results rolled in, the Arizona GOP tweeted an ad juxtaposing footage of Fontes touting a penchant for “managing resources” with Fox News coverage of the primary day issues.

“Adrian Fontes: Vote No in 2020,” the video concludes. 

Attacks came from the left, too. The polarizing activist Rev. Jarrett Maupin issued a statement calling on Attorney General Mark Brnovich to launch an investigation into the election issues.

"Adrian Fontes should, in all honesty, resign. He railed against his last opponent over issues of voter disenfranchisement and he turned around and did worse. That is unacceptable,” Maupin said.

Issues started popping up on the eve of primary day. Fontes told reporters on Tuesday morning that poll workers were slow to get voter validation equipment up and running. He blamed a Tempe-based company, Insight Enterprises for the mishap, claiming that the company only provided 73 of the 103 technicians that they agreed upon in a August 6 contract to help set up voting machines.

Insight disputes this claim, saying in a statement that it only agreed to provide 83 technicians and actually made 85 available on Monday.

According to a copy of the contract between Maricopa County and Insight obtained by New Times, the company was to provide 93 technicians on the day before the primary, with 10 on standby.

Around midday Tuesday, Republican Secretary of State Michele Reagan — who later lost her own primary election — called for a court order to keep polls open an extra two hours. Fontes tried to make it happen, but he needed permission from the County Board of Supervisors to raise the question with a judge.

The Republican-controlled board denied his request, citing concerns that seeking a court order to extend polls hours could confuse voters. In a statement that contained a whiff of politics, Board Chairman Steve Churci blasted Fontes for the mishandling of the election despite his office receiving $3.9 million for new technology.

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