Maricopa County Recorder floats potential election reforms

Following two hotly-contested election cycles embroiled in controversy, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer released a 28-page document containing 12 potential reforms that attempt to address issues within the elections system that he believes will leave as little room for objection as possible.

One of the primary sources of election doubt over the past two elections has been the amount of time it takes for results to be decided. Arizona has not been able to report nearly complete results on Election Night for two reasons. First, the margins in recent high-profile races have been so close that nearly every ballot must be counted before a result can be determined. Second, there has been a substantial rise in “late early ballots.” 

Late early ballots are ballots that were “received by the voter in the mail, filled out, placed in a signed and sealed return affidavit envelope and returned at a voting location on Election Day.” These ballots accounted for nearly 20% of ballots in 2022, delaying the announcement of results. Richer proposes scrapping “late early ballots altogether.” He proposes that mail-in ballots be made due several days before Election Day, perhaps the prior Friday.

This solution would work well with his second proposal that would allow on-site tabulation centers to begin counting early in-person votes three days before Election Day on Saturday. This would change Arizona’s existing law that only allows for early in-person vote counting to begin on Election Day to align with many other states that have already adopted this reform. Besides helping to call election results faster, Richer believes that this system would help relieve any technical issues on Election Day by using equipment in the days prior to diagnose and resolve any potential problems with the equipment.

Richer also addressed what he saw as weaknesses within the structures responsible for overseeing and carrying out elections. Specifically, he proposed a restructuring of the roles and responsibilities of the county recorders and county boards of supervisors. 

Currently, county recorders are “responsible for voter registration, early voting, and provisional ballots,” while supervisors are “responsible for emergency voting, Election Day, and tabulation.” 

Richer views this system as confusing for voters who may not know who to contact with inquiries. 

To solve this issue, Richer proposes that Arizona treat recorders like CEOs and task supervisors with overseeing the administrative aspect of elections, including delegating administration to hired professionals. According to Richer, this would provide policy stability, as complete turnovers of boards of supervisors are very rare.

Around election times, Richer has observed voter confusion and frustration when third-party organizations send voter registration forms with return envelopes to the county recorder. Many voters become confused by these packages, believing they are coming from the Recorder’s Office itself. To decrease confusion, Richer proposes that these third parties should have to “prominently disclose that they are not from a government entity.” Rep. John Kavanagh introduced such an idea as a bill last session, but it did not make it through the Senate after passing in the House.

Richer also proposes a robust increase in funding for the Access Voter Information Database (AVID). Created in 2016, AVID includes data from various state and federal agencies as well as information on incarcerations and death records. Thirteen counties in Arizona use AVID as their voter registration system. Richer and other county recorders want AVID to be updated, maintained, and upgraded, so that voter concerns about non-eligible voters participating in elections can be assuaged. He proposes that AVID begin to receive dedicated funding through the Legislature that will go towards much needed improvements.

As Arizona politicians already gear up for 2024, a Republican Legislature may well change some election laws with the support of Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat. Richer’s suggestions could influence their decision-making.
You can learn more about Stephen Richer and the Maricopa County Recorder’s office here.

Nick Guptil

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