PHOENIX — Friday was a day filled with drama that saw Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes pitted against Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors ended much the same way as it began -- as a reaction to the impact of COVID-19.
Early in the day, Fontes sent out a press release stating that his office was taking “unprecedented steps to enfranchise voters in light of COVID-19 concerns.”
How would he accomplish this? Fontes said in the release that his office would send a ballot through the mail to all of Arizona’s remaining Democratic voters eligible to vote in this Tuesday’s Presidential Preference Election, regardless of whether they opted in to the state’s “Permanent Early Voting List” or had specifically requested a ballot by mail, something that is required by Arizona law.
The recorder did not find any allies in the halls of state and county government for his plan. Shortly after his announcement, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs dispatched an email to him in which she said that her office’s position “is that you do not have legal authority at this stage to mail a ballot to all voters who have not requested one. “
The secretary’s office went on to tell the Recorder that they informed his office’s ballot vendor Runbeck that if they mailed out the ballots, they would be “facilitating a violation of the law.”
Shortly after his office received the email, Fontes took to social media to reiterate his intention of sending out the ballots.
This was answered almost immediately by Attorney General Mark Brnovich who insisted that Fontes did not have the legal authority to mail out the ballots.
His office immediately filed a Temporary Restraining Order and an injunction with the Maricopa County Superior Court, which was granted shortly thereafter, eliminating Fontes’ ability to mail out the ballots to those that did not request them.
Meanwhile, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors held a press conference to announce the adjustment to their Election Day plan.
A visibly shaken and exhausted Scott Jarrett, the county’s Election Day Director started to explain how COVID-19 was affecting the polling place plan, but he was unable to continue. He abruptly left the podium and walked out of the room.
It was up to supervisors’ Clint Hickman, Steve Gallardo, Steve Chucri and Bill Gates to fill in. They explained that the county had to adjust the number of polling places down from 229 to 151, a reduction of 78 locations. The closures are due to a number of circumstances, including facilities closing to the public, such as schools and nursing homes due to the threat of COVID-19, as well as the county’s inability to obtain necessary cleaning supplies and volunteers to accommodate the remaining polling places.
To make the new plan work, the remaining polling places have been converted to “Vote Anywhere” Vote Centers. These locations allow for any eligible registered voter to cast a ballot despite where they live in the county. Maricopa originally had 40 of these locations, but that has increased to 151.
What does it all mean? In short, registered Democrats eligible to vote in the Presidential Preference Election on March 17th that have not already cast a ballot, must now go to a vote center and either drop off their early ballot or check in at a vote center to cast a ballot.
Visit https://recorder.maricopa.gov/pollingplace to find a list of polling locations.