Every voter should be required to provide identification before casting a ballot. It’s the bedrock of secure elections and ensures it is both easy to vote and hard to cheat. But in Arizona, some in-person voters can present two non-photo documents in place of a photo ID, and for the millions of Arizonans who choose the convenience of voting by mail, only a signature is required.
The fact is we currently treat different types of voters disparately—not all voters are showing ID. That’s why Prop 309 is critical. It creates universal voter ID requirements so that valid ID is required no matter when, where, or how we vote, meaning all voters will be treated equally and all will show ID. Plus, Prop 309 waives the fee for a state issued photo ID.
If that sounds like a no-brainer, that’s because it is.
If Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer intended to quell support for Proposition 309 last week, his effort appears to have backfired. And on top of that, he is the subject of an investigation by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, sources say.
On Oct. 11, Richer issued an email via his county account to media outlets promoting a letter “from all 15 Arizona County Recorders” about Prop 309, which the email and the letter state the Arizona Association of County Recorders (AACR) opposes.
The next day, election attorney Tim La Sota asked Attorney General Mark Brnovich to investigate the AACR’s use of Maricopa County resources to sway voters into casting a “no” vote. Richer’s actions on behalf of AACR violated two state laws which prohibit the use of public funds and public resources to influence any campaign or contest, La Sota wrote.
Prop 309 seeks to require voters who use early ballots to vote by mail to write their birthdate and a government-issued identification number on the early ballot affidavit along with the voter’s signature, which is already required. Often referred to as universal voter ID, it would also require in-person voters to present a form of photo identification such as a driver’s license or state identification card.
The AACR letter, which is printed on letterhead listing the names of the county recorders along the side, is signed “The People Responsible for Early Voting in Arizona.” The email goes further, showing it being “signed” by each of the individual recorders with their name and county noted, implying the county recorders were unanimous in their opposition.
Like many government associations, the AACR conducts its business based on a majority rule. This includes the association’s position on various matters, which is not always the same as that of the individual recorders.
For instance, Cochise County Recorder David Stevens is a very vocal proponent of Prop 309 and was consulted by lawmakers when the legislation’s language was drafted. This raised questions about the veracity of the email and letter issued by Richer, particularly after he retweeted that “Arizona’s county recorders put out a letter unanimously opposing #prop309.”
And in a subsequent Twitter exchange, Richer insisted it was a “unanimous voice vote…no nays, all ayes” with 14 of the 15 counties present (Apache County not in attendance).
Stevens wrote to Richer, demanding “a public retraction of this letter along with your apology for misleading the public.” He also questioned whether Richer was “pushing your own agenda” by giving the false impression of unanimity among the recorders on the Prop 309 issue.
The situation was further aggravated by the fact a newspaper in Stevens’ county published part of the AACR’s anti-Prop 309 letter with him listed as a signer.
Stevens told AZ Free News he was out of the country when the voice vote was conducted on Sept. 29. He was represented at the meeting by his chief deputy, who does not have a blanket proxy to vote on Stevens’ behalf.
“She was not elected by the people of Cochise County and is very careful to not speak on my behalf unless I have asked her to speak for me,” Stevens explained.
As to the statement by Richer, who is an attorney, that it was a unanimous vote, Stevens said any elected official—particularly one responsible for conducting elections—should know “that not voting no is not the same as voting yes.”
Stevens plans to push for all AACR votes in the future to be conducted by roll call, so there is documentation of how each recorder votes on a specific matter.
There has been no retraction by Richer nor AACR as of press time, but he quickly conceded it was “not appropriate” for him to post the AACR letter to the Maricopa County website.
“The letter has been taken down,” Richer said after the controversy erupted. As to La Sota’s complaint to the attorney general, Richer suggested the matter has “already been resolved” with the removal of the letter.
But election integrity proponents say the matter must not end there, as there must be consequences for the actions of AACR—and Richer specifically—for giving voters incorrect information about the group’s anti-Prop 309 position. In the meantime, supporters of strengthening voter ID laws are reporting more interest from voters on the subject.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has been asked to look into whether some of the state’s top election officials violated state law this week by issuing a statement opposing Proposition 309, which is on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot.
Prop 309 is before the voters to decide whether to amend several of Arizona’s current election laws. For an example, a “yes” vote would require voters to write their birthdate and government-issued identification number on the concealed early ballot affidavit, and for those who want to vote in-person they would be required to present an official photo identification at their polling place.
The Arizona Association of County Recorders (AACR) issued a statement Tuesday advocating a “no” vote which would leave in place the state’s existing laws about early ballot affidavits and voter identification. Among the duties of a county recorder is to conduct early voting, including mailing out early ballots and verifying signatures when early ballots are returned by voters.
Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer is the president of AACR and is the one who distributed the anti-Prop 309 statement on Tuesday. Yet according to election law expert Timothy La Sota, it appears Richer has violated two Arizona laws in connection with the statement, which was also posted to a website controlled by Maricopa County.
“Contrary to what Mr. Richer appears to believe, the County Recorder’s website is a publicly funded website, and using it as a vehicle to promote Mr. Richer’s political agenda is not only inappropriate, it is illegal,” attorney La Sota wrote, pointing Brnovich to Arizona Revised Statute 11-410(A) and 16-192(A). “This website is not at Mr. Richer’s disposal to use as a campaign website for his favored political causes.”
That first statute states a county “shall not spend or use its resources, including the use or expenditure of monies, accounts, credit, facilities, vehicles, postage, telecommunications, computer hardware and software, web pages, personnel, equipment, materials, buildings or any other thing of value” for the purpose of swaying an election outcome.
The second statute prohibits the state and “any public agency, department, board, commission, committee, council or authority” from spending or using public resources to influence an election, including the use of “computer hardware and software, web pages and personnel and any other thing of value of the public entity.”
La Sota pointed out that data associated with the document indicates the AACR statement -which includes the names of all 15 county recorders- was created by one of Richer’s employees during office hours, another “no no,” he told the attorney general.
“As a countywide elected official charged with various election related duties, Mr. Richer should know this,” La Sota added. “And his actions in placing his thumb on the scale illegally in this context do not auger well for maintaining a professional perception in other realms.”
During an interview Thursday morning, Amy Yentes of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club discussed why Arizona law expressly prohibits the government from electioneering activities in an effort to sway a particular race or contest.
“This is a protection for taxpayers,” Yentes told KFYI’s James T. Harris. She also supports La Sota’s request to Brnovich for an investigation into how the AACR’s anti-Prop 309 statement came to be created by a Maricopa County employee and posted to the county’s website.
“What is more disturbing is that Stephen Richer is an election administrator,” Yentes told Harris. “It is quite concerning that he can’t even follow basic election law and yet we’re trusting him to administer our elections.”
But that is not the only problem stemming from Richer’s distribution of the anti-Prop 309 statement, which he said on Tuesday afternoon was approved by AACR members by “unanimous voice vote (no nays, all ays).” Richer also tweeted that “14 of the 15 counties were present” for the vote, with only Apache County absent.
According to Cochise County Recorder David Stevens, the inference voters will make from the AACR statement and Richer’s social media comments is that all 15 county recorders are against Prop 309. In fact, Richer retweeted someone else’s comment that the vote was unanimous against the proposition.
That, Stevens says, is not true. In fact, he is an adamant supporter of Prop 309 and has demanded Richer correct the AACR statement and clear any misperception.
“Stephen, I was out of the office yesterday and did not see this email. I STRONGLY OBJECT to anyone assigning an opinion to me without my expressed consent. Silence is NOT acceptance. I do support prop 309 and kindly request you remove my name from this list and issue a retraction immediately,” Stevens wrote.
As of press time, Stevens had no contact from Richer about the Prop 309 issue. He was, however, included on a mass email the Maricopa County Recorder sent to his fellow recorders Wednesday evening.
“Good luck Recorders!” the subject line reads, before Richer wished everyone “the absolute best this early voting season.”