Richer Digs In While Public Awaits Decision Of Complaint To Attorney General

Richer Digs In While Public Awaits Decision Of Complaint To Attorney General

By Terri Jo Neff |

AZ Free News has confirmed at least two of Arizona’s 15 county recorders did not put forth an “aye” vote when deciding whether to oppose Proposition 309, despite public assertions by Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer of a unanimous vote.

Prop 309 would tighten the identification requirements for in-person and early ballot voting. On Sept. 29, the Arizona Association of County Recorders (AACR) conducted a “aye or nay” voice vote on issuing a statement in opposition of what is often referred to as universal voter ID.

Many boards and associations make decisions and take positions on a majority-rule basis, but those votes are not publicized as representing the position of each individual member. There was no role call nor record kept of how any of the county recorders voted, yet Richer, who is AACR’s President, listed the names of all 15 recorders on the anti-Prop 309 statement.

As previously reported by AZ Free News, Cochise County Recorder David Stevens took issue with that, as he was out of the country at the time and had not given his chief deputy recorder authority to vote his proxy. In fact, Stevens is pro-Prop 309.

Public records obtained by AZ Free News also show at least one other recorder reported not expressing any vote on the AACR position but opted to not go public, given that the majority of members did vote “aye.”

AACR met on Sept. 29 and took the voice vote about Prop 309 despite nothing on the agenda indicating a vote would be taken. Then on Oct. 4, Richer used his Maricopa County email account to distribute a draft version of the AACR statement to a handful of members for review.

He also used the Maricopa County website and a staffer’s time on the AACR’s anti-Prop 309 letter.

Richer has acknowledged this was an improper use of public resources to influence a ballot measure, and has expressed hope his mea culpa is sufficient to stave off criminal charges in light of a complaint filed with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office (AGO).

The AGO has the authority to expand the investigation from Richer’s use of public resources into whether his refusal to correct the record about the AACR vote falls under Arizona’s criminal statutes related to a fraudulent scheme or artifice.

Other public records show the draft version of the anti-Prop 309 statement Richer sent, however, did not include the names of all the county recorders. That feature was added at the suggestion of Pima County Recorder Gabriella Cazares-Kelly.

Richer released a revised draft statement about Prop 309 to the full AACR membership on Oct. 10. The next day, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs received an email from Richer with an advance copy of the statement about 90 minutes before it was released to the public.

Stevens, who did not see the draft, immediately emailed Richer and the other recorders upon learning of the statement’s content. He made clear his position on Prop 309 (he supports it) as well as on the use of his name.

The email also requested Richer “remove my name from this list and issue a retraction immediately.” Richer ignored that request as well as subsequent requests by Stevens.

For now, Stevens is waiting for the outcome of the AGO investigation. There is also a possibility of civil liability under Arizona law for the use of Stevens’ name without his consent.

Maricopa County Recorder Under Fire for Misinformation on Prop 309

Maricopa County Recorder Under Fire for Misinformation on Prop 309

By Terri Jo Neff |

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.