Tuesday's local election is a litmus test for Fontes. About half of the county's 2.1 million registered voters are eligible to vote on local issues ranging from bonds in Surprise and Gila Bend to bonds and overrides in school districts such as Phoenix ...and more »
Maricopa County is considering a switch to all-mail voting. Republic political reporter Rebekah L. Sanders speaks with Elections Director Reynaldo "Rey" Valenzuela about what voters can expect. Rebekah L. Sanders/azcentral.com
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When a Goodyear voter complained on Facebook that his Nov. 7 ballot was confusing, Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes insulted him, attacked the voter's mother and told him to "go F- yourself."
The social-media tirade comes as Fontes, the only Democrat to run Maricopa County elections in recorded history, is under a microscope.
He beat a longtime GOP elections chief in 2016 with promises of better representation and communication with voters and has faced suspicion from Republican officials and voters.
READ MORE: Mail your ballot by Nov. 1 for the Nov. 7 election
Tuesday's local election is a litmus test for Fontes.
About half of the county's 2.1 million registered voters are eligible to vote on local issues ranging from bonds in Surprise and Gila Bend to bonds and overrides in school districts such as Phoenix Union, Tempe Union, Roosevelt Elementary, Buckeye Elementary and Chandler Unified.
Fontes has made significant changes to this year's election system by sending all voters a mail-in ballot and replacing 724 small polling places with 27 large ballot centers, which any voter can visit.
The deadline to return ballots by mail is Nov. 1. Voters can also drop off ballots until 7 p.m. on Election Day. Ballot-center locations can be found by visiting www.locations.Maricopa.vote.
Adrian Fontes is Maricopa County recorder.
(Photo: The Republic)
Fontes responded angrily to the Goodyear voter, Nathan Schneider, who complained that the election date was hard for him and his mother to find on the mail-in ballot and ballot inserts, and was not printed on the envelope.
"The public should not be forced to make assumptions when voting," Schneider, a Democratic candidate for Arizona Legislature, posted on Facebook. "Adrian Fontes doesn't listen to me, but if any of you have his ear, maybe you could ask him why they are not labeling the Election Day on the ballot and making it more legible, easier to find, and easier to identify."
Fontes responded by asking if Schneider's mother ran his campaign and writing "go F- yourself."
"(M)y response is not only appropriate but deserved," Fontes added. "(I)t's less important that I am elected than the work of my staff is defended with vigor. ... His little passive-aggressive assault against my staff and the work they do deserves no less."
On Tuesday, Fontes released a written statement about the incident.
"I could have responded differently and now I would like to move on," he said. "The most important thing is to remain focused on running these elections and ensuring voters are participating in their democracy."
He noted that the ballot envelopes do not have dates because they are printed in bulk to serve multiple election cycles. The date was printed on the ballot and on an insert, Fontes pointed out. However, the type on those pieces is not bold, but small and difficult to find.
"We are always open to improving our voter communication," Fontes wrote in his statement.
Schneider did not respond to The Arizona Republic's requests for comment. Facebook commentors both reprimanded and praised Fontes.
Recorder's Office spokeswoman Karen Loschiavo said Fontes and his office have improved voter communication by:
Speaking at numerous public meetings and meeting with city councils to discuss election changes.
Hiring four people full time for community relations. They have attended more than 500 meetings and held town halls, round tables and demonstrations of new elections technology.
Implementing the office's first text-message alert system that voters can opt into for updates on election dates and when their mail ballots are sent and received. About 200 voters are signed up.
Sending about 100,000 emails reminding voters of the Nov. 7 election. They will be followed by reminders this week. For the first time, voters can subscribe to email updates without reregistering to vote.
Redesigning the ballot insert so that it was simpler and easier to read.
Overhauling signs outside voting locations to urge voters, in English and Spanish, not to wait in line if they want to drop off a mail-in ballot, and to clarify the types of ID in-person voters should have.
Social media also has been a big effort for the office, Loschiavo said.
Fontes began conducting Facebook Live broadcasts earlier this year inside the Recorder's Office to explain how elections work.
The office posts frequently on Twitter and NextDoor, and spent nearly $12,000 on Facebook, Google and Instagram advertising to remind voters of Tuesday's election. The ads were featured 719,000 times, Loschiavo said.
"We have amped up our online outreach and presence a lot," she said. "There is no precedent for doing digital advertising. We're starting from scratch."
The Recorder's Office also:
Trained 200 voter-registration volunteers and rescinded a limit on voter-registration forms. Civic groups now are allowed to pick up as many forms as they need.
Opened up the elections warehouse to tours.
Hired a cybersecurity firm to test for election vulnerabilities.
Provided free education materials to groups canvassing throughout Maricopa County.
The new insert that Maricopa County voters see in their ballot materials is less crowded, but voters say it is still challenging to read.
Tim O'Connor, a Tempe Democrat and bakery owner, said despite all of the efforts, his family wasn't aware that the election was all-mail or featured ballot centers.
"To be honest, until you called, I didn't even know about the changes," he said.
Tempe voter Pati Urias, a non-profit communications specialist, was confused when she received a ballot in the mail. She isn't on the permanent early-voting list and the envelope was not labeled for clarification.
"I didn't feel it was properly communicated to the public," she said. "When the materials came in the mail, I wasn't really expecting them. And I like to think I'm pretty up on things."
She worries about procrastinators like her son.
If voters don't mail their ballot before Nov. 1, they have to drop it off at a vote-center location. But the locations were not printed in the ballot materials. Instead, voters were directed to go to a website.
"The only thing people are going to look at is what's right in front of them," Urias said. "People aren't going to take this piece of paper and go online."
The old insert that Maricopa County voters saw in their ballot materials was hard to read.
Loschiavo, the Recorder's Office spokeswoman, said voters would likely go online to get directions to their voting location anyway.
"They've been given the way to find that information," she said. "If they want to vote, they're going to take the steps to find out how."
She said printing more detailed election materials would cost money.
When former Recorder Helen Purcell blamed voters for causing long lines in 2016 by not understanding the election rules, Fontes excoriated her. He also said Purcell should not have skimped to save money.
"One of the most important things is bringing a new attitude to leadership in that office," he said during the campaign. "It's a real complaint when the public official blames the voters. I think Helen Purcell really believes … understanding all the complexities of the election system … is exclusively the duty of the citizen. And I don't believe that at all."
" 'I know, then you should know.' That's not service,'" he added, noting he would proofread ballots himself.
Loschiavo said the Recorder's Office will seek feedback after the election through public meetings.
"We are happy to take in input from people who felt like it wasn't easy for them to vote, and find out how to make it better," she said. "Our goal is always to make voting more accessible."
To subscribe to email or text-message alerts from the Elections Office, sign up at https://recorder.maricopa.gov/subscriptions/ or text "EV" to 628683 (MCVOTES).
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(Photo: The Republic)
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