With only four weeks to go to the November 3 general election, and because it is 2020, there is no lack of concern as to whether the election will run smoothly or lead to a collapse of American democracy.
For example: the United States Postal Service send your mail-in ballot to county election officials on time? Could Russian cyber agents manipulate voter data? Will voters loyal to President Donald Trump in Republican-controlled states vote for him whatever the election results? Then there is the fact that Trump has repeatedly refused to engage accept the election results and pretend, without evidence, that postal voting is rampant with fraud just as the pandemic pushes more people to vote by mail.
To get a feel for how Maricopa County, one of the most populous counties in the country (and the largest county in what has become a battlefield state), is preparing for the next election and What voters should expect about the process, we called Recorder Adrian Fontes, who oversees the county elections. Fontes, a Democrat, is also currently running for re-election.
New times: Has there been an increase in postal voting in Maricopa County this year due to the pandemic? What should voters do to ensure their ballots are counted?
Fonts: We certainly have an increase in mail-in ballots. there is no doubt. We know there is a huge increase. Over 78 percent of voters in Maricopa County receive their ballots in the mail. This is a massive increase and it is a very good thing as more and more of our voters appreciate the convenience that postal voting gives them. Frankly, it is much safer and more responsible than traditional voting at polling stations.
We process the ballots as we receive them, so please vote early. It is inevitable with the volume that we have that there will be ballots that arrive too late to be compiled and that is unfortunate, but the reality is that if people follow the advice of their local election administrators and they vote early, they can avoid any problems. If you are going to vote by mail, vote early. If you are going to bring your ballot, bring it early.
We now have a free service where voters can track their ballot, so they know exactly when they received it. They will receive an SMS when we receive the ballot, or an email, and then they will know that [we] understood.
New times: What would you say to people who take the president seriously when he laughs at postal voting as being rife with fraud?
Fonts: This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Believe it [election officials] that do the job. Believe the Republicans, Democrats, Independents and Libertarians of Maricopa County, the real citizens who get the job done here, these are the people you should believe.
News times: What’s new with these new “voting centers” for in-person voting?
Fontes: We have moved from a constituency-based voting model to an electoral center model. It was a radical change because voters no longer have an assigned polling station and we eliminated the need for pre-printed ballots. This will be our third election with the voting center model in Maricopa County.
It was a pretty positive change. In a constituency-based model, you have a large number of polling stations in one day, but for the individual voter, you only have one place to vote, so it’s geographic and limited access in the weather. In a polling center model, you have an extremely wide choice of places to vote on Election Day, and now you are weeks ahead with multiple locations, including nights and weekends where you can. vote in person.
New times: What should voters expect on election night?
Fonts: This first big report number [on election night] includes as many votes as possible. That 8 p.m. figure that comes out one hour after the polls close includes all of the advance ballots we compiled before polling day. If voters want to be part of that first large number, they need to vote early. I would expect that we are somewhere close to 85 percent of all ballots will be cast as advance ballots, maybe even more.
From 9:00 p.m., we start reporting the numbers of the polling centers throughout the evening. This is the second bucket [of votes], it will be a much smaller percentage of the total than this 8:00 p.m. number. And then we will have received a lot of early votes on election day, so those late early votes will have to be verified, processed and compiled by signature; these will be the ones that will be published on Thursday, Friday after election day. ”
New times: Has your office taken steps to increase digital security in light of concerns about foreign interference in the US elections?
Fonts: Our computer systems have undergone a complete overhaul and we are in the process of ensuring that security is locked down as much as possible. This is an ongoing review since 2017. We’ll treat this as a dynamic landscape as the people looking to hurt us are unlikely to stop.
I am the only electoral administration in the country to have a designated security officer who oversees our computer and data systems. This is a new position that I created last year. We do not know of any electoral service in the country which has an IT manager specifically dedicated to this service.
New times: What do you think of the feud between Governor Doug Ducey and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs over remote registration and voting access for people in medical isolation? You recently filed a continuation on the issue. (A judge of the Superior Court ruled After the publication of this article, video voting may be allowed, but only on a case-by-case basis to accommodate voters with disabilities.)
Cast iron: I think some people forget the fact that under federal law we have to make accommodations for all voters and if state law prevents this from happening then we have to make the appropriate adjustments. We did this in the primary and we continue to try to let all eligible voters vote.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.