[IN-DEPTH] Adrian Fontes’ fight to fix Maricopa County’s broken election system

Close to 100,000 potential voters ended up in limbo after forgetting to include proof of citizenship with their registration forms./Courtesy of the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office

By Antonia Noori Farzan | Phoenix New Times

After he’d been in office for just a little over a month, Adrian Fontes learned about the boxes.

For more than a decade, Arizona has required anyone who wants to register to vote to prove that they’re a citizen. But every year, thousands of people overlook that section of the voter registration form, or don’t have the right documents handy. In theory, they’re supposed to get a letter reminding them to send in proof; in reality, that letter often ends up in the trash. Or at the last apartment complex where they lived. Or under a pile of bills.

The rejected forms piled up at the Maricopa County Recorder’s tabulation center on South Third Avenue, a bleak, beige warehouse located across the street from a power plant and next to the railroad tracks. For years, the forms were shoved into cardboard boxes that sagged and cracked with their weight and had to be held together with masking tape, and then were promptly forgotten. By late February 2017, no one knew exactly how many failed voter registration applications were sitting in the waist-high stacks of boxes scrawled with the word “REJECTED,” though employees would later put the total count at close to 100,000.

But, in most cases, the county recorder’s office didn’t need those people to prove that they were citizens. The staff simply could have checked with the Motor Vehicle Department, which verifies people’s citizenship status when they apply for a driver’s license. A quick search of the MVD’s database — which the county recorder’s office has access to — would have answered the question.

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