How Stephen Richer endures a job that’s ‘psychologically unfun’

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer in his Phoenix office the morning of the primary election Tuesday. Photo by Rachel Leingang | Votebeat

By Rachel Leingang | Votebeat

On the morning of the first big election he’d ever run, election deniers’ most hated man in Arizona wore an easy smile and downed a Diet Coke while brushing off mean tweets, misinformation and angry emails.

Just like he’s done for the past 20 months.

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer took office in January 2021 and immediately took heat for the 2020 election, which he didn’t run. A Republican, he’s been vehemently defending the county’s elections since then against the fringes of his own party, to the likely detriment of his own political future.

Tuesday’s primary was the first major test of Richer’s work as a recorder. And the election went smoothly in his county, despite what his detractors say.

“They would prefer if we fell flat on our face, which is kind of interesting considering, if you’re rooting against our success, you’re rooting against elections in Arizona,” he said.

While the rampant criticism gets to him sometimes, Richer is driven by an intense belief that he’s doing the right thing by defending the county and its election workers. He’s heard and responded to every claim about the 2020 election; the evidence is on his side. He wants to improve the office before he leaves it. The question is, will that be enough to make him stick around for another term’s worth of pummeling?

Previously a private practice lawyer, Richer ran for office for the first time in 2020 to try to replace Democrat Adrian Fontes, whose election changes drew near-constant ire from the GOP. Richer, at the time, said he wanted to depoliticize the office and relieve it of controversy. He’s instead spent his time in office defending Fontes’ work, and the controversy never ceased.

By the rubric that elections used to be analyzed by, Maricopa County went well: Vote centers opened punctually. Mailed ballots went out on time. People with problems got quick answers. No super long lines greeted voters casting ballots in person. Results were released on time and with updates throughout the night.

Certainly, the election had the kinds of problems all elections have: Printers went down here and there throughout the day. Some tabulation machines needed to be cleaned after ink clogged them. Some voters who insisted they were registered turned out not to be.

“We haven’t delivered on some sort of significant error or confusion,” he said.

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