Maricopa County Panel Proposes Election Changes

By Bret Jaspers
Published: Tuesday, May 21, 2019 - 10:11am
Updated: Tuesday, May 21, 2019 - 11:05am
Paul Atkinson/KJZZ

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors is considering how to improve county elections in the wake of a rocky primary election day last August and a better-but-still-flawed general election in November.

A panel, called the Maricopa County Elections Work Group Report, outlined topline recommendations at a meeting on Monday. The group included staff members from around the county, including County Manager Joy Rich, Director of Elections Rey Valenzuela, and Mike McGee, the director of Internal Audit.

The group suggested creating two new positions to direct elections: One position, handling elections services and early voting, would report to the County Recorder. The other, in charge of Election Day and emergency voting, would report to both the Recorder and the Board of Supervisors.

Of that second position, Valerie Beckett, special assistant to the county manager, said, “this director would receive policy direction from the Recorder, while also reporting to the Board (of Supervisors). This director is responsible for keeping the Board apprised of (planning) and decisions insofar as how those may impact election activities assigned in statute to the Board.”

In the current structure — written into the county charter in 1978 — the Director of Elections is hired and fired by the County Recorder. Shared oversight over the Elections Department would require amending the county charter.

“The vision of this is, you have a person that’s going to be in place, but that person’s authority is going to be delineated by a new charter or memorandum of understanding with the County Recorder,” said Fields Moseley, spokesman for the Board.

The Board of Supervisors did not take any action at the meeting. “What today is really about is listening to this work group report and hearing their recommendations,” said Board Chairman Bill Gates.

Other recommendations included:

- doing an independent staffing analysis

- continuing to invest in SiteBooks, the tablet-based system for in-person voting

- buying new tabulation machines

The board will decide in the coming weeks on any next steps.

In a statement, County Recorder Adrian Fontes said, “At the end of the day, the main goal is finding a plan that is most beneficial to Maricopa County voters, and I'm encouraged all improvements will be at the benefit of the voters."

Susan Penner, with the League of Women Voters, thought the panel had worked hard and was generally positive about its recommendations, although she was not ready to comment on the proposed shared oversight of the Elections Department.

While confident the emails she sent through a county website were read, Penner would have preferred more community input.

“Not just this committee, but all committees, should have community members involved,” she said. “I thought that’s what was missing from all of this.”

Separately on Monday, the Board of Supervisors approved a draft budget of almost $2.6 billion for fiscal year 2020 that kept tax rates flat.