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New Maricopa County elections chief Adrian Fontes lays out goals

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PHOENIX — Maricopa County’s recorder-elect wants to bring on more resources to prevent long lines at the polls in the future.

Democrat Adrian Fontes defeated incumbent Republican Helen Purcell by a narrow margin in the recorder’s race. She had served in that position since 1988.

For Fontes, this is his first time holding public office. He said a lack of resources caused voters to wait in line for several hours during March’s presidential preference election. The county reduced the number of polling places to 60 in a cost-saving measure.

“You can’t do democracy on the cheap because this is what you get,” Fontes said. “That’s just not fair. It’s not fair to the voters.”

Fontes, who spent time in the U.S. Marine Corps and has run his own law firm, said the recorder’s office will likely need a budget increase. He said his office will spend dollars smartly, adding that extra resources will only benefit the county’s voters.

“A lot of other jurisdictions around the country have lots and lots of voters like we do, and they don’t have anywhere near the problems that we have,” Fontes said. “Maybe there [are] other ways to do this and maybe they’re not super expensive.”

Some voters who cast an early ballot in person for this most recent general election also had to wait in line. Fontes explained that even though the recorder’s office opened more early voting locations for 2016, the office didn’t increase the number of electronic poll books and printers to get ballots to voters. That is one reason he wants to look at the office’s available resources.

“Just by opening up new locations doesn’t mean the lines are going to get any shorter, it just means they’re going to have more places where there are longer lines,” Fontes said.

Fontes also stated that the recorder’s office needs to count ballots at a quicker pace. The recorder’s office is still counting early ballots over a week after the election.

“There’s no reason this stuff should take so long, except for the fact that some people don’t want to work at night,” Fontes said. “There’s a lot of people out there who’d like to come in, get some solid training and pull a couple of extra shifts.”

Earlier this week, the Arizona Democratic Party called on the county recorder’s office to verify questionable signatures on early ballots that were turned in on Election Day.

While the county recorder’s office reached out to validate signatures for ballots mailed in prior to the election, a spokeswoman said their responsibility of contacting voters ended at 7 p.m. on election night. Fontes said the recorder’s office should make heroic efforts to make sure votes are counted.

“That, to me, is a real problem that the office is kicking votes out without really trying to keep the votes in,” Fontes said. “This is the voice of the citizen.”

Fontes said the recorder’s office needs to be nonpartisan and the recorder should serve like an umpire. He commended Purcell for being helpful to all sides during her time as recorder.

Fontes insisted that one thing he wants to focus on is voter outreach, and make sure voters have all the essential information they need. He plans to communicate with the public through all different types of media.

“We should be doing more to make it easier for people to vote. We shouldn’t be doing more to make it harder for people to vote,” Fontes said.

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