Adrian Fontes, the Maricopa County, Arizona elections director who this week said as many as 58,000 eligible voters may have had their registrations unfairly blocked, has lowered his estimate to 17,000.
Still, Fontes’s effort to register as many of the would-be voters as possible has picked up support from an important and surprising source.
As we reported Tuesday, Fontes, a Democrat who took over as the elections director for Arizona’s largest county in January, said he found boxes in a warehouse filled with about 100,000 unprocessed voter registration forms. The applicants had failed to submit documentary proof of citizenship when using the state-issued registration form, as required by Proposition 200, a controversial 2004 law passed by voters.
Fontes initially said that when his office checked a random sample of the applications against citizenship records kept by the motor vehicles department, around 58 percent of applicants were found to be citizens, meaning around 58,000 voters might have been disenfranchised.
On Wednesday, he revised that estimate to 17,000, telling The Arizona Republic, which has covered this story closely, that about 44,000 of the applicants successfully registered later, and that other applications had too little information to be processed anyway.
But the bigger issue going forward is Fontes’s bid to fix the problem by having his office actively research the citizenship of applicants who don’t provide proof of citizenship, and add them to the rolls if such proof can be found.
That effort, already underway, has caused controversy among supporters of Prop 200, who claim Fontes is exceeding his legal authority. But Tom Horne, a Republican former Arizona attorney general who defended Prop 200 before the Supreme Court and wrote a 2013 advisory opinion that interpreted it strictly, said he sees nothing wrong with what Fontes is doing.
“Sounds reasonable to me,” Horne told the Republic. “The point was to prevent non-citizens from voting. If the recorder chooses to check to see if they are a citizen, I think the purpose of the statute is fulfilled. I don’t think anyone wants a citizen denied the right to vote.”
That might be too charitable.
“If they want to vote, then they can provide the correct information,” Randy Pullen, a former chair of the Arizona GOP who led the campaign for the 2004 law, told the paper. “It’s pretty clear it’s not the responsibility of a county recorder or the state to research and find out whether or not someone is a citizen.”
“Why don’t we research everybody?” Pullen continued. “We can go through all the [motor vehicles department] records and if they’re not registered to vote, why don’t we register them to vote?”
To Pullen, that’s an absurd idea that points up the outrageousness of Fontes’s approach. In fact, six states including California have adopted versions of this policy, by automatically registering eligible voters when they come in contact with the DMV, with few reported problems so far.
Pullen predicted courts would block Fontes’s efforts to register voters. But Fontes said what he’s doing is perfectly legal.
“I’m doing exactly what I should be doing,” he told the Republic. “And that’s enabling U.S. citizens to vote.”