By David Leibowitz
By 9 o’clock in the morning on Election Tuesday 2018, it was time to call it. Among all the candidates in the Valley, there already was a clear loser, and he wasn’t even on the ballot.
I’m talking about Adrian Fontes, the Maricopa County Recorder.
As I write this – 36 hours after the election with nearly a half-million ballots left to count in Arizona’s largest county – I’m actually starting to feel sorry for the guy.
See, being the recorder is one of those tough jobs that sounds easy. You record stuff. That’s the gig. Someone buys or sells a house, you record it. Someone satisfies a lien, you record it. According to Fontes’ 2017 annual report – which includes a full-page glamour shot of himself – the Recorder’s Office was on track to record about 1 million documents last year.
Then there’s elections.
Elections don’t occur frequently, but they’re the true measuring stick for recorders. If you keep the glitches to a minimum, keep the long lines at bay and count the ballots quickly, you’re golden.
Helen Purcell, Fontes’ predecessor, held the job for 29 years. She did a nice job, until the 2016 presidential primary. That was deemed a disaster, and Adrian Fontes won election that November.
Unfortunately for him, Fontes became recorder in the Yelp era. Today, everyone’s a critic. Everyone has access to a megaphone.
After a disastrous August primary that saw voters and reporters use social media to light up Fontes like a Christmas tree, all eyes were on the recorder Tuesday – which is exactly how he seems to like it.
If there was a media outlet that hasn’t hosted Fontes in the past 36 hours, don’t worry, he’ll get there today. And he’ll keep digging himself deeper into trouble.
Here’s Fontes on KTAR radio Wednesday: “We’ve got early votes in house from before Election Day that we did not get to tabulating because we were concentrating on being set up for Election Day in the number of just over a quarter million. So, 277,104 to be tabulated. Now those are actually going through the machines right now.”
I’m guessing this whole first Tuesday in November election thing must’ve sneaked up on Fontes.
When you throw in another 200,000 ballots requiring human handling – like signature verification and taking them out of the envelopes – Fontes has a lot of counting left to do. And even more talking.
It’s like the man is channeling his inner Joe Arpaio – he has not met a camera or a microphone he can avoid.
Describing an Election Day “systemwide hiccup” that caused the county’s system to bog down for a few minutes, Fontes boasted at a press conference: “One of the things that we are really impressed with is the speed with which we got to resolving the circumstances.”
At least someone’s impressed, right?
If Fontes would spend more time counting – faster – and less time explaining how much counting he has left to do, he would get the credit he so clearly believes he deserves.
He doesn’t seem to understand a key point: In 2018, the county recorder looks like a guy with an abacus in a digital world. Already this morning, I deposited a check by snapping a picture of it with my iPhone and ordered groceries via app. They’ll arrive from across town in an hour.
Meanwhile, Adrian Fontes woke up to a third day of interviews and counting sheets of paper.
If I was Fontes, I’d start getting ready now for Nov. 3, 2020. That’s Election Day 2020. And it’s almost certainly the last election this recorder will ever have to count.