PHOENIX, Arizona — The Latino who will now be responsible for conducting elections in one of the nation’s largest counties says he wants to boost confidence in the process.
With a population of 4.1 million residents, of whom 30 percent are Latino, Maricopa County is the fourth largest in the country.
Fontes' duties as Maricopa County recorder will include maintaining voter registration rolls for registered voters, ensuring that all national, state and countywide elections run smoothly, and providing support to cities during elections.
Purcell, a Republican, was first elected in 1988 and hadn’t faced a challenger for re-election before this year. She came under fire in March after her office reduced the number of polling places from 200 in the 2012 presidential preference election to just 60 in 2016. The reduction in polling places led to voters having to stand in line for hours. Some waited up to six hours to vote.
In March, Latino leaders raised concerns about voter suppression when areas with predominantly Latino populations had one or no polling places open during Arizona’s presidential preference election.
Fontes said Latinos were “very much underserved” during that election and said that under his watch “those sorts of circumstances will be very vigilantly avoided.”
Fontes said he wants to restore voters' trust and plans to start by working with community members to assure them that every vote will be counted. He also wants the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office to be “much more effective in sharing information” about voting and the elections.
“If you give folks the right time, the right place and the right information about the requirements for voting in a way that’s effective and easy to understand, there’s a much higher likelihood that they will vote,” Fontes said.
Fontes, a father of three, is a former prosecutor and a veteran who served in the Marine Corps from 1992 to 1996. He’s currently a private practice attorney, practicing civil and criminal law.
He was born in Nogales, Arizona, and says his family has deep roots in the state. They’ve been living in southern Arizona for the last 300 plus years, even before Arizona became a state.
Fontes could possibly be the first Latino to win a countywide position in Maricopa County, an indication that Latinos are making their growing presence felt.
This year, about 150,000 Latinos registered to vote, bringing the total number of Latino registered voters in Arizona to 710,000, the highest it has ever been in the state, according to the voter-registration group One Arizona.
It’s unclear how many Latinos voted in Arizona this year, because there are ballots left to be counted. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials projected that 433,000 Latinos would vote in Arizona this year.
At a special Arizona House Elections Committee hearing held after the March presidential preference election, Purcell took responsibility for the long lines and apologized for miscalculating how many voters would cast ballots at the polls.
Kevin Luera, a 25-year-old who attended the committee hearing, said he got in line to vote around noon and waited until about three o’clock to vote. “By the time I left, the line had grown,” he told NBC Latino.
Fontes said seeing the long lines “seemed so undemocratic to me.”
“It seemed so unnatural, based on what I expected out of my government, to watch citizens standing in line literally some of them for five to six hours,” he said. “That was not, in my mind, appropriate. And so that propelled me to make a decision to run.”
Just a few weeks after the long lines debacle, Purcell’s office made another mistake. Her office printed the wrong title for a proposition on the Spanish-language ballots that were mailed out for a special election in May.
In 2012, her office made similar mistakes. On two separate occasions, it sent out Spanish-language documents with the wrong election date.
Fontes says he wants to avoid making those errors. On election night, he told a crowd gathered at the Democratic watch party in downtown Phoenix that he wants to insure accountability within the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office and to make sure “people have access to the right information.”
“That’s what we need,” he said.