Yuma County Recorder Robyn Pouquette sent an email on Sunday Sept. 20th to the Office of the Governor, citing concerns about Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ new voting guidelines.
Pouqette made clear that “security and integrity remain [his] concern,” and that he does “not feel [he is] able to accommodate any such requests for the recommended procedures.”
The first cause for concern for the Recorder’s Office was Hobbs’ new guidelines on virtual voter registration assistance. The Secretary of State’s Office outlined that should an Arizona resident seek guidance on voter registration, they would be able to call a video-conference hotline managed by the Secretary’s Office.
Recorder Douquette stated that: “if online registration was unavailable to the prospective voter and time did not permit mailing of a voter registration form to the voter and ample time for it’s return, staff would offer to register the voter “telephonically” and return a form to the appropriate county absent a voter signature but with a staff signature as “voter assistant”.”
This was worrying for the Recorder on two grounds. Firstly, he was “extremely concerned” that this specific policy by the Secretary’s office is outside their authority under law, considering that the individual may not specifically assent to the employee filing a voter registration form as their “voter assistant.”
Pouquette was also concerned that a prospective voter wouldn’t have to be personally present, and that this process could be initiated with too much “ease”.
Ducey and Hobbs quarrel
Following the issuance of this letter to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s office the Governor forwarded these concerns to Secretary Hobbs.
Among other issues, the letter states that the acceptance of voter registration forms without physical submission is not allowed under state law (he cited A.R.S. § 16-549(C) and the 2019 Arizona Election Manual).
A.R.S § 16-549(C) states that “The ballot shall be delivered to the elector in person by a special election board as provided in this section.”
Sympathizing with the Secretary’s intent of adapting to COVID-19, Ducey said that things have changed and that the state should adapt, “but at no point in addressing these challenges should we disregard laws, policies, and procedures that exist to protect the integrity of our election systems.”
Hobbs responded, saying that Recorder Pouquette misunderstood her original guidelines, and that “You can rest assured that no one is being registered telephonically without submitting a complete voter registration form.”
She went further, saying that “The commitment of elections officials to uphold our constitution and laws is certainly crucial to the integrity of our elections… [b]ut the integrity of our elections requires a deeper commitment from elections officials: a commitment to maximize the enfranchisement of voters and to facilitate and ease the process of voting within the contours or our constitution and laws.”
Hobbs proceeded to outline that Arizona Department of Health (ADHS) officials had informed her rule changes.
Ducey responded quickly: “The responsibility of election officials to uphold our constitution and laws is not only a crucial responsibility, it should stand as the final test on whether changes to our election policies and procedures are appropriate — no exceptions.”
As to her point on support from ADHS officials and experts, the Governor asserted that her characterization of the cooperation between the Ducey Administration and her office was “simply not… accurate.” He went on to thank health officials and public health experts for their service during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Elections in the age of COVID
As elections experts across the nation prepare for November, many are struggling to adapt to the realities of the Coronavirus.
These tensions have naturally strained courts, statewide leaders, and elections officials both internally and externally.
The rapid expansion of mail-in voting across the United States is also exposing the importance of offices once viewed as minor. Maricopa County’s race for Recorder is heating up as the incumbent, Adrian Fontes, continually wages legal battles to expand voting options. Republican candidate Stephen Richer stated that “Anyone who complained about Joe Arpaio thinking he was above the law should be complaining about Adrian Fontes.”