Recorder’s Office settlement with Project Vote could show voters who were kicked off rolls

By Arizona Republic March 22, 2017

Rebekah L. Sanders, The Arizona Republic

A settlement between the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office and a national voting-rights group could shine a light on how voters are removed from voting rolls across Greater Phoenix.

The Recorder’s Office will turn over an electronic list of more than 2 million voter registrations to Project Vote, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan group.

The organization last year sued the county after receiving a bill for $50,000 from the previous county recorder to obtain the data, even though political parties get the same information for free, as required by law.

Project Vote is interested, in part, in people who have been removed from the voter rolls or denied voter registration. The group’s mission includes “confirm(ing) that applicants in underrepresented constituencies are properly added to, and not improperly removed from, the voter rolls.”

The released information will include the name, address, birth year, phone number, ethnicity and party identification of each registered voter. The records show the elections in which voters participated, though their vote remains confidential, as well as whether voter registrations are active or have been rejected.

Project Vote attorney Michelle Kanter Cohen applauded the agreement, announced this week.

“Transparency promotes accountability, and it really allows organizations like ours to make sure that election officials are executing their responsibilities in a way that is fair to all voter registration applicants,” she said.

New Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, after being briefed on the lawsuit when he took office in January, agreed to reduce the fee to a few hundred dollars for Project Vote.

“It didn’t make sense a non-profit wanting to do research would get charged $50,000,” said Fontes, a Democrat who ousted longtime GOP Recorder Helen Purcell last year.

The settlement also will allow other members of the public to receive the same amount of records for a similar fee.

The settlement brings “integrity and accountability” to the election system and ends a costly legal battle, Fontes said.

“Coordinating public records information requests is not a burden,” he said. “Folks who characterize it as a burden probably forget this information belongs to the public, not the officeholder.”

The Recorder’s Office agreed in the settlement to provide information about voters the county has reviewed as part of the Interstate Crosscheck Program. That’s a database used by 27 states to clean up rolls when voters move or die.

A rural Arizona county recorder earlier this year accused the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office of ordering her to remove legitimate voters from the rolls without reason.

The majority of voter registration information is a public record under state and federal laws.

But recorders are allowed to charge an expensive fee to anyone — except political parties — for full databases under Arizona law.

Meanwhile, Project Vote will continue its lawsuit against Pima County and the Arizona secretary of state for voter registration data.