Maricopa County Recorder Agrees to Settlement with Voting Rights Group Over Access to Records

By Project Vote March 20, 2017

Project Vote and Maricopa County Recorder’s office announce agreement to ensure transparency of the voter registration process.

WASHINGTON, DC and PHOENIX, AZ — Today, voting rights group Project Vote, and the office of Adrian Fontes, Maricopa County Recorder, announced the amiable settlement of a lawsuit over fair access to voter registration records.

The lawsuit, which preceded Mr. Fontes’ election as Recorder, concerns how the County makes voter registration records available for public inspection. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) requires election officials to make voter registration records readily accessible, in order to encourage accountability, help identify and stop inaccurate voter list maintenance programs, and to educate voters on how to complete applications and remain on the rolls.

Following the 2012 election, Project Vote submitted a records request to Maricopa County, in order to ensure that eligible registrants had been fairly and accurately added to the voter rolls. The office of Helen Purcell, then Maricopa County’s Recorder, informed the voting rights group that the requested records would cost nearly $50,000. Project Vote encountered similar barriers to accessing and obtaining records from the Pima County Recorder and the Secretary of State’s office.

After several years of attempted negotiation—and after widespread complaints about registration and voting problems arose from the 2016 Arizona primary—Project Vote filed a lawsuit in April 2016 against the Maricopa County Recorder, as well as against the Pima County Recorder and Secretary of State Michelle Reagan, to ensure fair compliance with the NVRA. Project Vote is represented in this suit by the law firms of Ropes & Gray LLP, Kierman Law, and Sacks, Ricketts & Case LLP.

Today, Ms. Purcell’s successor, Mr. Fontes, has agreed to take steps to help restore faith in the democratic process, and ensure that election protection groups like Project Vote have fair and reasonable access to voter registration records of Maricopa County going forward.

“From the moment I was first briefed on this lawsuit I knew that we could work on a solution,” Fontes said. “I’m pleased that we could reach a responsible conclusion to this matter that not only protects our voters’ information, but will help bring more integrity and accountability to our system.”

“The transparency of the voter rolls is of vital importance, so that the public can trust that their election officials are using fair and non-discriminatory procedures for adding and removing voters from the rolls,” said Michelle Kanter Cohen, election counsel for Project Vote. “We congratulate Mr. Fontes on working with us to settle this case, and taking sensible action to ensure that Maricopa County’s voter registration policies are open and transparent.”

In the agreement reached today, Maricopa County agrees to make voter registration data—including information on failed and rejected applications—available to the public, with suitable provisions for withholding of confidential information. The agreement also establishes maximum fees for groups requesting copies of voter registration records in the future. The county also agreed to improve their compliance in keeping NVRA-covered records. This agreement is in effect for eight years, through the 2024 election cycle.

Though today’s agreement settles all claims against Maricopa County, the remainder of Project Vote’s lawsuit, against Pima County and the Arizona Secretary of State, remains ongoing.

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