“The bipartisan odd couple banding together to fight election deniers in Arizona”


Election officials don’t normally draw standing-room-only crowds in basement music halls. But the noise around elections in Arizona is anything but normal right now.

Roughly 120 people crammed into Valley Bar — entering through the back alley, down a flight of stairs into a dimly-lit venue stuffed with rows of folding chairs — in early February to hear recently-elected Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, a Democrat, and Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican, debate proposals to change how the state votes and counts its ballots. Recent close elections in the state have seen top-of-the-ticket races uncalled for days, an issue they’re eager to address.

Even more surprising than Fontes and Richer drawing a crowd to discuss election administration amid local Super Bowl festivities and a major golf tournament is the fact the two men were sharing a stage at all.

It’s been little more than two years since they faced off in a bitter, acrimonious election, with Richer ultimately unseating then-Maricopa Recorder Fontes in November 2020 to become the chief election official for the country’s fourth-largest county. Richer was sharply critical of how Fontes was running the county office, alleging he was overextending the role beyond that of a neutral administrator.

But Richer voted for Fontes in 2022 to be secretary of state, he told POLITICO in an interview the day before the event. “If you would have told me that two years ago, I would have been very confused as to what had happened,” Richer said. “But then again, what’s happened over the last two years is very confusing to me, and is very exceptional.”

“What’s happened” is that Arizona became ground zero for conspiracy theories, mainly fed by former President Donald Trump and his allies, that a vast underground cabal was working to steal elections. Arizona was one of the handful of states where Trump unsuccessfully tried to overturn the results in 2020. But the movement has metastasized far beyond that — into a GOP-led review of Maricopa’s votes denounced by the Republican-controlled county board of supervisors, and then a Republican ticket in 2022 that largely subscribed to the “stolen election” mythology, including Mark Finchem, the GOP secretary of state nominee Fontes defeated. Those midterms saw resurfaced and unsubstantiated allegations of intentional malfeasance in elections, as well as a failed attempt by GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and others to get the results overturned.

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