On the morning of March 23rd, one of my children could see I was visibly upset and asked me what was wrong. My answer was deflection of the question because I was so embarrassed about the state of our Democracy. I am a parent who regularly tells my children we live in the greatest democracy in the world, and I want them to believe me. But at that moment, I had a hard time believing it myself because of what our elections had become, and what I had witnessed the day prior.
So I decided to do something about it. I decided to run for Maricopa County Recorder.
This is my personal story from March 22. I vow to do everything in my power to ensure this democracy, OUR democracy, is protected.
I was volunteering for one of the presidential campaigns, when we started receiving reports of unusually long lines at several polling sites. This was unusual, because it wasn’t yet lunchtime, yet the wait time in line and to vote was already an hour and a half long.
As the day progressed, the lines continued to grow longer and longer. The reports of voters being turned away, lack of parking, people needing to go back to work, and a host of other problems kept coming in. At one point that afternoon, as the only lawyer working at headquarters, I found myself on the phone with the national campaign answering questions and coordinating responses to a worsening situation. ...which would only get worse.
Reports of two separate lines of cars on the street to one polling station, each extending half a mile surfaced. Inadequate parking to where a voter was hit by a vehicle because they had to walk across a major road was reported. On two different occasions we heard elderly people had fainted while waiting in line. And then there were the people couldn’t wait in line because they simply couldn’t afford to. This...is a poll tax.
Early in the evening, in spite of the thousands, if not tens of thousands of voters still in line, one of the races was called by the media, further disenfranchising those who had stood in line for hours and had not yet cast their ballots. Then, to add insult to injury, thousands of voters were turned away after waiting 5+ hours and were flatly told, “your vote won’t count.”
While continuing to field calls about all of the above, we heard a report of a very heavy police presence at one of the polling stations on Thomas Road in Phoenix. A colleague and I raced over as legal observers to witness what was taking place. What we saw defied my vision of democratic elections, as several police officers seemed to be huddled around the voters in different locations, and nearly a dozen police cruisers and SUVs stood by . I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Was THIS what our democracy had become?
We encouraged voters to stay in line to exercise their right to vote. Thankfully, many voters were determined. After hours and hours of standing in the sun and long into the night, they stayed. Many people began ordering pizzas and bonds were formed. Even though they knew people were being turned away, they stayed. With buckling legs and exhaustion after working all day, they stayed. The dedication of these people to cast their ballot and protect their own democracy -- OUR democracy --was incredible.
Social media was blowing up. People were asking “What can we do?” These questions lingered long into the evening and were reflected in the faces of voters, American Citizens who just wanted to vote.
I will always remember March 22nd. I will never forget the frustrated and tired faces. The moms, the elderly, the disabled, the stories… These faces and stories will be my own driving force to make much-needed improvements when I am elected Maricopa County Recorder. From ensuring we have adequate funding and number of polling places, to saving the office millions of dollars by not mailing out ballots with mistakes. I can and will do a better job.
Please help me protect democracy. #ElectFontes