AZ SoS Request Highlights Dispute With Counties Over Registration Databases

[Screenshot image via AZCentral]

Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan is asking the state Attorney General for guidance on an emerging dispute with two of the state’s largest counties over the question of access to the state’s voter registration databases. AZCentral has more:

The rocky relations between Secretary of State Michele Reagan and Arizona’s county recorders continue.

The flash point: Voter registration.

Last fall, and again in early February, her office tapped into the voter-registration databases run by Maricopa and Pima counties. The two large counties were perplexed — and more than a little peeved.

They said this had not happened since a test on the system in 2010. Plus, Reagan should have forwarded whatever request for information her office was researching to them, instead of just logging in, Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes and Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez said.

And to add insult to injury, they complained they couldn’t get answers on why Reagan’s office was, in their view, snooping in their data.

When asked about this by The Arizona Republic, Reagan was livid. She said her office was responding to a request for information from Project Vote, which has sued the state and county elections officials over access to voter-registration lists. And, she added, as secretary of state, she has the right to deal with voter-registration information.

In an apparent effort to justify accessing the data, SoS Reagan has asked the AG for his opinion on several questions:

In March, [Reagan] asked the Attorney General’s office for a a legal opinion about who can access different types of data, noting conflicting standards in federal and state laws … 

She posed a number of questions, among them whether counties can maintain separate databases and whether her office is allowed to decline to respond to public-records requests and subpoenas.

From her request: “Does federal and state law allow Arizona counties to maintain a separate, county-based voter registration system?”

Not surprisingly, the counties – who learned about the request a few weeks later – are not happy:

Rodriguez, in a response to Reagan dated Thursday, said that request amounted to a legal challenge to the counties’ right to operate registration systems that they have run for years. She wrote she was “shocked and concerned” that Reagan would request a legal opinion without first notifying the two large counties and “without remotely understanding the history of why Pima County has its own voter registration database…”

Reagan notified the recorders of her request for the legal opinion, writing she was doing so “in an ongoing commitment to improve communication and build a better working relationship between our offices.”

But it took a little time to work toward that better relationship. Her letter to the recorders was dated April 4, two weeks after she sent her AG request.

“Great communication,” sniffed Rodriguez.

On one hand, this issue is a classic case of the balance between so-called “top-down” and “bottom-up” voter registration databases, which have been a source of uncertainty ever since federal law (HAVA) required such databases in 2002. But on the other hand, the bigger issue here is the degree to which, and how well, state and local officials are working together on election administration matters – and the current news suggests the answers are not much and not well.

The article notes that there is no timetable for a response from the AG – and no clarity on what happens after any opinion is returned. In the meantime, it appears that state and local officials in Arizona have a long way to go to improving the working relationship and mutual trust, which will have to happen regardless of what the AG does or says.

Stay tuned …


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