(Note: This story comes from the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting through a Creative Commons license. AZCIR is a nonprofit investigative newsroom.)
Arizona’s 15 county recorders this week delivered a letter to Secretary of State Michele Reagan in which they said communication between their offices and hers are “in a dire state” because state Election Director Eric Spencer has been “ineffective and disrespectful.”
The county recorders said in the Jan. 23 letter that Spencer has been verbally abusive, “rude” and “dismissive” of questions posed to him by the recorders and their staffs. In one instance, they wrote, Spencer said the recorders were “incompetent,” and that he has refused to answer “questions of critical importance posed by those same elections officials.”
The recorders also said Spencer has neglected statutory obligations and created legal and ethical conflicts with his demands that recorders remove voters from registration rolls.
The recorders demanded that their communications with Reagan’s office moving forward not only be “conducted with respect and professionalism,” but also include Reagan herself.
Secretary of State spokesman Matt Roberts said that, after Reagan received the letter, she spoke on the phone with Coconino County Recorder Patty Hansen, the president of the Arizona County Recorders Association, and that Reagan is encouraged by their conversation.
“(Reagan) is going to communicate with all of the county recorders, as she has in the past,” Roberts said. “And she’s excited about the opportunities we have in 2017 to work together with the recorders, as she always has.”
Hansen said the phone call left her optimistic.
“What we’re going to do is, the officers of the association are going to try to set up a time to meet with Secretary Reagan, to sit down with her and her staff members to see how we move forward,” she said.
Hansen said demands to purge voters from voter files came up during a meeting of the county recorders.
Roberts declined to comment about the letter’s description of demands to remove voters from the rolls.
“We will let the authors of the letter address that,” he said.
Sadie Bingham, the Gila County Recorder, said the Secretary of State’s office sent her office a list of voters, with instructions to remove them from the voter rolls, but that the request did not include the reason for removal. Bingham said such requests aren’t uncommon, but that they are legally required to come with a reason, such as re-registering in a new state.
When Bingham saw the purge list, but no justification, she called the Secretary of State’s Office to ask for proper documentation.
“Eric (Spencer) got on the phone and said, ‘I don’t care. It came from the Secretary of
State’s Office. This is what we’re telling you to do,’” Bingham said. “I looked at my general counsel, because he was in the room, and we were both kind of taken aback.”
Bingham said that, after inspecting the list again, she recognized a name.
“I know her personally. She’s a volleyball coach, who works with the kids here,” Bingham said.
Bingham said she didn’t see a reason the woman should be purged, so she called the Secretary of State’s Office a second time.
“Eric got on the phone with us again. He said, ‘I don’t see what the big deal is, why can’t you just cancel them?’” Bingham said.
Bingham said she tried a third time, telling the Secretary of State’s Office that she would not remove the voters without proper documentation, and that she did not receive any follow-up.
“So, I haven’t cancelled them,” Bingham said. “I wouldn’t do that.”
AZCIR has filed a public records request for the list of voters the Secretary of State’s Office requested Gila County purge from its rolls. Bingham said she is working to fulfill the records request.