State officials call for federal funds to protect election systems, workers

From left, Maricopa County Supervisors Bill Gates and Jack Sellers and Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes spoke this week in Washington, where they stressed the need for federal support for local and state-run elections. (Photo by Ian McKinney/Cronkite News)

Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, right, with Maricopa County Supervisor Jack Sellers, said that while elections are a state and local function, they need federal support for what he called an “egregious unfunded mandate.” (Photo by Ian McKinney/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – The federal government provides funds to make sure bridges and dams don’t collapse – it should do the same for the nation’s elections, a bipartisan group of Arizona officials said this week.

The comments by Maricopa County Supervisors Bill Gates and Jack Sellers and Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes came at a National Association of Counties discussion on elections, which Fontes called “the most egregious unfunded mandate in the American political system, or any political system.”

“Just imagine that the federal government wasn’t paying for engineers for dams or safety inspectors for bridges or railroads. At some point, that core of federal employees … make sure we don’t have crashes and they make sure dams don’t break and entire communities don’t disappear,” Fontes said. “We don’t have that for election administrators.”

Fontes, a Democrat, and Republicans Sellers and Gates also agreed that funding is needed to provide security for election workers and voters in a time of unprecedented electoral tension. Recent elections in Arizona have seen gun-toting “observers” stationed at ballot drop boxes and elected officials – Gates among them – subjected to death threats.

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Gates said after the Monday discussion that election security is an issue he is “committed to because it’s so essential in our democracy.”

“We need to address this because, one, we could never want anyone to get hurt. Beyond that we need people to feel secure because if they feel secure, they’re going to take the time to work in elections, or two, vote,” Gates said.

“We don’t want people to be discouraged or disenfranchised in any way and that’s why I’m so grateful for the partnerships that we’ve had in Maricopa County with our sheriff and with our law enforcement,” he said.

Fontes, who previously served as Maricopa County recorder, noted that while states and local governments are largely responsible for elections, the federal government should play a larger role.

“This is federal work. We’ve always got federal candidates following federal rules using federal ballots, but we still don’t have any federal funding,” he said.

Fontes acknowledged that there are small amounts of federal funding available from the Help America Vote Act, which was passed in 2002 to help improve voting procedures following the 2000 election. But he called that funding “periodic and mostly insufficient,” noting that it is “subject to the political whim of Congress.”

“It is not sustained and it is also not sustainable. When you’re working on elections and you’ve got physical facilities, you’ve got professional workers … you’ve got electronic systems, network systems that have to be updated and improved constantly. You can’t budget for that if you don’t have money,” Fontes said.

All three Arizona officials agreed on the need for bipartisanship and transparency within the electoral process.

Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates, left, with Supervisor Jack Sellers said security for voters and election workers is vital because voting “is so essential in our democracy.” (Photo by Ian McKinney/Cronkite News)

“It’s important for people to know that we do have checks and balances and that we do have audits,” said Gates, adding that it is also important for people to know “that elections are not run by faceless bureaucrats, they’re run by Republicans and Democrats working together.”

“I thought it was important to be able to share some of our experiences and I thought it was important for folks to see Adrian Fontes, who is a Democrat, with Bill Gates and Jack Sellers who are Republicans, up there on the stage explaining how it’s run in a bipartisan fashion,” Gates said.

He said it is “unfortunate” that election discussions need to focus on security issues, but that “the threat, both real and perceived … is out there.”

Fontes and Gates both said that, despite some naysayers, the future of elections in Arizona is bright and they urged Arizonans to have confidence in the electoral process.

“We run really good elections in Arizona and across the entire country. The folks who want to see us come up short run really good storytelling,” Fontes said. “Their conspiracy theories have caught some folks and I hope that we can get back to reality-based and data-based decision-making so we don’t have to deal with this nonsense forever.”

Ian McKinney(he/him)
News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Ian McKinney expects to graduate in May 2026 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication. McKinney worked as a production intern for KJZZ’s “The Show.” He loves to try new things, is competitive and prides himself on helping other people succeed.