Opinion: County officials adopt grim comedy routine on election

You can forget all about “Abbott and Costello…” ditto for “Martin and Lewis.”

A new comedy team with a familiar name has suddenly emerged in Arizona.

These days, Maricopa County residents are treated to the escapades of a real-life “Mutt and Jeff.” And unlike the original comic strip duo, this modern-day pair isn’t confined to the funny papers.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates and County Recorder Stephen Richer have made headlines in the aftermath of Election Day. Unfortunately for them, their act—or more accurately, their actions—are not receiving rave reviews.

Still, their “political performance art” played to a full house and a large internet audience during the supervisors’ “special meeting” Nov. 28.

Gates unwittingly affirmed the performance emphasis in his opening remarks, referring to the meeting agenda as a “run of show.” And what a show!

As pure entertainment, it fell somewhere between the efforts of earnest amateur thespians giving their all in a “community theatre” production and “open mic night” at a comedy club where most stand-up aspirants would be well-advised to remain seated.

The county’s lead players could be found in that latter category.

Our taxpayer-subsidized comedy team relies upon the maudlin schmaltz of mutual admiration.

With a presentation style reminiscent of “Mister Rogers,” Gates introduced Richter: “The Board is very grateful for your work, Stephen, and thanks so much for addressing us,”

Richer recited some specific numbers: 1.87 million ballots mailed to county voters; 1.3 million completed and returned, 290,000 of those dropped off at voting centers on Election Day and needing signature verification which was completed by Thursday afternoon; then the processing of those ballots, done by Sunday afternoon.

In other words, those early ballots dropped off on Nov. 8 – a record number for any election and almost 120,000 more than arrived on Election Day 2020—took until five days after Nov. 8 to be prepared for counting.

And left dangling in Richer’s account was this oratorical gem: “Over 100 people of all parties contributed to the signature verification process.”

That sounds mighty inclusive, but it is devoid of a key detail: what was the partisan composition of that signature checking group?

After expressing his 100 percent confidence “in the integrity and character of the people working the other half of the election operation,”— the Election Day balloting, so plagued with problems—Richer spread a heavy dose of verbal frosting on this slice of rhetorical flattery:

“That starts with Chairman Bill Gates, who has continued to lead, despite personally and probably going through personal hell.”

As for the majority of concerned citizens in attendance, Richer was disdainfully dismissive.

Saying the focus needed to be on “real issues,” the recorder characterized the grassroots skepticism as “conspiracy theories promoted on social media by people who know nothing,” drawing a loud, angry reaction from the crowd.

Once the recorder finished, the presiding officer made a pronouncement that was shockingly premature: “This election was run extremely well, as you pointed out,” Gates told Richer.

Despite a parade of eyewitnesses recounting mechanical problems with tabulators and printers, as well as a plethora of other Election Day problems, it was clear that this “public hearing” didn’t result in officials truly listening.

After 90-plus minutes of comments, concerned citizen Michelle Dillard summed it up: “This election is not certifiable…it was targeted voter suppression by the County, including elected officials with glaring conflicts of interest.”

Among the elected officials with “glaring conflicts?” The recorder and the chairman.

Richer started a dark money political action committee, “Democracy Republicans PAC,” targeting Trump-endorsed candidates; Gates spoke out publicly against those same GOP nominees, calling their primary victories a “catastrophe.” and telling Politico he hoped for Republican “humiliation at the ballot box.”

There’s humiliation all right, but it’s Gates and Richer who should be embarrassed – along with all the members of the Board of Supervisors, who voted unanimously to certify the 2022 election.

Mutt and Jeff may be smiling, but few voters in Maricopa County are laughing.