Pima County Recorder Election Takes Shape


Photo courtesy Arizona Center for Empowerment

Campaigns for the 2020 election have shifted to an online focus in the era of social distancing. 

The Arizona Center for Empowerment helded a Facebook Live forum on May 14 for Democrat candidates Kim Challender and Gabriella Cázares-Kelly for Pima County Recorder. 

The third Democratic candidate, Consuelo Hernandez Hernandez, has suspended her campaign for recorder and filed paperwork at the end of March with the Pima County Elections Department to run for the Pima County Supervisors District 5 seat.

Kim Challender is the assistant chief deputy at the Pima County Recorder’s office where she has been for five years. Citing her role of working on county cyber security issues and hiring and training employees in her pitch to voters. The Recorder’s office has been working with the Department of Homeland Security among other federal agencies in the wake of Russian interference in the 2016 election with cyber security training for the recorder’s office employees. Challender has been endorsed by several local politicians including outgoing seven-term Pima County Recorder Ann Rodriguez and the National Organization of Women, Tucson Chapter.        

Gabriella Cázares-Kelly is a Pima Community College alumni who received a master’s in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University. She became an educator and co-founding Indivisible Tohono, an activism group focused on issues affecting the Tohono O’odham Nation. Cázares-Kelly has been endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America chapter in Tucson as well as the Pima Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO.    .

“The recorder is in charge of maintaining Pima County’s records, including real-estate records and voter registration records. In Pima County,” Challender said. “The recorder also sends out and verifies early ballots and has other election-related responsibilities.”

“A recorder is a political leader.” Cázares-Kelly said. “Someone who advocates for policies and procedures that make information most accessible to everyone.”

Kelly took an ideological position. 

Cázares-Kelly wants to adjust the role of the recorder, stating that she sees a lack of leadership in the position.

“We are often reacting to legislation but we’re not pushing for legislation,” Cázares-Kelly said.  We talk about things like internet infrastructure that might not be something that a lot of people associate with the recorder’s office. But if we’re not talking about it as is a leadership … and talking about the need to have internet infrastructure and have in rural communities and how it impacts our voter process and pushing that in the state legislature, we’re missing an opportunity.” 

And so I think that this position we have to stretch her imagination on what we believe can be done, because we are democratic and we need to fight for everybody. And until we’re doing that, we’re not representing all of our people.” 

Challender agrees that recorder’s need to communicate better what issues they are advocating for. She stressed that issues need to be non-partisan. 

Cázares-Kelly views her party as “fighting for everyone,” which includes opposing political parties. She cited the Green Party’s loss of recognized status in the state – a move that will keep its candidates off of the 2020 ballot and leaving its members to run as independents. 

The last Green candidate for governor, Angel Torres, fell short of 5% of the votes to get viability for the party in 2018, and the party failed to collect 31,686 signatures in December. 

“Shame on us,” Cázares-Kelly said. “For having that type of mentality that the Green Party if they are not going to have more than 5%, that they don’t deserve to be on the ballot. … That was definitely an injustice to our community members.”

“I don’t have to be an expert in all of these things.” Cázares-Kelly said. “ I simply have to allow and create a space of leadership that creates stakeholders and a space that our community can come together and really make sure that the services are available to everyone.”

Both candidates support expanding the state’s ability to accept electronic signatures for ballot initiatives on the state’s E-Qual website. Arizona presently accepts online voter signatures for state and federal candidates to be on the ballot, however, this isn’t extended to county candidates, school boards or initiatives. 

The Arizona Supreme Court earlier this month struck down a request by several campaigns to extend the ability to collect signatures to qualify for the ballot. At the center of the case was the wording in the state’s constitution that initiative petitions need to be collected by a person. The 6-1 decision led to several initiatives suspending their efforts, such as Arizonans for Fair Elections, which was seeking great regulation of lobbyists.       

The pandemic was at the forefront of the evening. Both candidates voiced their support of sending every voter a ballot by mail. Both also voiced their view that traditional polling stations still would be needed in the fall, citing accessibility issues for residents lacking street addresses or who require language or other material assistance in filling out their ballots.

The March 17 Presidential Preference Election was discussed as well. Cázares-Kelly stated that she thought drop boxes for ballots and mailing all voters a ballot and providing education on that process would have been impactful and may have resulted in a different outcome that saw Joe Biden defeat Bernie Sanders by 11.5%.

“We did put people in harm’s way by having the election when we did,” Challender said. “ I would need to fight as hard as possible to have moved the election because it just wasn’t safe.” 

The Arizona Center for Empowerment will have a second forum between the candidates on May 26 at 6 p.m. on Facebook Live covering “Vulnerable Populations and Access in Pima County.”

The primary election between Challender and Cázares-Kelly takes place on Aug. 4 with the deadline to register to vote on July 6. The Democrat nominee will be running against the sole Republican candidate running for County Recorder, Benny White, in the Nov. 3 general election.