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Meet Arizona’s Frontline Warriors for Democracy

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Adrian Fontes and Gabriella Cázares-Kelly

For more than a year, CWA Next Generation has put a spotlight on voter education and registration. Along with passing the PRO Act and organizing more young workers in all sectors of the economy, protecting voting rights is one of our biggest priorities.

At our online workshops, we’ve had a chance to welcome some amazing guests to share their experiences and inspire us to keep up the fight to protect and expand access to voting. With all the news lately about the review of election results in Arizona, I’ve been thinking about two Arizona voting rights activists who joined our virtual conversations and made a big impression on all of us.

In case you haven’t heard the latest, here’s a quick update:

In Arizona, for the past 6 months a private group funded by pro-Trump organizations spent almost $6 million to “audit” the election results in Maricopa County. They thought they’d find lots of evidence of so-called voter fraud, fake ballots, and miscounts. They were sure they’d uncover clear evidence that Joe Biden and Sen. Mark Kelly had actually lost the county — and therefore, lost the state, because Maricopa is by far the largest county in Arizona. Instead, they found out that both Biden and Kelly won fair and square — and by a few more votes than had originally been counted.

Adrian Fontes Says Young Voters Matter

The audit was an insult to the dedicated election officials who spent so much time and effort to run fair elections in 2020. One of those folks is Adrian Fontes, the former Maricopa County Recorder.

Adrian Fontes is currently running for Arizona Secretary of State.

County Recorders are the officials who work every day to make sure voter registration and elections run smoothly. They care deeply about democracy and have years of experience in the trenches in their communities, so they want to do right by everyone.

Adrian, a former U.S. marine who is now running for Arizona Secretary of State, joined us in a workshop last summer and explained why he cares about energizing and inspiring young people to get involved:

Young voters are the key to the future. That’s why some want to make it so hard for them, trying to discourage them. Gen Z, if your vote didn’t matter, they wouldn’t be afraid that you might use it.

Show them your power. Register and vote! . . . If good, smart, passionate, motivated people stay out of public service, we end up with people who do not have the best interests of our communities in mind.

Gabriella Cázares-Kelly Is Taking Down Barriers

Gabriella Cázares-Kelly is one of those good, smart, passionate, and highly motivated people Adrian is talking about.

Gabriella Cázares-Kelly was elected Pima County Recorder in 2020.

Gabriella is a member of the Tohono O’odham community, a union member, educator, and long-time social justice warrior. When she spoke with our CWA Next Gen members back in September 2020, she was running for Pima County Recorder, a position that she won in November. In fact, an unprecedented 11 Native American candidates won election in Arizona in 2020. Gabriella told us Native Americans did not have the right to vote in Arizona until 1948. More than 70 years later, like many others, they still face big obstacles:

We are in a crisis right now, not just in the Native American community, but throughout the country. . . . We have a constant conversation about where are the Native Americans? Where are the Latinos? Where are the young people? We have to acknowledge that not only are we not including people, we are also creating barriers to participation in democracy.

Gabriella sees a lot of barriers to election participation for her union brothers and sisters and working people in general. In 2021, a huge number of new state laws across the nation are making it harder to vote, effectively suppressing the votes of BIPOC, working-class, poor, senior, and disabled citizens. As County Recorder, Gabriella says she has a responsibility to respond to the needs of historically disenfranchised communities and is working to make voting easier for everyone.

CWA Next Gen supports greater access to voting and legislation that protects the right to vote at the state and national levels. Two pieces of voting rights legislation that are stalled in Congress right now need urgent attention: The John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act.

You can make your voice heard by voting, volunteering to help register voters, or getting out the vote in your community. You can also let your U.S. Senators know you support the Freedom to Vote Act and other pro-democracy legislation.

About the Author: Carissa Hahn is an Executive Vice-President for CWA Local 37083 in Greater-Seattle, WA. She also coordinates the Legislative and Political program in Washington State and is the District 7 Lead Activist for CWA NextGeneration.