Maricopa County has reported that more than 855,000 of its nearly 2.5 million voters cast ballots in the Aug. 2, 2022 Primary Election. Roughly 14,000 of those ballots were still in the pre-tabulation process as of Saturday, including 7,500 which were awaiting curing by voters no later than 5 p.m. on Aug. 9.
On Saturday, representatives of the political parties in Maricopa County completed a state-mandated hand count audit of four contests (including governor and U.S. senator) on 5,000 early ballots as well as ballots cast at five randomly selected voting centers.
With the hand count finished, there should be no problem completing the canvass of Maricopa County’s election results by the Aug. 12 statutory deadline. Canvassing is the act of officially certifying the election results, and is expected to be uneventful for the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
The same cannot be said for Pinal County, which fired its Elections Director within hours of the polls closing. There is a possibility that legal action stemming from multiple problems could keep Pinal County’s board of supervisors from being able to do its canvass by the deadline.
As AZ Free News previously reported, Pinal County administers municipal elections for its 11 incorporated cities and towns. Due to “human error,” roughly 63,000 of the county’s 275,000 registered voters received incorrect early voting ballots last month.
Elections Director David Frisk accepted responsibility for the fact thousands of voters in Apache Junction, Casa Grande, Eloy, Mammoth, Maricopa, Queen Creek, and Superior received ballots without local races listed. Several thousand other voters who lived in unincorporated communities were incorrectly sent ballots which listing municipal races they were not eligible to vote in.
(Parts of Apache Junction and Queen Creek are in Maricopa County which reported no problems getting the correct ballots to its voters.)
Frisk and Pinal County officials assured the public the mistake could be resolved by not counting votes in mayor and council races if cast by non-municipal residents. The county then sent out supplemental ballots to affected municipal residents to use in additional to their original ballot which included federal, state, and legislative contests.
Yet just when county officials thought they had the early ballot snafu handled, reports began circulating the morning of Election Day that two of Pinal County’s 90+ polling stations did not open at 6 a.m. as required.
Those two locations were finally opened by 10 a.m., but by then Frisk and his staff were overwhelmed with reports that more than two dozen polling stations ran out of preprinted ballots. The ballot supply was also a responsibility which fell on Frisk, who was hired by the board of supervisors earlier this year with no experience in Arizona election laws or procedures
As Frisk was being fired, Pinal County Recorder Virginia Ross quit her elected position on Thursday and accepted an appointment as Elections Director, a responsibility she previously had as Recorder from 2013 to 2017 before a new Elections Director position was created going into the 2018 election cycle.
Ross’s shuffling of jobs created a vacancy in the elected office of County Recorder, which the county board of supervisors filled Friday by appointing Deputy County Recorder Dana Lewis to serve out Ross’ term through the end of 2024. Lewis previously worked in the Elections Department before Frisk was hired.
County officials then regrouped with their new leadership and announced plans to update elections results every night around 7:30 p.m. “including over the weekend” until all valid ballots were tabulated. And in a major announcement, the county publicly confirmed rumors of an ongoing problem in trying to process about 10,000 early ballots.
The problem also prevented a large number of voters from being able to track their ballot’s status online. But just hours after taking over their new roles, Ross and Lewis were able to fix the problem with assistance from the Pinal County IT team so those affected ballots could get tabulated.
The only other reported Election Day problem came out of Cochise County, where a few dozen people claimed that when they signed in to vote they were listed as previously signing in.
The problem appears to stem from the fact the poll workers and election observers signed in during a recent training session to understand how the system worked. The voting database was not purged by the Elections Department staff before official in-person voting began.
Some voters reportedly were given provisional ballots to cast while others were allowed to vote once the error was realized.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Pinal County shared that the secretary of state’s office supplied them with a faulty formula that led to Tuesday’s ballot shortage across about 25 voting precincts. The county implied that unique voter behavior phenomena exacerbated weaknesses in the formula that caused the shortage.
Pinal County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey McClure and Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer spoke on behalf of the county to address the issue.
Volkmer said that the secretary of state’s office attempts to help counties with a formula to project in-person voter turnout. However, he said that didn’t help in this election due to reports of a substantial number of voters spoiling their mail-in ballots in order to vote in-person, an increased number of “independent” voters requesting Republican ballots rather than Democrat ballots, and a 10 percent population increase since the last election.
“Quite frankly, we underestimated. That’s what happened. There were more people that showed up than we thought were going to show up,” said Volkmer.
Volkmer added that the process of estimating in-person ballots was guesswork, attributing the election night fiasco to “human error” and “training errors.”
“Every elected official is embarrassed about what happened,” said Volkmer.
Unlike Volkmer, McClure couldn’t speak to why the ballot shortage occurred.
McClure said that he wasn’t “entirely sure” how the ballot shortage happened. The county’s elections director, David Frisk, is tasked with ordering the proper number of ballots. McClure relayed that Frisk would likely be removed from his position over this “major screw-up.” However, as one reporter pointed out, Frisk was still overseeing primary election ballot counting, which continued after Tuesday. McClure assured the reporter that the county has “lots of eyes,” implying that they were watching Frisk at work.
Volkmer said that approximately 2.5 percent of ballots were impacted potentially, or about 750 votes. However, the county attorney said that was an estimated guess at best. Of the over 900 ballot types at 95 active polling locations, there were 25 types that either ran low or ran out. Volkmer added that the county’s reporting system for election issues doesn’t allow for differentiation between shortages and total depletion.
“We can’t tell you the exact number [of precincts] that ran out,” said Volkmer. “The actual number of people impacted, we have no way to purely assess. It would be speculation for us to guess the number of people, we can only base it on feedback.”
The county attorney said that just under 300,000 voters were notified of these shortages through their notification systems. Volkmer said a redo of the election wasn’t possible without court intervention.
State Senator Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) informed McClure and Volkmer that ballots never came for a number of constituents attempting to vote for her. Townsend, who lost Tuesday to State Senator Wendy Rogers (R-Flagstaff) by about 5,000 votes, clarified that she was at peace with the election results.
Townsend asserted that her voters were disenfranchised because they came in the afternoon rather than the morning. She suggested an injunction for those who never got to cast their votes.
“This election has been so flawed and has Fourteenth Amendment issues. How can we proceed forward and say, ‘Oh well, sorry guys’?” asked Townsend.
Volkmer said there was nothing they could do, but reiterated that voters who remained in line were given the opportunity to vote.
State Representative Neal Carter (R-Queen Creek) notified Volkmer and McClure that he attempted to file an injunction on Tuesday as soon as he heard about the ballot shortage. The court system is still processing the injunction.
Volkmer assured Carter that the county attempted to print ballots at a faster pace, but that their machinery was too antiquated to print quickly.
On Thursday, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs issued an indirect response to Volkmer’s press conference remarks. Hobbs made it clear that counties hold sole responsibility for determining ballot numbers.
“Counties are responsible for calculating how many ballots to order. Under Arizona law, counties should review their voter registration statistics by precinct and party (for the Primary) to determine how many ballots to order,” tweeted Hobbs. “The Secretary of State determines which candidates and issues qualify for the ballot at the federal, state, and legislative level.”
While Pinal County was struggling with their ballot shortage, Hobbs attended her victory party for her gubernatorial campaign.
On the night of the election, the county attributed the shortage to “unprecedented demand.” They assured voters that they would be eligible to vote so long as they were physically in line by 7 pm.
Pinal County encountered a serious issue with its elections last month as well. The county mailed about 63,000 erroneous ballots, which they resolved by sending supplemental, or “Municipal Only,” ballots. Voters were required to use their original ballot to vote on federal, state, and legislative contests, then use the supplemental ballot to vote on races absent from the original ballot.
Similar to the county’s apologies about the ballot shortage, Frisk attributed the tens of thousands of erroneous ballots to “human errors.”