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Pinal County Election Debacle Shows Election Officials Have Much to Learn Before November


Pinal County, Arizona, election officials have a lot to learn before November. 

In July, nearly 63,000 incorrect ballots were sent out to voters missing local municipal races due to “human error.” 

On Tuesday, about 25 percent of the county’s 95 precincts ran out of ballots or reported they were running low, with local anecdotal reports suggesting many of the shortages affected Republican ballots. Per Gina Swoboda, Executive Director at the Voter Reference Foundation, one polling location ran out of ballots within half an hour. Blame it on human error, again, as elections officials significantly undercounted the number of voters coming to the polls. 

“What happened on Tuesday was historic Republican turnout in a primary, but you still shouldn’t have run out of ballots within a couple of hours,” Swoboda said. 

According to Swoboda, Pinal County election officials should’ve known more Republicans would be coming to the polls on Election Day because Republicans were not sending in their mail ballots for early voting, meaning they were intending to vote in person. 

“It was clear to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to what’s happening in Arizona is that Republicans were going to vote in person on Election Day,” Swoboda said. 

Pinal County’s ballot estimates were based on turnout from previous election cycles and were completely surpassed on Tuesday, with surges of GOP voters coming to the polls in person. 

“The best practice is to have the number of ballots for the number of registered voters plus 10 percent,” Swoboda said — a strategy election officials failed to implement. 

Due to the ballot shortages, voters experienced long lines and wait times. Some were turned away and told to come back after more ballots were printed. According to County Attorney Kent Volkmer, “up to 750 people were affected” by the delays. Volkmer doesn’t know how many people left polling locations without casting votes. 

“Without a doubt, voters were disenfranchised in Pinal County,” Swoboda said. “If you’re going to promote vote by mail, then election administrators must watch early ballot returns.” 

Another complication Tuesday was that the county had access to only two ballot-on-demand printers that printed only one ballot every three minutes, in the city of Coolidge. This led to further delays as different polling locations in need of ballots were 45 minutes away. Even after couriers brought newly printed ballots to different polling locations, some reported that they were sent the wrong ballots for their precinct.

In the aftermath of such a botched primary, Pinal County Elections Director David Frisk was fired Thursday. He was replaced by Pinal County Recorder Virginia Ross. The Pinal County Board of Supervisors chairman told AZ Central “We are looking at restructuring the way we do our Elections Department.”

While Pinal County had the most trouble on Tuesday, Pima County also dealt with ballot shortages as one polling location ran out of paper ballots. Pima County Communications Director Mark Evans blamed it on a worldwide paper shortage, while also admitting some officials underestimated the number of voters coming to the polls. In Maricopa County, election officials faced controversy over voters’ pens smearing ballots. However, officials insisted no one’s vote was lost as officials ran the ballots through the tabulation machines multiple times for them to process. 

Arizona isn’t the only state in the country dealing with serious election woes, made worse by vote-by-mail. In Broward County, Florida, more than a thousand voters have reportedly received the wrong ballots.

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