After disastrous primary, Arizona county overhauls elections

PHOENIX (AP) — A rural Arizona county where a disastrous primary season was one of the year’s biggest U.S. election debacles has gotten on track for successful midterm voting, an expert said Wednesday.

“You are on the right course now,” Brad Nelson, the former longtime elections chief in neighboring Pima County, told Pinal County’s Board of Supervisors, saying that many of his recommendations had already been embraced, including adding more ways for poll workers to get help with problems. Nelson noted that the elections manual had been overhauled “and looks absolutely perfect.”

Nelson, an outside consultant hired by the county to review problems and overhaul election procedures, said faulty communications was the biggest issue he found in Pinal County’s Aug. 2 primary, including providing poll workers with just one telephone number to call for help, leading to a backup in requests for assistance. By about 6 a.m. on primary day, he said, poll workers had already made 20 calls with problems to the same number.

Pinal County’s primary drew national attention when one-fourth of the county’s polling stations ran out of ballots, sparking widespread complaints from candidates and voters. Earlier in July, erroneous ballots that left off municipal races were mailed to 63,000 voters.

Although local officials blamed ineptitude, the problems fueled conspiracy theories with some, including Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, suggesting something more sinister. Although Pinal County is overwhelmingly Republican, the new elections chief, Virginia Ross, has said both Democrats and Republicans were affected by ballot shortages after her predecessor underestimated how many people would show up to vote in person.

Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer told the board Wednesday that more than 342,000 ballots were being prepared for the Nov. 8 midterm elections, or 110% of the county’s registered voters. The county has a population of about 440,000 people.

Nelson wrote a report based on his review, and the five-member board unanimously agreed to publish it by Thursday on the county clerk’s web page, along with additional comments by Ross, who replaced former elections chief David Frisk after he was fired. Nelson said Frisk failed to answer messages he left via telephone and email.

Ross, who resigned her post as elected county recorder to take the new appointment, said her department is sufficiently staffed for the midterms, with training of 11 poll workers well underway and county employees being recruited as backups.

Ross was first elected as recorder in 2012 and oversaw elections until 2017 when it became its own department.

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