2022 Midterm elections: Arizona officials step up security ahead of primary

Arizona's primary election is scheduled to take place on Aug. 2, and while elections offices across the state are busy preparing for a smooth election, some officials are worried it won’t be that easy.

Since 2020, the election process has been a hot topic, so elections officials are going above and beyond to ensure the upcoming election goes well, while at the same time try and keep their staff safe.

Preparations underway in Maricopa County

In Maricopa County, officials with the elections department are working non-stop to ensure a secure and transparent election.

"So, the ballot tabulation center is not connected to the internet. We have observers present whenever we are counting ballots, which are political party representatives and appointed by the Maricopa County political parties. We have 24/7 cameras," said Megan Gilbertson with the Maricopa County Elections Department.

However, it's what's outside the elections office that is most concerning.

Since the 2020 election, officials have added additional safety measures, like running background checks on staff, adding permanent fencing around the building, and having 24/7 security.  In addition, Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone has informed his deputies that requests for time off over the primary and general election will be denied as a precaution to ensure a safe election process.

Continuing Coverage: 2022 Midterm Election

Security expert expresses worries

Ken Matta, a former Information Security Officer and Election Security Lead for the Arizona Secretary of States Office, worries it won’t be that easy to secure elections.

"We weren’t worried about violent incursions into our tabulation centers or mass protests that could turn violent, or the possibility of violence at polling places wasn’t as probably as it is now, so there is a lot more security assessments going on now," said Matta. "Maricopa County themselves has really improved their physical security posture. Many other counties have as well. We are actually teaching de-escalation techniques and active shooter training to poll workers right now."

Matta says many people are leaving the industry because of threats and attacks to election workers stemming from the 2020 election. He used to deal with hundreds of harmful emails and voicemails to his staff on a regular basis.

"Election workers didn’t sign up for that," said Matta. "We want to administer elections. We want to bring democracy to the republic, but we were not intended to be attacked by citizens."

So far, more than 50,000 mail-in ballots have been returned to the Maricopa County Election Office. Officials say typically, there is about a 30% to 50% turnout in the primary election, which is much less than the general election.