Pinal County to waive city costs after ballot issues on Election Day

An Arizona county where the Aug. 2 primary election was beset with multiple issues that led to the firing of its election director will waive the costs for running municipal elections in 11 cities and towns and plans to hire an outside election expert to review what went wrong.

The five-member Pinal County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Wednesday to waive more than $100,000 in costs it planned to bill the cities and towns for running the local elections.

Seven cities and towns had local races left off early ballots that required the county to mail about 63,000 supplemental ballots. And County Attorney Kent Volkmer told the board that four other municipalities were affected by Election Day missteps that led to ballot shortages at about 20 of the county’s 95 polling places.

"As the county manager clearly indicated, we fell below the expectations of our customers," Volkmer told the board. "So I believe if this board is so inclined, I think there is good cause to waive for all of the various entities that we serve the municipal and town elections for."

"I think that’s a good idea due to the issues at hand," Board Chair Jeffrey McClure. Last week, McClure had called the election issues "a major screwup" and Elections Director David Frisk was fired the next day. He had just been hired in March.

MORE: Primary Election 2022: Confusion in Pinal County caused by 'unprecedented demand for in-person ballots'

Volkmer also said he was close to hiring an outside election expert to conduct a review. He said there was so far no sign of any criminal violations but that bringing in someone from outside would ensure that an unbiased assessment would be swiftly completed. He said if any sign of criminal activity were found, the county sheriff would be called in to investigate.

"What we anticipate getting out of this is what went wrong, why it went wrong and then what can we do to make sure that this does not happen again," Volkmer said. He said he wants the job completed within 60 days, before November’s general election.

The expert, who Volkmer did not publicly identify, has almost 30 years as an elections administrator, had done similar reviews and is known to both new Elections Director Virginia Ross and new County Recorder Dana Lewis.

Ross was the elected recorder until she resigned last week to take over the elections department. Lewis was her assistant. The board appointed her on Friday to take over as recorder, which handles voter rolls and mail ballots but is not involved with voting or ballot counting.

The board will certify the election "canvass" on Friday, although more than one board member expressed heartburn over having to do so given last week’s issues. Board member Jeff Serdy said his first reaction the day after the election was that he did not want to accept the results.

That’s not an option, Volkmer said. Accepting and certifying the results is an act that the law requires. The municipal races will be handled by the localities, while county, state and federal races are up to the board.

"I will tell this board, and this is always not a comfortable conversation, but our legal analysis is you have no choice but to canvass," Volkmer said. "It is what’s deemed a ministerial duty, meaning you have to. It’s a ‘shall.’"

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