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

Officials in Pinal County. are vowing to overhaul their election procedures after a shortage of some ballots at about two dozen voting sites during Tuesday’s primary election led to some voters leaving without being able to cast their ballots.

Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer and Jeffrey McClure, chair of the Board of Supervisors, both blamed the problems on human error. McClure called it "a major screw-up."

"I have not seen evidence of a nefarious act," McClure said at a Wednesday news conference. "I’ve seen mistakes made on a grand scale."

FOX 10 received several calls and emails on Election Day from viewers reporting a variety of problems with in-person voting, including a shortage of ballots. Some people at precinct 15 in San Tan Valley said they couldn't get a ballot to vote because the location ran out.

They were given a card telling them to come back later. 

FOX 10 did reach out to a spokesperson for the county who said the polling site got new ballots around 2:30 and 2:45 in the afternoon. "Polling sites are being replenished as and when they request additional ballots for their sites," a spokesperson said.

At least 20 polling locations were impacted throughout the day.

The problems were the second in the primary. When mail ballots were sent out early in July, many were missing city races and the county — a growing suburban area south of metro-Phoenix and home to over 425,000 residents — was forced to send supplemental ballots to those voters.

On Tuesday, that earlier issue played a role during in-person voting at some of the county’s 95 polling sites. Each site may have had as many as 10 ballot styles.

A surge of people going to the polls led to some sites either running short or out of ballots. The county tried to print new ballots but old printers were limited and it took a long time in some cases to get new ballots to the affected polling sites.

On Wednesday, Pinal County elections officials addressed the issues at a public meeting.

"We're all human. We've all screwed up. There's nothing sinister. It wasn't as if we said, ‘Hey, this is only going to impact a Republican, or this is only going to impact a Democrat.’ This was widespread, it was equal opportunity, it was just simply a mistake," Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer said.

Officials explained that the formula used to figure out the number of ballots needed was done incorrectly.

Live tabulation feed in Pinal County:

At most, about 750 voters could have been affected, out of about 50,000 total mail and in-person votes tallied from Tuesday’s election, but that is "purely a guess," Volkmer said.

"The actual number of people impacted, we have no ability to really assess," Volkmer saiud.

"Quite frankly, we underestimated," he said of the ballot shortage. "There were more people who showed up than we thought were going to show up."

Some of those people were voters who had an early ballot, but because of the problems with missing races and the supplemental ballots, decided to "spoil" that ballot at the polls and request a new one.

"We know that that was happening," he said. "That’s not something that happens very often — its not what we expect."

Adding to the crush was a 10% population increase since the 2020 election and more independents asking for partisan Republican ballots on Election Day.

"We just, we didn’t order enough ballots," Volkmer said.

There were also problems with a voting site in the city of Maricopa. That site did not open as scheduled at 7 a.m. Tuesday, and voting rights advocates tried and failed to get a judge to extend the hours to make up for that lost time for about 2,000 affected voters.

The Arizona Democracy Resource Center called the county’s actions "anti-democratic, alarming, and unacceptable."

Volkmer said keys to the voting site were not available after the person set to open was unable to do so.

The state and national Republican Party also slammed the county, whose government is dominated by Republicans. They said in a joint statement that their poll observers reported "multiple failures" with mail ballots and precincts running out of ballots.

"This is a comprehensive failure that disenfranchises Arizonans and exemplifies why Republican-led efforts for transparency at the ballot box are so important," the statement said.

Republican Rep. John Fillmore, who was trailing in his reelection bid, demanded action, saying "the average voter doesn’t have faith."

"Why the hell was the county not prepared for people showing up at the polls," Fillmore asked at the news conference. "There has to be a change in the administration, in the people running the elections."

The Republican Party called for county Elections Director David Frisk, who was just hired in March after an exodus of county election officials following the 2020 election, to immediately resign. Frisk was processing the approximately 8,000 remaining ballots and did not attend the news conference, which was streamed on the county website.

No voter was turned away at the polls, and some locations remained open for more than an hour after the normal 7 p.m. close time to allow those in line to cast ballots.

But "there were those people who felt they were disenfranchised," Volkmer said, "There were people who said, ‘I didn’t get to vote because I had to go somewhere else.’"

Other complaints

One woman at precinct 58 said she didn't get the municipal ballot. Another woman says her mail-in municipal ballot said "Queen Creek" on it when she lives in Pinal County.

Heidi Dinehart explained the issue, saying she was told, "‘We only set three ballots aside. One for your husband,’ that they got in, and 'You can have one of the others, we only got like 25 in this morning, and we're having everybody come back, and we hope to have some more this afternoon, but there's no guarantee."

Lynea Paradis is also upset with her experience.

"So I was frustrated and confused, and a man came to me and said, 'You have a manila envelope at the table, you're supposed to be the ballots,' they searched and found them. It was small, and you know, ballots are slightly longer, and he folded my ballots and put them in an envelope behind the table," Paradis said.

Some callers have also said it was the Republican ballots that they were out of, but county officials have not been able to confirm that.

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