Pinal County ballot debacle could foreshadow errors in other counties 

Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer holds both a misprinted ballot and a supplementary ballot containing the municipal races missing from the original. After the county realized the error that affected 60,000 ballots, it produced the second ballot and instructed voters to use both. Volkmer and other county officials explained the ballot error at a press conference in Florence on July 18. /Photo by Rachel Leingang / Votebeat. 

By Rachel Leingang | Votebeat

When David Frisk took over Pinal County’s elections in March after arriving from Washington state, he was the third director on the job in the past two years. He was greeted by a staff of one — in a department that should have had five full-time workers.

This article was originally published by Votebeat, a nonprofit news organization covering local election administration and voting access.

So it may not be a shock that four months later, an office recovering from so much turnover would have to confront the fallout of a major ballot-printing problem. Municipal races for seven communities were missing from more than 60,000 primary ballots that went out in early July. Candidates for those local offices cried foul, wondering where their names were. Some voters in the growing county of about a half-million residents southeast of Phoenix cast ballots without noticing.

The county has so far declined to give a specific accounting of exactly what went wrong, but officials did say the mistake was caused by a staff member’s programming error, and pre-election processes didn’t catch it. Frisk’s office has since taken extraordinary measures to issue additional early ballots enabling residents to vote in those races.

“I think someone would have caught that who had more experience” in the county’s local elections, said Virginia Ross, the Pinal County recorder, whose office was not responsible for the error but works closely with the elections office and has seen the staff turn over. One director, who served for more than five years, left for a new job in Nevada in late 2020. An interim replacement left for a Texas elections position, creating the opening Frisk filled in March.

And, of course, there were the other staff vacancies. Ross, the Pinal County recorder, said people left elections for better opportunities and pay.

Pinal’s problems could be a sign of what’s to come in the high-stress, high-stakes field of election administration, where human errors certainly happen regardless of experience but where a seasoned elections director and experienced staff have a better chance of noticing, several elections experts and officials told 

In Arizona and around the country, it is a time of upheaval in elections, as prominent officials stepped down after disputes over the 2020 election dragged on for years, even in counties where Trump won handily. They cited harassment and threats, spurred by false claims of a stolen election, as part of why they stepped away.

“I have a feeling that we’re gonna see a lot more attrition, we’re gonna see a lot more flight of knowledge, and that can manifest itself in mistakes, in large mistakes that could not just result in inconveniences for voters,” said Ken Matta, a longtime election security officer at the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office who now works as CIO for Runbeck Election Services. “I believe that it may also result in lawsuits. … It could get a little chaotic

It’s not easy to recruit for a complex job with relatively low pay, long hours, and endless hostility from people clinging to false information, especially at a time when nearly all sectors are trying to hire.


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August 2022