A hearing to discuss problems Arizona voters encountered during last week’s primary ended in the arrest of two protestors today, in what was the culmination of a four-hour long journey that included passionate calls for a revote and elected officials’ resignation. The issues discussed included five-hour-plus voting lines from a severe reduction in polling locations in Maricopa County. Many voters also discovered that although they had been previously registered as Democrat or Republican, their voter registration was suddenly inactive or they were listed with the wrong party. Since Arizona is a closed primary, this meant that many people were not able to vote at all. The special hearing was held to discuss these issues, allowing for public comment along with testimony from Helen Purcell, Maricopa County Recorder. When you finish reading this story, please vote in our poll at the end of the article and let us know if you think election fraud occurred last week.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Helen Purcell Said the Budget Forced a Cut in Polling Stations, But the Chair of the Hearing Disagreed
Helen Purcell, Maricopa County Recorder, was the first person to provide testimony. She started out by apologizing for what happened: “We obviously made some mistakes.” Purcell quickly handed over the testimony and PowerPoint presentation to Jennifer Marson, Executive Director of the Arizona Association of Counties. However, the chair of the hearing, Michelle Ugenti-Rita from District 23, insisted that Purcell quickly return to the podium.
They presented some numbers during the hearing, emphasizing that they were still processing provisional ballots:
There were 1.2 million eligible voters in Maricopa County. The number who showed up to vote was a little higher than they had guessed, Marson admitted. Rep. Ken Carter observed that it looked like there were 31,500 more people than expected. “If you divide that up among the polling stations, that’s about 525 extra people per polling site.”
Ugenti-Rita expressed disbelief that they would go from 403 polling locations in a similar election in 2008 to just 60 this year. “Are you saying the main factor in coming up with the 60 (polling locations) was that you didn’t anticipate the increased turnout?”
Purcell gave several reasons for lowering the number of voting locations to 60.
“One of those things is the increase from 2008 to 2016 in the number of people who are eligible on our permanent early voting list,” she said. “We thought with electronic pollbooks, we could process (voters) quicker. … There’s also the factor of the money, and that has to enter into any decision we make about anything.”
In 2008, the reimbursement for the primary was was $1.25 per registered voter. In 2012, the rate was also $1.25. Purcell admitted that for this year, the reimbursement was still $1.25.
Ugenti-Rita got upset. “In 2008 you were able to budget a successful election with $1.25 per registered voter reimbursement rate. But you’re telling me now you’re not able to do that in 2016? … You’ve been operating with the same reimbursement rate, so to imply there’s some kind of cut… Technically there’s never been a cut.”
Ugenti-Rita later pointed out another flaw in Purcell’s answers. She asked if they also got $1.25 per person reimbursement on voters registered as Independent, even though they weren’t allowed to vote. Purcell said yes.
Purcell and Marson tried to explain that they were expecting 100 percent reimbursement, and that’s what they budgeted for. When they realized they weren’t going to get the reimbursement, it threw off their budget.
Rep. Larkin was not convinced by this argument.
“How come you didn’t step up, talk to Secretary of State’s office, and say we were going to have a disaster on our hands because county doesn’t have enough money to deliver a satisfactory primary to the voters?”
After repeated questions, Purcell said. “I already explained that. I made a giant mistake.”
2. The Hearing Also Discussed Why Polling Locations Were Cut in Poorer Regions
Questions about polling locations were also discussed. One of the main concerns involved how decisions were made about where polling locations would be and which ones would be cut. Rep. Larkin, for example, mentioned that in his district there wasn’t one single polling location.
In explaining why she chose the areas that she did, Purcell said that they focused mostly on trying to find large polling locations and not on the demographics of a particular area.
“We have a group of people in our office who do that (choose polling locations),” she said. “They deal with getting polling places and look at voter registration count. … We did not use the legislative district as an overlay in this particular case at all.”
Heather Carter, Representative of District 15, was particularly upset by the polling locations. She pointed out a “giant gaping hole” on the polling location map.
“It was really difficult for people to figure out why their previous polling place was not open and what to do about that,” she said. “I understand you didn’t use legislative districts, but there were gaping holes in many parts of the county… In my legislative district, the heart of big population centers were not well served.”
Purcell admitted she made some bad decisions.
“I can’t go back and undo it,” Purcell said. “I wish that I could but I can not.”
3. The Discussion of Why Voters’ Parties Were Changed Or They Became Inactive Just Raised More Questions
When asked how voters typically become active or inactive, Purcell said that it’s not the voter, but their address.
“If we’ve gotten notification that someone isn’t living at that address, we’re required to mail them two different messages,” she said. “If they come to a polling place or let us know that they moved to another address, they’re put on the active (list). They’re never taken off. They’re always there if they let us know they’re still in this jurisdiction.”
But this didn’t answer why some voters’ information was changed without their permission. Purcell was asked to explain exactly what happens when a change of address or voter update comes in. She said they can receive changes online at Service Arizona or when someone signs a paper at an MVD office. She said that if the party preference is left blank, they will not change the party of the voter.
When asked if computer or human error might be involved, Purcell said, “There’s always a possibility that a human has made an error.”
She also emphasized that if anyone showed up to the polls as Independent or unaffiliated, but they knew that was a clerical error, they could fill out a provisional ballot. “Those ballots are being examined right now,” she said. But later, some members of the public were still angry that their votes weren’t counted right away when they had voter registration cards on them.
“The point is they shouldn’t have had to do a provisional ballot in the first place,” Ugenti-Rita said. “Do you see how messed up this is?”
One concerned person compiled some of the testimony into a short four minute video:
4. Voters Are Calling for an Extended Election Date for Those Who Couldn’t Vote
During public testimony, it became clear that voters wanted the problems remedied immediately. They wanted an extended voting date, and specifically asked for that date to be on June 7. Anyone who couldn’t vote, including Independents, should be allowed to vote on that day. They also wanted to ensure that all provisional votes were counted.
Some representatives pointed out that statutes and Supreme Court hearings might bind them in exactly what they could do to remedy the situation. But they said they would look into it.
When Kenzie R. testified, he said, “If you had the ability to put forth extended voting… It would pretty much change the country.”
Rep. J.D. Mesnard said, “We can’t go back and retroactively give people extended time… That runs into Supreme Court rulings… We will explore every possibility, but we must work within legal parameters.”
Secretary of State, Michele Reagan, apologized to voters. “Our office is not leaving anything off the table,” she said. “We want to see what we too could have done better.”
She asked anyone who had problems with the election to leave a comment at AZSOS.gov/myelectionstory. She added that she knew from personal experience that voter registration statuses were being changed without permission:
“It’s not hearsay, it happened to someone in my own office. One of my employees was registered as a particular voter, went to go vote, and it happened to him. So we know it happened.”
She said they will look into that issue, but first they are focusing on provisional ballots.
“What’s most important to our office, is making sure the people that cast provisional ballots, that those are among the first ones being crosschecked. If those were votes that should count, they need to be counted.”
But as far as the party affiliation changes, she wants to get to the bottom of what happened.
“It appears we’ve heard complaints of this before, but never to the level we’ve heard it in this election,” Reagan said. “Is this a new phenomenon? Was a process changed recently that wasn’t from before?”
Diane Post, a poll worker who’s worked for 20 years and worked for 18 hours on primary day, encountered a few technical glitches of her own. In public testimony, she said she that when someone came to vote, she would sometimes run into problems after entering their information and selecting which ballot they needed, Republican or Democrat. For some people who were Democrat, she said, she would select their party but then when she went to select “ballot type,” she was only given the option of a Republican ballot.
“From then on, it happened for 36 times for the rest of the day,” she said. “I kept track of every one. I was required to give them a Republican ballot. I gave them a Democrat ballot.” She added, “At 5:00, I had 19 times a Democrat was called Republican and three times a Republican was called a Democrat.”
5. One Person Was Arrested and Violently Removed
After the hearing, at least one person was arrested after being forcefully pulled out of a protest. People who attended the hearing moved into the Gallery to protest and wait for an opportunity to speak again. One of the people who was there was approached by Capitol law enforcement and violently forced out of his seat and onto the floor, before being arrested. People who were present said he was in jail, charged with trespassing and resisting arrest. According to people recorded on the video, he wasn’t doing anything wrong when he was told to leave. You can read more about the incident here.
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