Pima County elections & vote centers 'safe, fair & secure'; officials encourage early voting
Pima County officials are assuring voters that elections are “safe, fair and secure” just ahead of Tuesday's primary. Some have questioned the new voting center system and technology at the polls, but election workers have done their best to address concerns, officials said.
“Whether it’s the recorder, election director, poll workers, they’ve worked very hard to make sure elections are safe, fair and secure,” Constance Hargrove, the Pima County elections director, said at a press conference Thursday.
The county switched over to vote centers in February from a precinct-based polling system. Voters will be able to cast their ballots at any of the county’s 129 vote centers for both the August primary and November general election.
The vote centers are also mapped online. County voters have until Friday to cast an early ballot at select locations, with emergency voting available at a small number of sites on Saturday and Monday.
So far, the Elections Department has counted about 117,000 early ballots for the primary, Hargrove said. The primary ballot return rate is similar to what it was in 2020, county officials said, though primary turnout is generally lower than it is for the general election because most independents don’t choose to cast a ballot in primaries.
Early ballots are first verified by the Recorder's Office before being sent to the Elections Department for counting. There have been about 132,000 ballots returned by voters thus far. More than 214,000 ballots were sent out to registered Democrats in the county this year, while Republicans have only requested around 127,000 ballots.
The changes by the county have attracted criticism, mostly from Republican supporters of former President Donald Trump. The conspiracist accusations levied against officials in Maricopa County have now been also used to question those overseeing elections here. Trump himself continued his grievance campaign last year, claiming that the 2020 election in Pima County was "rigged and stolen" from him, and emailing supporters about supposed "staggering anomalies and fictitious votes."
Trump's claims were "bat-shit crazy," Supervisor Sharon Bronson, chair of the Board of Supervisors, told the Sentinel last year, while a conservative Republican election security advocate refuted the defeated GOP candidate's accusations as "BS."
Pima County voters overwhelmingly favor mail-in ballots, with about 90 percent doing so in 2020, and about 80 percent doing so this year, officials said Thursday.
The use of vote centers, ballot printers and iPads in this year’s elections has caused more scrutiny from the public, Hargrove told reporters.
“We are very cognizant of the concerns of the general public, and we want to be able to address that,” Hargrove said. “We are also concerned about how the election goes. What I would say to the general public is that we are as concerned as they are.”
'No significant changes'
Two mock elections were held to exhibit how the new polling technology works and let the public ask questions directly of election staff. The demonstration “helped the public see that it’s no huge change” with the vote centers, Hargrove said.
“The major change for the vote centers is changing from paper to electronic pollbook,” she said, reassuring that there are “no significant changes” in voting this year. “The workflow is still pretty much the same. The voting process is the same.”
Voters can also bring their own pens on Election Day, but voters will use felt tip pens and markers, with no red ink. Hargrove mentioned ink because Maricopa County uses machines that can smear ballots if the wrong kind of pen is used.
Hargrove's main concern with vote centers is possible Internet “connectivity issues”, which would lead to delays and lines. However, most of the vote centers are about three miles from another, she said, so voters can go to another as long as they haven’t been checked in already.
“They don’t have to wait as they would in a precinct” voting system, Hargrove said. Pima County voters have been restricted to only voting in their assigned precinct in previous elections though the county has used vote centers before. 11 other Arizona counties use vote centers, including Maricopa County.
Hargrove also asked voters “to be patient with the poll workers as they figure out this process, get used to this new process.”
“I don’t want voters to go in thinking this is going to be a really super-quick process and start complaining,” Hargrove said. “Please be patient. Give them some grace. These poll workers are voters just like the rest of us.”
The poll workers are “basically volunteers,” Hargrove said. “I just really want (voters) to be nice to them so they come back for the election in November.”
The vote centers are also expected to be safe and not need any additional security, Hargrove said. The poll workers are also “trained to be observant and pay attention to what’s going on,” and “if necessary they’ll contact the police.”
Between the primaries and the general election, the only expected change will be in the workflow at vote centers, Hargrove said, or how poll workers and officials are getting voters checked in, out the doors and votes counted. The Elections Department will look at the primaries to see how they can improve, she said.
Results for the primaries will start to come out after 8 p.m. on Tuesday, county officials said. Most of the ballots included in the first counts to be released will be mail-in or early, and those ballots are already being validated and tabulated.
Ballots turned in on Tuesday, including early ballots dropped off that day, printed ballots and provisional ballots that need verification, will be tabulated over a few days after the primary, before being added to the final count.
The vote centers eliminate the need for many provisional ballots, such as those that were given to voters who may not be eligible to vote at a specific polling place, and should lead to Tuesday’s results being known days earlier, election officials have previously said.
Any results announced Tuesday will be “technically unofficial,” a county spokesperson said, as there still has to be a canvass, which includes a hand count audit, and approval of the canvass by the Pima County Board of Supervisors.
This year’s primary election includes races for the U.S. Senate and House, and both are crowded with Republican candidates. At the state level, voters will decide their primary candidates for governor, secretary of state and attorney general, among other offices.
Candidates for Pima County offices are mostly running unopposed, but several county seats will be up for election on Nov. 8, including three constable positions, four justices of the peace and a new clerk of the Superior Court.
Deborah Martinez, who’s running as the incumbent constable of Precinct 8, faces a write-in Republican candidate in Bill Lake, also known as the William J. Lake-Wright, the constable for Precinct 5 appointed by the supervisors last October. Martinez is currently under investigation by the State Constable Ethics Board for election violations, such as felony fraud and forgery. Lake is trying to earn his way onto the general election ballot by getting at least 242 write-in votes in his primary.
Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.