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Pima Supes canvass primary results, call for review of election 'woes'

Pima Supes canvass primary results, call for review of election 'woes'

  • Rebecca DuPree turns in her ballot during a Pima County mock election in June.
    Paul Ingram/Tucson SentinelRebecca DuPree turns in her ballot during a Pima County mock election in June.

The results of the August 2 primary election in Pima County were approved by a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors at a meeting Monday, but a review of “Election Day woes” is needed, county board members said, to respond to voters' concerns before the November 8 general election.

Pima County finished counting primary ballots last Thursday, wrapping up the first round of voting in an election cycle beset with challenges for local officials. New polling technology, a switch to vote centers and new elections staff were all put to the test for the primaries.

The results of the primaries approved 5-0 by the board now have to be canvassed and certified by the Arizona Secretary of State in the next two weeks. Primary results are still “unofficial” until canvassed at the state level, county officials said.

Several hitches arose during the primaries, and the supervisors wants answers from Election Director Constance Hargrove and County Recorder Gabriella Cazares-Kelly before the general election.

Supervisor Steve Christy, the lone Republican on the board, asked the two county departments to deliver a written review of the elections to address “dissatisfaction with the process, with a lot of concern about how this was going to be reflected in the final vote.”

The rest of the supervisors, all Democrats, voted to approve Christy’s request and expect an after-action report on the primaries to be presented at their first meeting in October. The report will also go before the Election Integrity Commission for their September 16 meeting.

Christy spent more than 15 minutes on Tuesday's meeting enumerating other complaints that he said had come to his office, including that people — including himself — hadn't received their sample ballots, that their voter ID cards had incorrect information and a uneven number of pollworkers from each party. The county board lifted the COVID vaccine requirement for temporary election aides in July because the Election Department couldn't find enough qualified, vaccinated GOP election workers.

"Little things like this add up to big things where people have no faith in the system," Christy said.

Christy has been a vocal critic of this year’s elections, as well as joining in a chorus of Republicans questioning the validity of the 2020 election results. Christy voted against the election changes that went to the county board for approval and calling out Hargrove for being hired in February.

'Election day woes'

Just prior to in-person primary voting, an Elections Department staffer bungled training by telling temporary poll workers that voters registered with a political party can choose a different ballot.

Voting was also delayed, board members said, by ballot printers not working and supplies running out. People who tried to reach out to the Recorder’s Office by phone were also put on long holds, supervisors said.

Hargrove was also the target of criticism because she was hired just six months ahead of the primaries.

In February, the county board approved the use of 129 vote centers where any voter can cast their in-person ballot, replacing their precinct-based polling places. Less than a month later, the county hired Hargrove as the new elections director, replacing Brad Nelson, who announced his retirement at the beginning of the year.

Every other county in Arizona was already using e-poll books and Pima County was the 12th to use vote centers. Still, the changes drew constant public scrutiny, Hargrove said, and mistakes and miscues during the primaries created more public concern.

Two mock elections were hosted by the Elections Department in June and July to exhibit how the new centers would work. The first, however, had technical issues with their e-poll book registration, which led the department to put on the second mock election for a better chance at a dry run.

'Just not acceptable'

A written review of the primaries by the county election officials would “alleviate the fears, the concerns and yes, the conspiracy theories that occur when these types of things happen, particularly when it’s a brand new system,” Christy said.

“It’s important that the Elections Department and the recorder address these issues to allay the fears in the community that things might not be completely properly executed in our election system,” he said.

Board Chair Sharon Bronson thanked Christy for his “succinct and respectful” comments at Monday’s meeting, saying the same complaints about the primary election came into her office for the sprawling District 3, which includes the Tohono O’odham Nation, a piece of metro Tucson and everything west of it.

“People were confused about the ballots, then they tried to call the Recorder’s Office and they were put on hold, in some instances it was over 20 minutes,” Bronson said. “That’s just not unacceptable. We need to fix that before the November general election.”

Supervisor Rex Scott had asked for an after action report during meetings in the year, he said, and specifically wanted to know if there were long lines and delays with the vote centers that were any worse than what polling places experienced in recent years.

Internet connectivity was also a concern ahead of the primaries, especially for vote centers in rural precincts, and Scott asked that the after action report include “if connectivity was a problem.”

He also wanted to know how provisional ballots were used this election, as the vote centers were expected to remove the need for provisional ballots with voters not needing to be in the correct polling precinct. Provisional ballots this year were largely used for voters who had been on the early voting list but showed up to vote in-person, he said.

'Flawless' — support for the elections team

Supervisor Adelita Grijalva supported the work of the Elections Department and the Recorder’s Office, saying “congratulations…I think you all did a remarkable job” and thanking them for “getting us in line” with how every other county in Arizona does their elections.

“Considering our (elections) director was new to Tucson, new to our system, we had new redistricting, an entirely new system, a lot of new staff,” she said. “I thought you all did a remarkable job.”

Grijalva’s District 5 office, which serves parts of metro Tucson, had one call from a voter, she said, and it was to ask where to vote.

Many of the changes to voting were small, she said. “Instead of having an upside down book, it was an iPad. Instead of having a ballot handed to you, it was printed out. Essentially that was the change,” she said, describing how she explained the new voting system this year to voters.

The primary election “super well done,” Supervisor Matt Heinz said at the meeting, agreeing with Grijalva. Heinz voted in-person the day of the primary, he said, and “I was out of there in less than four minutes… frankly it was flawless.”

Bennito L. Kelty is’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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