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Pima County balancing ratio of GOP to Dem election workers before Nov. 8
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Pima County balancing ratio of GOP to Dem election workers before Nov. 8

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

Pima County is adding more Republicans at various vote centers to balance Election Day duties between the two major parties, Constance Hargrove, elections director, said at Tuesday's county board meeting.

The Board of Supervisors also approved a list of vote centers at their meeting that will be used for the Nov. 8 general elections, just seven weeks away.

State law requires that the county staff vote centers with an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, Hargrove said, and also requires that they have certain jobs and duties based on what jobs are given to poll workers from the opposite party.

Pima County has a shortage of vaccinated Republicans that it can hire as temporary election aides to fill seats on election boards, which the county board remedied by lifting vaccine requirements for those positions in July.

Since the primaries on Aug. 2, the Elections Department has been trying to balance the number or at least the duties between poll workers of different parties at each voter center, Hargrove said at the Tuesday meeting.

The primary election saw 48 imbalanced vote centers, mostly short on Republican election staff, while two had no Democrats, Supervisor Steve Christy, the lone Republican on the county board, said during the meeting.

The vote centers with no Democrats were both in Sahuarita though both did include an Independent.

The Elections Department expects to have 1,400 poll workers hired on a temporary basis for the general election and to work in the weeks leading up to the Election Day, Hargrove said.

The county had 784 Democrat and 607 Republican poll workers for the primaries, a deficiency of 177 Republicans, Christy said.

Equitable v. Equal representation

Hargrove clarified during the meeting that voter centers will have “equitable representation” but not “equal representation,” meaning the number of poll workers from each party will not be the same but the duties will be distributed equitably at each vote center, she said.

The Elections Department is more focused on putting people from the right party in the right position per state law than it is with hiring more Republicans, Hargrove said, especially as they already have a surplus of Republican applicants to work on Election Day.

Jobs such as marshal, whose duty is to keep the peace at polls, have to be given to a Republican if the inspector, who supervises workflow and workers, is a Democrat, Hargrove said.

The same goes for judges, who handle all aspects of voting at the polling place and ensure election procedures are followed. One judge has to be of the opposite party as the inspector while the other as to be of the same party, Hargrove told TucsonSentinel.com.

“The inspector will be from one party, the marshal will be of a different party,” Hargrove said during the county board meeting. “We will have judges — judges of the same party as the inspector, judges of a different party than the inspector.”

Clerks, who help with the check-in process and verifying IDs, among other tasks, can be hired from the Libertarian or Independent parties, so they may not be Democratic or Republican, Hargrove said.

The Elections Department already has a list of applicants for the temporary election jobs and in fact have more applications than they needed, Hargrove said.

“The majority of our vote centers are complete” or balanced, Hargrove said, and she told the Sentinel after the county board meeting that “We’ve added more Republicans as we needed.”

The local Republican party sent a list of qualified election workers to help solve the problem, Hargrove said.More Republicans are still needed at the vote centers in Sells, Ariz., which is located in the Tohono O’odham Nation. The Pima County Republicans included a list of potential election workers who live in the small community of a few thousand.

A list of the political affliation of poll workers at each vote center was finalized ahead of the primaries, but the list has since been corrected.

The Pisinemo District Office in Sells, Ariz. is listed as having only Democrats, but one Republican “volunteered to drive an hour or so away to serve at that vote center,” Hargrove told the county board.

The county board still has to approve a final list of vote center workers at a later meeting.

The rules of how to handle party affliations of voters was an issue during the primaries as well after an election staffer bungled training by telling temporary election workers that voters registered with a political party can choose a different ballot.

Six vote centers were also shifted the day before the primary elections, showing the list can change all the way up to Election day.

Vote Center changes & food at the Hilton

The voters will continue to have 129 such vote centers to use during the general election, but three will be replaced.

Voter centers at the Hilton Hotel, the Pima County Fairgrounds and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Oro Valley will be shut down and replaced for the general election.

The new vote centers will be at the Murphy-Wilmot Library, American Legion Post 109 and Resurrection Lutheran Church.

The Hilton Hotel complained to county election officials ahead of the primaries because election workers had been bringing food and drinks of their own and instead wanted election workers to buy hotel food.

“The situation was very stressful for the pollworkers knowing they had to work roughly 16 hours without food unless they purchased the food from the hotel,” Hargrove wrote in a county memo last week.

The hotel was leasing the space for the vote center to the county for more than $2,000 for election day. The move to Murphy-Wilmot Library will save the county $12,000, according to the memo.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Oro Valley no longer wants to host a vote center because they now have a policy of no more political activities inside the church, according to the memo.

This is the first year that Pima County uses vote centers, where ballots can be cast by voters from anywhere in the county. The county board approved the switch in February. Before Pima County, 11 other counties in Arizona — including Maricopa — the most populous — had already gone to vote centers.

Pima County voters

Pima County has about 626,000 registered voters. More than 226,000 of those voters cast early ballots in last primary election in August 2020, which was during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s primaries included a tight race in Oro Valley and congressional candidates vying for a bid in the Nov. 8 general election. Candidates for top state offices were also on the primary ballot, including governor, secretary of state and attorney general.

Voter turnout was around 36% for the county, with almost 228,000 ballots cast, according to a county report. Almost 197,000 of the ballots — 86% of the total — were early ballots. About 27,000 voters cast their ballot on Election Day. More than 4,000 ballots were provisional.

Registered Republicans in Pima County had a voter turnout of 57%, a few points higher than Democrats at 51%. Local Republicans also used the vote centers more, with more than 21,000 voting on Election Day versus only about 5,600 Democrats doing so.

However, more Democrats voted early, and the county has far more voters signed up with that party. About 119,000 Democrats sent in early ballots while about 77,000 Republicans did so. Republicans also cast about 2,500 provisional ballots while Democrats only about 1,700.

Libertarians had a 15% voter turnout, with 120 voting on Election Day and 575 voting early — 695 total. Exactly 440 nonpartisan votes were sent in by mail and none were cast on Election Day.

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.

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