“Deeply Embarrassed and Frustrated”

My last blog post was an evisceration of the Pinal County Board of Directors for their September 2021 refusal to accept almost $3.4M in Federal funding to hire a vaccine equity employee and distribute COVID-19 vaccines to underserved communities. Two months later, they reversed their decision with an amendment that, “the public health department or designees shall not assist the U.S. government in the implementation or enforcement of federal orders related to quarantine and isolation”. I don’t why they reversed their decision, but I suspect public outcry was a factor.

Nine months later, Pinal County is big news again. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock on Mt. Lemmon, you probably heard about the election fiascos in Pinal County (home to over 425,000 residents). According to the AZ Daily Star, hundreds of voters said they were “unable to immediately vote at the polls because the county had run out of some ballots”. One polling location also opened hours late because the keys to its doors were not available.

Polling locations tried to print new ballots to meet the surge in demand, but old printers were limited and delivery of ballots to the sites was slow. These problems were on top of about 63,000 incorrect mail ballots sent out in July, (missing city races), forcing the county to send out supplemental ballots.

Officials believe the contributing factors to the shortage of ballots were the unanticipated Independent voters who came in-person to polling stations and requested Republican ballots. Another, was the 10% increase in the county’s population since the last election. Other factors surely came into play however, such as Elections Director David Frisk being the third director in the position in only two years and initially having a staff of only one in a department that should have had five full-time employees. Officials said the mistake was caused by a staff member’s programming error that pre-election checks by inexperienced staff didn’t catch. Whatever the cause, there can be no doubt as AZCentral.com stated, that, “Pinal became the poster child for Election Day problems in Arizona, as only a smattering of problems were reported throughout the state”.

In the end, it is impossible to know how many people were unable to vote, although “about 25% of the county’s 95 precincts reported running out of ballots or running low and needing help”. These snafus, of course, did nothing to restore people’s confidence in our voting system. And that, and it’s impact on our democracy is the real danger.

The one silver lining is that the Pinal County Board of Supervisors, recognized the seriousness of the problem and did not try to downplay it or shift blame. At a news conference the day after the election, Chairman Jeff McClure blamed the problems on “human error”, and called it “a major screw-up”. In a statement provided later, he said the Board of Supervisors was “deeply embarrassed and frustrated” by the mistakes made and was taking immediate action to fix the problems prior to the general election. The Board of Supervisors then replaced the county Elections Director, David Frisk, appointing Recorder Virginia Ross to that position. Chairman McClure also said that, “elections experts are being sought to review election procedures and operations” and went on to say that, “I have not seen any evidence of a nefarious act. I have seen mistakes made on a grand scale.” In other words I suppose, there was no fraud.

I am a firm believer that many of the problems our country and yes, even the world, is experiencing today, have to do with the lack of accountability. The Board of Supervisors did not obfuscate and I remain hopeful (for now) they will fix the problems. I believe Virginia Ross is right person to build back the department, but she will need Board support to ensure the department is sufficiently funded, staffed, and trained. Will that all come to pass? We’ll certainly find out in November. For our democracy’s (or republic if you must) sake, let’s hope so.