A group of Maricopa officials spoke out on the Primary Election issues plaguing Pinal County at Wednesday’s Pinal County Board of Supervisors meeting and pulled no punches in expressing their disappointment at the situation.
The county misprinted early ballots, excluding city council elections on many ballots. On Election Day, things got worse instead of better. Improper information was given to many voters at the polls, some poll workers refused to give supplemental city council ballots to voters, a few poll locations ran out of ballots and other polling places opened late.
Maricopa City Councilmember Nancy Smith said it was not just one factor that made the situation intolerable.
“I want to make it clear, it’s not just a situation that there were not enough ballots printed,” she said. “In the city of Maricopa, it’s that the correct ballots were not given to our voters. Several precincts we had voters that came to vote and were not given the supplemental ballot for the city council race, so that’s a second problem.
“I also see this as a systemic problem in Pinal County. Two years the city of Maricopa had ballot problems. In one or two, one for sure, where council candidates were left off the ballot. So, this is a systemic problem that needs to be fixed.”
Smith recommended a solution in which city clerks be involved to review their own city’s ballot for accuracy prior to printing.
She also called out the problems training poll workers as another issue to fix.
“This is definitely a serious problem,” she said. “In listening on the radio, it’s embarrassing. Pinal County was made fun of in every way, shape and form throughout the day. It’s become a national problem, and it’s something we must fix.”
Bill Robertson, a member of the Maricopa Planning & Zoning Commission, said the county initially did a good job of stepping up and rectifying the ballot printing situation with an efficient solution. That’s when the process fell apart.
“There was definitely a problem in getting poll workers trained,” Robertson said. “It wasn’t until 5:30 at precinct 80 (in Province) that they started handing out the second supplemental ballots. You know that county commission elections and city council elections are won and lost by a handful of ballots. This has the potential to affect the outcome of our local election in the city of Maricopa.
“We know you work hard behind the scenes and we don’t see that – we don’t see the sausage being made,” he continued. “But gentlemen, you’re not judged on the journey – you’re judged on the results. And you’re hearing the results this morning and they’re not good.”
Interim Mayor Vincent Manfredi said such mistakes would not be tolerated in the business world.
“I’ve owned businesses all my life. I know that mistakes happen; we all know that. It’s how we react to them and get solutions in place that determine how we move forward. Well, let’s be clear, we can’t allow them to continue to happen or we won’t be in business long.
“I’d never allow continued mistakes in my business, and I wouldn’t allow them as an elected official either. The good news is that solutions were found, and we educated the people of Maricopa pretty well. Unfortunately, the education didn’t happen at the poll worker level.”
He added some polls did not open until 9:30 or 10 a.m., robbing people of their opportunity to vote before going to work.
But he said the most egregious errors were committed by poll workers who would not give the proper ballots to voters.
“Ballots were not handed out to municipal voters, even though those voters were begging for that ballot and fighting for that ballot,” Manfredi said. “They were yelled at, insulted and told to get out of the polling place, and that they were breaking the law by asking for a ballot they were supposed to get because we educated (the public) to know they were supposed to get that ballot. Non-stop for three weeks, we told them make sure you get your second ballot.”
Manfredi lauded the County for its public education efforts but said the efforts did not extend to election workers.
“People knew they needed the second ballot,” Manfredi said. “But we failed at the election department in training the people who actually handed out the second ballot. They refused.”
Finally, Manfredi addressed the ballot shortage.
“We did not print enough ballots,” he said. “How is that possible that we did not print enough ballots? That’s a systematic issue, a problem with our elections department that needs to be solved. We’ve all heard the saying ‘the buck stops here.’ In this situation, that’s you. The buck stops with you. You’re responsible for what happens at the elections department.”
He also addressed the view of the County Smith mentioned that is spreading around the state.
Please, make sure in the general election coming up that it’s perfect, because we are being called the “dirt people of Pinal County” on public radio,” he said. “This is what we’re being called. It’s an embarrassment to us as Pinal County residents, it’s an embarrassment to you as our supervisors, an embarrassment to every elected official in Pinal County. We have to make sure we do better.”
Councilman Rich Vitiello also addressed the board.
“I’m going to go on the selfish side, as a candidate who had to spend a lot of money to run in this election,” he said. “Heads need to roll. I spent a lot of money; I’ve spent a lot of time. I probably spend 30-40 hours a week minimum, campaigning. I know this is emotional, I know this is selfish, but every candidate out there who ran for office may have to go to (a general election) that shouldn’t have to go to. They may have to spend more money on advertising, spend more time away from their families, their children, their grandchildren.”
He then said he wants to see accountability for the problems.
“I want to know who’s going to be accountable for this,” he continued. “I run a small business in Maricopa, I’m the general manager. If this happened to my company, my boss would fire me instantly. If there’s no accountability, this is another issue you’re going to have to look at.”
Vitiello said workers did not know where the 75-foot no-campaigning lines were and removed campaign signs that were outside that line, and he and other candidates had to go back and replace them. He also said he and others got thrown out of polling stations for trying to help the workers and inform them of the proper procedures.
Vitiello also addressed the impact on Pinal County’s reputation.
“This affects me greatly because we’re a laughingstock,” he said, “I don’t sugarcoat anything…thank you for your hard work, but the ball got dropped and heads need to roll.”
After the public comments, Supervisor Kevin Cavanaugh requested the County management staff investigate the procedures and what happened in the election. Chairman Jeff McClure indicated the board would be investigating and, in fact, had already begun that process. Supervisor Mike Goodman further asked that County Attorney Kent Volkmer be included in the team investigating the situation.
Those items were added to a future Board of Supervisors agenda.
Editor’s note: Vincent Manfredi is an owner of InMaricopa.