The good news for Pinal County voters is this month’s general election went off without a hitch, votes were counted properly and on time, and controversy was avoided.
The bad news is the woman who made it happen is retiring.
Virginia Ross took over as county elections director following the August primary that was plagued with problems over ballots and voting across Pinal County.
Problems began before the election and lasted through election day, including incorrect ballots being mailed, candidates’ names being left off ballots, shortages of ballots at the polls, improper information being given to voters on election day and some voters not being allowed to vote.
Those issues put the national media spotlight on Pinal County. But Ross, who is retiring effective Dec. 2, didn’t worry about the scrutiny. She said solutions to the problems in August really came down to two things: attention to detail and experience running elections in the county.
“I don’t know the specifics of exactly what happened in the primary, or what the former director (David Frisk) did or didn’t do,” Ross said. “We implemented the basics. We followed procedures and timelines, and I used my skills as a project manager to be sure were getting this done right. I also think his lack of experience with Arizona election law and precinct-based elections didn’t help. I had that experience, and I know how things work in this county.”
Ross is on a four-month contract that pays her $175,000 plus a $25,000 bonus if the general election went smoothly. By all accounts, it did.
She credits retraining poll workers; public-works officials, who distributed ballots; IT workers, who ensured voting machines functioned properly, and, most important, following procedures put in place to ensure the election come off as planned.
“We made sure all of the chain of custody and handoff procedures were in place so we could track everything that was being done throughout the day,” Ross said. “We didn’t skip steps or cut corners. Organization is the key. You have to be extremely organized and understand how long each step takes and when you can start the next step. It all goes back to project management.”
Ross essentially re-wrote the poll-worker manual between the primary and general elections. She also spoke to poll workers to find out what worked and what didn’t and conducted several rehearsals to ensure things went smoothly Nov. 8.
The county had about 300 different ballots to print and distribute, considering the various precincts, cities, towns and school districts. Ballots also had to be printed in English and Spanish. There were many moving parts.
“It all goes back to the ballot proofing that came out in the third-party review of what happened in the primary,” she said. “That didn’t take place in the primary. I implemented that detailed ballot proofing to our procedure to ensure what needed to be on each ballot was on that ballot. It’s an in-depth procedure that I don’t think that was done properly in August.”
Ross said about the only problem that came up during the general election was procedure for when a ballot didn’t scan properly.
“We had a couple of instances where our poll workers needed a little more training on how to handle that scenario, but that will be addressed in some post-election training we’ll be implementing,” she said.
As she prepares to retire near her family in Texas, Ross had a final message for the voters of Pinal County.
“There are some good people here,” she said. “The county understands that following tried and true principles will result in good elections.”