Pinal County names new recorder following election problems

Jeff Kronenfeld

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Dana Lewis is sworn into office by Clerk of the Board Natasha Kennedy.(Pinal County Communications and Marketing)

Jeff Kronenfeld / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

(Florence, AZ) Air Force vet Dana Lewis was unanimously appointed by the Pinal County Board of Directors as the county’s new recorder today, a day after her former boss stepped down before being named Election Director.

Lewis had been hired as the assistant to the recorder in January. In that role, she was involved in early voting, but not day-of voting, which the county's Election Department handles.

Lewis’s appointment came about due to a series of recent errors by the Election Department, including mailing 63,000 incorrect ballots in July and running out of ballots at polling stations on Tuesday's election.

Elections Director David Frisk was fired yesterday, followed by Virginia Ross resigning her position as recorder, only to be immediately appointed as the new elections director by County Manager Leo Lew.

Since first being elected as recorder in 2012, Ross oversaw day-of voting before the Elections Department assumed these functions in 2017.

“As a Board, we are deeply embarrassed and frustrated by the mistakes that have been made in this primary election, and as such, we are taking immediate steps to ensure the November election runs smoothly, as elections in Pinal County have historically done prior to this primary,” said Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Jeffrey McClure in a statement on Thursday.

Kitsap County Auditor Paul Andrews defended his former employee Frisk, reporting he was a great manager who had successfully met the challenges posed following the contentious election in 2020.

After Fisk moved to his new position in Pinal County in March, he shared some challenges faced there with Andrews.

“He had a lot of concerns about staffing issues,” Andrews said. “When he took over the job, he was told there was more staff than there actually turned out to be when he got there, and that he recognized was going to be a big challenge, because elections is an experience job. There are a lot of nuances to it — rules, laws, regulations — that need to be followed, and it takes staff time to get up to speed.”

Despite the change in the leadership, Pinal County continues to release the results of the elections in batches, though at a press conference on Wednesday, Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer acknowledged the voting problems may have impacted the election’s outcome.

"Some of our municipal races right now, there's less than 10 votes that separate people,” Volkmer said. “So, in a municipal race, yes, there were more than 10 people that were affected. Are we talking about thousands of people? Tens of thousands of people? No, the numbers aren't nearly that.”

At today's emergency meeting, District 3's Supervisor Stephen Miller motioned for the board to go into an executive session to receive legal advice regarding the appointment. After the meeting reconvened, a series of citizens offered comments, with the majority expressing confidence in the new appointees.

“I have enjoyed knowing Dana and her absolute dedication and commitment to election integrity,” said Gayle Peters, a resident of San Tan Valley. “I think she's a great person to put in this job. She is fair to both sides of the fence, and she's always open to talk and discuss situations.”

Following the end of the public comments, the supervisors called Lewis up to answer questions and share her qualifications. In addition to her experience as a staff sergeant in the Air Force, she pointed toward her current pursuit of a master's certificate in election and registration administration from Auburn University, which she plans to complete in 2023.

When District 1 Supervisor Kevin Kavanaugh asked about Lewis’s top priorities in her new position, she acknowledged facing challenges but promised to continue her predecessor’s strategy.

“I'm filling some pretty big shoes,” Lewis said. “My mentor Virginia has been amazing. I want to ensure that her staff continues to be recognized going forward and making sure that the early voting process, the integrity, is there and secure.”

Lewis also promised to liaison with the new elections director while managing the recorder's five satellite offices spread across the county.

Before concluding for the day, the board mentioned it had set a meeting for August 17 to discuss the issues with the recent election further.

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Jeff is an award-winning freelance journalist covering news, business, science and the arts. His work has been published in Discover Magazine, Vice, the Phoenix New Times and other outlets.

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