By Jeremy Beren / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ
(Florence, Ariz.) — After a confusing and concerning weekend, voters in seven municipalities within Arizona's third-largest county know now what the next steps will be for dealing with a substantial administrative error that affected over 60,000 early ballots.
Pinal County reversed course on its initial plan to re-send 63,000 ballots that listed incorrect local races or omitted these races entirely. In an effort to combat what County Attorney Kent Volkmer has called a "human error," the county announced Friday night that it would mail out new ballots with the proper non-partisan municipal contests.
But Volkmer said Monday that the initial strategy was "on hold," pending a specially-arranged meeting of the Pinal County Board of Supervisors. Volkmer said simply re-mailing the ballots could lead to statute violations and open up potential lawsuits.
After deliberating throughout Tuesday afternoon, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to issue a separate, "Municipal Only" ballot to impacted voters in Eloy, Maricopa, Mammoth, Superior, and Casa Grande — along with the portions of Apache Junction and Queen Creek located in Pinal. This ballot containing city and town races will need to be completed and returned in order for early voters' choices to be counted.
"Pinal County leadership would again like to take this opportunity to express regret over the situation that has been caused by these errors, and wishes to reassure voters that we will work diligently to ensure the election runs as smoothly as possible from this point onwards with full integrity and transparency," read an official statement issued Tuesday night.
Pinal County's municipal elections are run on behalf of its cities and towns. Volkmer said under this agreement, Pinal is considered a "vendor." This means, without approval from city councils and constituents in Casa Grande, Eloy, and the other affected communities, county officials do not have the legal authority to alter how an election is administered — such as converting the local municipal races to mail-only elections.
During Tuesday's meeting, Pinal Elections Director David Frisk explained to the Board of Supervisors that a programming gaffe produced subsequent design mistakes on the early ballot format. Frisk said the error would have been detected and corrected with "thorough proofing."
Frisk, who began working at the Elections Department in March, told supervisors he was part of a two-person staff when he started four months ago.
When it came time to table potential solutions, Volkmer told supervisors that cities do not support the plan to re-mail the ballots, and that cities further disliked the idea of holding a special election at a later date to decide the municipal contests.
As the best strategy to combat these unusual circumstances, Volkmer lobbied for the county to create and mail corrective municipal race ballots that are meaningfully-distinguishable from the ballots already in voters' hands — even if this strategy might lead to legal consequences. These ballots may be colored differently or feature a special stripe so that voters can easily spot the distinction.
Because the original ballots already had federal and state elections listed, Volkmer advised affected voters not to delay if they already received one — especially considering that election day takes place exactly three weeks from Tuesday.
"Go vote now," the county's top prosecutor told 12 News. "If you've received a ballot, fill it out ... do not wait on us."