By Jeremy Beren / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ
(Florence, Ariz.) — Substantial changes are coming to Pinal County's Elections Department after ballot shortages affected this week's primary and municipal elections.
The county announced on Thursday it had fired elections director David Frisk, who had previously come under fire for a programming error that affected more than 60,000 early ballots mailed to voters in several communities.
Frisk, who was hired earlier this year to run the department, took the fall after nearly a quarter of the county's 95 precincts ran low on paper ballots — or exhausted their supply entirely.
"Every county official is embarrassed about what happened," Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer said at a news conference in Florence, the county seat.
Pinal officials have tapped County Recorder Virginia Ross as Frisk's replacement, with Assistant to the Recorder Dana Lewis stepping in for Ross.
An official county statement Thursday night announced the first batch of primary and municipal race results, with a "significant upload" expected Friday night.
With 89 percent of the Casa Grande City Council vote in as of Thursday night, one municipal candidate applauded the county's decision to take the elections department in another direction.
"I believe that the removal of David Frisk makes complete sense," City Council candidate Devin Festa told NewsBreak via text. "I'll be anxiously awaiting what the November election will look like in Pinal County."
"Indicative of a larger crisis"
Natali Bock, the executive director of Coolidge-based non-profit Rural Arizona Engage (RAZE), told NewsBreak in a statement that Frisk's firing likely could have been avoided if Pinal officials had condemned election misinformation and committed resources necessary to bolster the embattled Elections Department.
“What happened in Pinal County is indicative of a larger crisis happening throughout the country. The Big Lie has made elections officials less safe and overwhelmed. As a result, departments are overworked and understaffed creating a ripe environment for chaos," Bock said. "The Pinal County Board of Supervisors has had opportunity after opportunity to strongly condemn the Big Lie and reassure the public that our elections are safe and secure.
"Instead, the supervisors have allowed conspiracies and lies about the 2020 election to permeate and take root."
This phenomenon has been seen in some of the statewide races, with Donald Trump-backed candidates claiming victory in a number of races this week.
Former newscaster Kari Lake overcame challenger Karrin Taylor Robson to win the Republican primary for governor, while Pinal County Rep. Mark Finchem won the GOP primary for Arizona Secretary of State. Both candidates have spread baseless claims that the 2020 election was "stolen" from Trump.
Other Trump-endorsed winners include attorney general candidate Abraham Hamadeh, Arizona State Senate candidate David Farnsworth, and venture capitalist Blake Masters, who is challenging Democrat Mark Kelly for his U.S. Senate seat in November.
All five candidates won Pinal County easily.
Hidden Valley controversy
Pinal also faces withering criticism over allegedly preventing potentially thousands of residents from voting because its Hidden Valley precinct opened four hours late, according to the nonprofit watchdog group Arizona Democracy Research Center (ADRC).
The ADRC filed an emergency complaint in Pinal County Superior Court saying that 2,000 Pinal voters were not granted equal time to vote. The court rejected the complaint and ruled the polling station did not need to stay open past 7 p.m.
"The county has violated its citizens’ fundamental right to participate freely and fairly in democracy," RAZE’s Bock said. "Rural voters already face increased barriers to voting and the county's actions were unprofessional and unacceptable."
What comes next
Pinal County's Elections Department on Thursday evening offered voters a timeline for recording and tabulating the election day results.
After the Thursday and Friday updates, the county says it expects to have final results by Tuesday, Aug. 9. The Pinal County Board of Supervisors is then expected to canvas the results on Friday.
RAZE is taking a widescreen view and insisted it would keep battling disinformation and systems that suppress voting.
"We will continue working to hold elected leaders who uphold and embolden the Big Lie accountable," Bock said via statement. "We will continue working to make voting as accessible as possible for all eligible citizens.”
Meanwhile, a candidate like Festa simply wants Pinal officials to get their shop in order for future elections.
"I know the county is taking corrective action, so I'm hoping things go smoothly from now on," she said.