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Delays in opening polling locations disrupts Arizona primary

August 29, 2018
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Voters exit a polling station on primary election day Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX (AP) — Voters faced more problems at Phoenix-area polling places during Arizona’s primary election, with several locations opening hours behind schedule Tuesday because voting machines had not been set up on time.

It comes after voters waited in long lines for hours during the 2016 presidential primary because of drastically reduced voting centers, which have since been restored.

Even after polls officially closed at 7 p.m., social media video was showing long lines of voters outside public libraries in Tempe and Phoenix. Since they were in line before 7 p.m., they would be allowed to vote.

Leaders of Arizona’s most populous county earlier in the day rejected calls to try to keep polling places open later. Maricopa County officials say asking a court for longer voting hours might have confused people and delayed returns.

The office of Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, who unseated the longtime elections chief over the 2016 uproar in the state’s most populous county, said 62 polling places didn’t open on time but all were operating by 11:30 a.m. The county has about 750 locations.

No problems were reported in other parts of Arizona.

More than 200 polling places were not working Tuesday morning for Arizona's primary election. Officials say a contractor hired to set up voting machines in the Phoenix area failed to send enough technicians. (Aug. 28)

A contractor hired to set up voting machines didn’t send enough technicians to get them going on time, Fontes said, and his office quickly trained and deployed workers once it learned of the issue Monday afternoon.

“This is not a hiccup, this is a serious concern where lots of voters in Maricopa County are not able to get voting,” Fontes said.

A spokeswoman for the recorder, Sophia Solis, said she was not releasing the contractor’s name.

The head of elections in Arizona called on the county to seek a court order to keep the polls open later, but leaders opted against the move.

The county’s Board of Supervisors wasn’t notified Monday when Fontes learned of the problems, and the recorder’s office has “no shortage of resources to run a successful election,” Chairman Steve Chucri said.

“Now the board is being asked to step in and take unprecedented action that may confuse voters, delay returns, and have other unintended consequences,” Chucri’s statement said.

Dozens of people reported showing up to cast ballots and getting turned away. Fontes made no mention of the troubles during a Facebook Live video he recorded with a voter shortly before polling places opened at 6 a.m.

“We are excited about opening up our polling places in a couple of minutes,” Fontes said.

He said in the video that voters could go to their usual polling places or to any of 40 voting centers that anyone can use regardless of where they live.

Fontes said he learned of the issue around 2 p.m. Monday and realized by the evening that it “was going to be a real problem.” He said only about 70 of the 103 technicians contracted to set up the machines at individual polling sites showed up.

Phoenix voter Brent Kleinman said he went to his local polling place twice — at 7 a.m. and at 10:30 a.m. — but was turned away both times. He ended up at a library having to cast a provisional ballot, which are given out when a person’s eligibility to vote is unknown.

Kleinman was one of the hundreds of voters who waited in long lines two years ago. He said he voted for Fontes in 2016 in the hope a new leader would reform the elections system but was also skeptical.

“You would think after the bad things that happened in that 2016 that the county and state would create processes that would prevent things like this from happening,” Kleinman said.

Ben Saylor said he arrived at his polling place in north Phoenix and was told the equipment would not be set up until lunchtime. He was directed to a vote-anywhere polling station and also was told he would have to cast a provisional ballot.

Such ballots are kept separate until after the election, and they are counted if officials determine voters were eligible to cast them. It’s unclear how many people got provisional ballots in the Phoenix area Tuesday.

“If you’re a registered citizen, and you have the right to vote, there should be no such thing as a provisional ballot,” Saylor said.

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Associated Press reporters Paul Davenport and Annika Wolters in Phoenix contributed.

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