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Maricopa County trying to prevent another voting disaster

June 29, 2019 GMT

PHOENIX (AP) — In the past few big election years, Arizona’s most populous county encountered major voting issues.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors is looking to get ahead of potential problems in 2020 by restructuring the county’s entire election system and dedicating millions of dollars for new ballot-counting technology.

“The 2020 election could come down to Maricopa County. We know that,” board Chairman Bill Gates told the Arizona Republic. “We want these elections to be best in class.”

The board assembled professionals from a multitude of county departments earlier this year and tasked the group with solving the issues that have plagued Maricopa County’s elections.

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The improvements to the election process will prevent major issues such as those that occurred in 2016 and 2018 and will speed up vote counting and relieve concerns about the integrity of elections, according to Gates.

In 2016, former County Recorder Helen Purcell’s office drastically reduced the number of polling places during the presidential preference election.

That resulted in hours-long lines that caused some people to walk away from the polls without casting a ballot.

Voters ousted Purcell from office that year.

During the 2018 August primary, 62 polling places around the county weren’t set up and ready to accept voters when polls were supposed to open.

The early-morning woes gave way to a multitude of other issues that lingered throughout the day.

The November general election had far fewer logistical issues, but criticism of current County Recorder Adrian Fontes continued.

Republican-backed groups challenged the legality of new procedures he implemented and accused him of rigging the system for Democrats.

When the board relinquished its responsibilities to the recorder in the 1950s, Gates said Maricopa County had a population of 330,000. The county’s population currently is about 4.5 million.

Gates said it is no longer reasonable to place all of the responsibility of elections under a single elected official.

The board recently voted to create a new position — Election Day & Emergency Voting director. That person will work with the County Recorder’s Office but report directly to the board.

Supervisor Steve Gallardo, who previously worked for Maricopa County’s Elections Department, said the increased involvement will allow the board to see firsthand the needs of the department and ensure Fontes has the equipment and personnel to conduct “world-class” elections.

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The board also has approved $6.1 million for the Recorder’s Office to lease a new ballot tabulation system.

The county’s current tabulation system was purchased in the 1990s and can process no more than 75,000 ballots a day, which has led to long lag times on election results.

Gates said he expects the public will see faster results because of the new system.

The board also approved 26 new positions for the Elections Department, which Fontes has said many times is understaffed.

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Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com