Election problems linked to turnout (AZ)
Daniel Scarpinato and Josh Brodesky Arizona Daily Star 07 February 2008
Record turnout, voter confusion and short-staffed polling places on Tuesday produced an election as notable for long lines and names missing from the voter rolls as for the results.
With presidential primary votes still being counted Wednesday afternoon, election officials were trying to figure out how they were caught off-guard by a tsunami of civic involvement.
The turnout shouldn't have come as any surprise.
Turnout was at historic levels in states that voted before Feb. 5. And officials knew Tuesday was the first time since Arizona started holding a primary that both parties would be casting ballots on the same day.
Nevertheless, a day after epic voter lines and a massive number of provisional ballots were issued, no one wanted to take responsibility for what went wrong.
County officials blamed the problems on the state, which they say underfunds the process.
Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano suggested the two parties get involved in sorting things out.
"There should have been some better anticipation of turnout," Napolitano said at her weekly press briefing. "Both the Democratic and the Republican party leadership need to take the time, in light of what happened yesterday … and sit down with the county recorders and plan for a big turnout in November."
Turnout for both parties was about 44 percent, compared with 30 percent in the 2004 and 2000 primaries.
Complaints from people who showed up to vote only to find they weren't on the rolls were through the roof.
Nearly 12,000 voters out of roughly 130,000 voters in Pima County were issued provisional ballots. For perspective, in 2006, just 11,000 provisional ballots were issued when about 285,000 people voted.
The morning voter rush was barely over when the campaigns started hearing complaints and sounding the alarm.
County Elections Director Brad Nelson said he was surprised by the spike in provisional ballots, which are generally issued when voter registrations don't match identifications.
Nelson blamed people moving and not updating their voter registrations or requesting early ballots then not receiving them or not filling them out for most of the demand for provisional ballots.
But there were also a number of people like Amethyst Polk, 24, who said she is a registered Democrat, but when her name wasn't on the polling-place roster, election officials told her she must be an independent and wouldn't let her vote at all.
"There is also the possibility that people's names were not on the registration lists," Nelson said. "There are hints that perhaps there were pages missing from some of the registration rosters."
Not so, said Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez. "There were no missing pages."
Rosters were trimmed to only include Democrats and Republicans, who were the only eligible voters for the primary, she said. "That's all we printed were Democrats and Republicans."
In Rodriguez's estimation, there were a number of people who either made registration errors or weren't registered as a Democrat or Republican and didn't realize they couldn't vote.
"Was there confusion by voters out there? Absolutely," she said.
Maricopa County, with nearly 548,000 voters, issued 41,000 provisional ballots, which is a lower proportion than in Pima County, but still enough to trigger complaints.
"A lot of these people thought they were registered either a Republican or a Democrat, when in essence, they were not," said Yvonne Reed of the Maricopa County Elections Department.
Both counties also had problems with long lines — a relatively foreign event, particularly since the rise in mail voting.
Some voters in both Pima and Maricopa counties waited nearly two hours to cast ballots — and in Tucson cold weather prompted some to just give up.
Nelson and Reed said the delay was partly because state law requires the number of polling places to be reduced by at least half.
But Nelson also said the county didn't deploy enough workers to the polls. The minimum contingent should be six workers.
"In hindsight, I probably would have liked to have one or two more poll workers at each one of the facilities," Nelson said. "It wasn't that there weren't enough polling booths or polling machines. … It was processing through that line to show appropriate identification (that created the delays)."
But for officials, the long lines and problems at the polls point to a positive — a record number getting involved in the process.
"Our attitude is how wonderful that all these people turned out to vote," Reed said.