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What you need to know about Tuesday special election to replace Franks

(AP Photo/Toby Brusseau, File)

PHOENIX — Some voters in the Phoenix area will head to the polls Tuesday to cast their ballots in a special primary election to replace former Republican U.S. Rep. Trent Franks.

A dozen candidates are running in the Republican primary, including two former state senators, two former state House members and a talk radio host who got 29 percent of the vote in the 2016 primary against Franks.

Two Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination, hoping for a longshot win in the April 27 general election.

The 8th Congressional District covers much of the western Phoenix suburbs, where a Democrat has not been elected in more than 35 years.

Here’s what you need to know about Tuesday’s vote.

Why are we voting again?

The election will replace Franks, who resigned his seat in December following allegations that he offered staffers millions of dollars to serve as surrogates.

Who’s running?

As we said, there are 14 people running in the special primary election along with three write-in candidates. Voters will be asked to pick one candidate and, at the end of the day, two nominees will move on to a special election ballot.

The special general election was scheduled to be held April 24.

The field included several heavy hitters who have been in Arizona politics for a while along with some relative unknowns.

Many observers believed the favorites in the GOP race were former state Sen. Steve Montenegro, a Tea Party favorite backed by Franks, and former state Sen. Debbie Lesko, who had the support of popular former Gov. Jan Brewer.

Former state House member Phil Lovas, former state lawmaker and utility regulation commissioner Bob Stump and radio host Clair Van Steenwyk were considered to have a chance to win.

The Democrats were political newcomers Dr. Hiral Tipirneni and Brianna Westbrook.

Tipirneni is an emergency-room physician backed by former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords.

Westbrook became involved in politics several years ago as a transgender woman who argued for a Phoenix policy that would protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination.

Where can I vote?

More than 50 polling places will be open on Tuesday.

“It was important the voters in [Congressional District] 8 had a polling place to visit on Election Day if that is how they choose to cast their ballot,” Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman said in a January press release.

Each of the 53 polling places accepting ballots will be staffed by a least six workers who will use electronic poll books, a system to print ballots on demand and a tabulation machine.

The polls opened at 6 a.m. and will close at 7 p.m.

How’s turnout?

After originally thinking voter turnout may be lower than normal, Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan said the numbers may match or even top the primary two years ago.

“So many people are watching this election — not just in Arizona, but around the country — it’s kind of exciting,” she said. “It’s all happening here today.”

About 100,000 early ballots had been counted as of Tuesday morning and about 30,000 were expected to turn up at the polls.

“This is a big deal,” Reagan said. “We’re really proud of all the folks who decided to vote in this district.”

When will we know the winner?

That was difficult to say, but it will likely be sometime later Tuesday night. Reagan’s office was expected to begin posting results about 8 p.m.

What else should I know?

There were several scandals in the lead-up to voting day that may affect the outcome of the election.

Montenegro, a married father and Christian minister who was Franks’ district director, admitted last week that reports about the texts between him and a former Senate aide were true.

He said he became too close to the woman and that while she sent an unsolicited topless photo, he “never had inappropriate relationship with her or anyone else.”

The staffer’s attorney said Montenegro had “groomed” her for months and that they discussed various sexual matters.

Meanwhile, Lesko denied charges by Montenegro and others that her transfer of $50,000 from her state campaign committee for the primary contest was illegal. Lesko was one of the drivers of the state’s landmark school voucher program and touted her border security plan.

Another primary candidate, Lovas, has filed complaints with federal election officials and the state attorney general alleging Lesko’s cash transfers were illegal.

It was unclear what impact — if any — the scandals would have on the race, but Reagan said there was a surge in independent voters as the special primary neared.

KTAR News’ Jim Cross and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


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