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Despite primary issues, Fontes touts positives of Maricopa County voting

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes speaks during a news conference regarding the most recent 2018 elections in the county Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX — A month after issues plagued dozens of primary election poll locations, Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes touted improvements to a voting system that accommodated record turnout.

“We are excited about taking the steps that we are taking to continue to improve on systems that for a very long time have not been working well. … This process, while not easy, will continue,” he said during a news conference Thursday that was livestreamed on Facebook.

Fontes pointed to changes in training and the way officials will deal with wait times in advance of the Nov. 6 general election. He also emphasized the availability of 40 vote centers than can be used by anybody, regardless of where they live in the county.

He said the county determined that moving away from precinct-based voting to a vote-center model would be cost efficient and increase access for voters.

“Precinct-based polling really narrows voters into one choice on Election Day, and that one place and that one time requires outdated technology and it requires an enormous amount of waste,” he said.

The vote centers, which were available during the August primary election, are less wasteful because custom ballots are printed on demand. Plus, they give voters more locations to choose from.

“We’re going to enhance the already existing training that our folks receive to help them better understand that voters can vote at any of those 40 vote centers,” he said, adding that most, if not all, of the centers will be open Wednesday-Friday preceding the general election.

He said poll workers will know to direct voters to the centers in the event a precinct can’t operate because of an emergency.

Another change, Fontes said, is that every polling site in the county will be regularly monitored for wait times, and resources will be redistributed to alleviate congestion.

Sixty-two of the county’s 750 or so polling locations did not open on time for the Aug. 28 primary because the voter verification machinery had not been set up. They all were up and running before noon.

“Scheduling, location and setup was obviously an issue that we overcame, not as quickly as we would have wanted to but it was part of what our result in our contingency was,” Fontes said.

He has blamed the contractor hired to connect the tablet-like devices, saying the company did not send enough workers to complete the job on time.

The company, Tempe-based Insight, denied the claim. An Insight spokesman said the company provided more technicians than requested.

The county compiled a report investigating the issues, but it has not been made public. Fontes said it was in draft form and in the hands of auditors.

He said the report did not include in-depth detail but is more of a fact sheet with statistics, a timeline of events and questions that have been raised by the public and media.

It was previously announced that the work the contractor was hired to complete will be handled in-house for the general election.

“The kind of work that we really need to get done but didn’t get done was essentially as complicated as plugging in a PS4 or a Wii or an Xbox,” Fontes said. “This is not rocket science.”

Despite the issues, a record number of votes were cast during the August election, with an increase of around 25 percent from the previous primary. That included early voting.

Fontes said his office’s actions helped facilitate the high turnout.

“This is a story of success in dealing with significant problems,” he said.

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