Excessive lines in Arizona primary resulted from Purcell’s order, report finds

Mar 31, 2017, 5:30 AM | Updated: 11:18 am
(AP Photos)...
(AP Photos)
(AP Photos)

PHOENIX — A decision to drastically cut the number of polling locations in Maricopa County during the 2016 presidential primary election came from the top down and didn’t result in any staff firings, a new report found.

The decision made by former Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell caused massive voting lines and voter frustration — and ultimately led to Purcell being unseated by Adrian Fontes after holding office since 1988.

During a news conference Thursday, Fontes said staff who run the day-to-day elections operations weren’t consulted when Purcell decided to reduce the number of polling locations to 60, resulting in wait times of more than five hours for some voters who waited past midnight to cast their ballots.

After opening 200 polling places in the 2012 presidential primary, Purcell later contributed the downsized number of polling places to a lack of funding and predicted increase in mail-in ballots.

But lower-level elections workers thought the locations would be “mega polling sites” with multiple polling stations and 10 to 15 times the resources — a plan that proved to be “wholly inadequate,” Fontes said.

The report also revealed about 168 votes in the Nov. 8 general election were counted twice and 40,000 voter registration forms received before the 2016 election were left sitting in boxes.

Fontes said he plans to avoid these types of issues in future elections by working closely with his staff and the public.

“The main problem that I wanted to solve [when I ran for office] was the opaque and distant relationship that [Purcell] had with the people of Maricopa County,” Fontes said.

“My lesson going forward is listen to the folks who work in the office,” he added. “They’re really quality people, they’ve been here a long time.”

As part of the recorder’s budget request for fiscal year 2018, which starts in July, Fonte is asking for $11.8 million to help fund more positions.

KTAR News’ Kathy Cline and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Excessive lines in Arizona primary resulted from Purcell’s order, report finds