Report shows problems, not crimes, after 200K Arizona voters don’t get info
PHOENIX — An independent investigation showed the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office had several major issues but committed no wrongdoing last year after about 200,000 voters did not receive an information ballot for a special election in a timely manner.
The investigation report authored by Phoenix attorney Michael T. Morrissey said thousands of pamphlets were not mailed on time after a secretary of state employee went away from established practices and made a computing error.
Though the information going out late was a violation of state law, Michele Reagan’s office did not commit any criminal infractions because it did not knowingly delay the pamphlets.
“[Reagan] and her staff were well aware of this duty and did not knowingly fail to perform it. To the contrary, they endeavored to meet the obligation but … failed to do so,” the report read, later adding that the failure to meet the deadline “demonstrates poor or incompetent execution of the task.”
Attorney General Mark Brnovich said May 12 that Reagan’s office had broken the law, but he decided to allow the special election to continue as there was not much he could do about it.
“We do believe the secretary of state did violate Arizona law,” he told media. “Unfortunately, there is nothing in the statutes to provide an adequate remedy.”
In a statement, Reagan said her office has made staffing changes and added quality control standards since the mailing error.
Errors and delays
The investigation showed Reagan’s staff knew about the issue for weeks before fixes were made.
Early voting began in the special election — which would result in the approval of propositions 123 and 124 — began April 20, 2016. Within two days, at least one county had contacted Reagan’s office about voters not receiving pamphlets.
Three days later, reports began coming in from all over the state.
The investigation found that workers believed the pamphlets had been sent out correctly and thought the first reports of households not receiving them were on an individual basis.
“The fact that [Reagan] and her staff were mistaken does not change the conclusion that no violation of criminal law occurred in the attempted but failed execution of their duty,” the report read.
Reagan’s staff did not inform her of the statewide problem until May 9, after she heard about the issue on the radio.
Reagan notified county elections officials of the issue in an email two days later.
Prior to Reagan being informed, Deputy Election Director Janine Petty had been responding to questions from county election officials that more pamphlets had been ordered and voters would receive them well after the legally mandated date.
She did not give a reason for the delay.
The report pointed out that Reagan’s office was very quick to act on a ballot error in the same election. The Spanish language portion of Prop. 124 contained a major error that mixed it up with Prop. 123.
In a statement sent April 22 — the same day her staff began learning of the pamphlet mailing snafu — Reagan said she was “disappointed” to learn of the error, but said there would be a reprint of the Spanish ballots.
“We’re pleased that Maricopa County has agreed to reprint 700,000 polling place ballots and send a postcard notifying voters as to the error to 1.3 million voters who received an early ballot,” an April statement read.
Reagan also informed voters on social media.
The report said, had Reagan informed the public about the pamphlet issue as she had the ballot error, remedial actions could have been taken and those without internet access could have taken steps to get the pamphlets.
The report claimed voters could have found a solution to not receiving their pamphlet had they been informed in a timely matter, but it took weeks for Reagan’s office to publicly address the matter.
Reagan originally blamed the issue on IBM, saying her office did not get complete instructions from IBM on pulling voter data from a database management software system to build mailing lists.
The company pushed back and Reagan later took responsibility.
Despite the errors, the report said no employee was punished. Reagan was given the option to resign by state Election Services Director Eric Spencer. She declined.
Arizona elections have experienced troubles since the pamphlet snafu. Just this week, there was an error in sending out information pertaining to a Cochise County school budget override election.
A highly touted results website run by Reagan’s office crashed during last year’s primary and the state made nationwide headlines after voters waited for hours after the decision was made to slash the number of polling places during the presidential primary election.
Reagan was blamed for not foreseeing problems with Maricopa County’s plan to drastically cut the number of polling sites and her office investigated the issue.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.