Pinal County axes elections boss after ballot problems
PHOENIX - Officials in an Arizona county that was plagued with issues during Tuesday's primaries have fired their elections director and said he is no longer employed.
Pinal County officials had promised swift changes during a Wednesday news conference where they did not assign blame directly on Elections Director David Frist, who was just hired in March. In a Thursday news release, they said elected Pinal County Recorder Virginia Ross had resigned and agreed to become the new elections director “in order to restore confidence for voters.”
Ross has been the county recorder since being elected in 2012. The office oversaw elections until county supervisors separated the Elections Department from her office in 2017. There have been at least three election directors since then.
Hundreds of voters complained Tuesday that they were unable to immediately vote at the polls because the county had run out of some ballots. One polling place was opened hours late because keys were not available.
At Wednesday's news conference, Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer and Jeffrey McClure, chair of the Board of Supervisors, both blamed the problems on human error. McClure called it “a major screw-up.”
Frist's county cell phone was disconnected.
The problems were the second in the primary. When mail ballots were sent out early in July, many were missing city races and the county — a growing suburban area south of metro-Phoenix and home to over 425,000 residents — was forced to send supplemental ballots to those voters.
On Tuesday, that earlier issue played a role during in-person voting at some of the county’s 95 polling sites. Each site may have had as many as 10 ballot styles.
A surge of people going to the polls led to some sites either running short or out of ballots. The county tried to print new ballots but old printers were limited and it took a long time in some cases to get new ballots to the affected polling sites.
At most, about 750 voters could have been affected, out of about 50,000 total mail and in-person votes tallied from Tuesday’s election, but that is “purely a guess,” Volkmer said. Many likely did vote.
“Quite frankly, we underestimated,” he said of the ballot shortage. “There were more people who showed up than we thought were going to show up.”
County officials were questioned by at least two state lawmakers at Wednesday's news conference. A voting rights group and the state and national Republican Party both complained about voters possibly losing their right to vote and the GOP called for Frist to resign. The party called his removal “an important step towards restoring Arizonans’ faith in their elections."
McClure said in a statement that the Board of Supervisors was “deeply embarrassed and frustrated” by the mistakes and were taking immediate action to ensure November's general election runs smoothly.
“It is vital that we restore trust with Pinal County voters, and I can assure the community that there is no better leader to take control of our Elections Department than Virginia Ross," McClure said,
The board plans to appoint someone to fill the remainder of Ross' term on Friday. County recorders handle voter rolls and early ballot mailing and record and maintain documents like property records.