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The truth is out in Arizona. Who’s going to do something about it?

Pinal County election officials tried to paper over problems, but now they need to correct them. 

Virginia Ross, left, was elections director in Pinal County during the November 2022 midterm election. Geraldine Roll, right, was then in training to become Pinal County’s next elections director. | Courtesy of Pinal County govern
Virginia Ross, left, was elections director in Pinal County during the November 2022 midterm election. Geraldine Roll, right, was then in training to become Pinal County’s next elections director. (Courtesy of Pinal County government)

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Hi, y’all,

If you haven’t already, I advise you to read Votebeat Arizona reporter Jen Fifield’s blockbuster investigation into all of the mistakes made in Pinal County’s election results last November. 

It is a striking and deeply reported story: Despite election staff documenting clear errors during and after tabulating ballots, not a single person in Pinal County leadership sorted them out or told the public about them before certifying the election. The person in charge of this whole thing was the elections director, who the county was paying $40,000 a month with a $25,000 bonus if the election went smoothly. She was paid the bonus, and promptly moved out to Texas. 

As Phil Boas writes in an editorial for the Arizona Republic:

“The picture [Jen] paints of the Pinal County election is not a pretty one. Imagine the Hindenburg crashing into the Titanic. It’s so crazy, so filled with intrigue, that in a time when everyone is seduced by conspiracy theories and the certitude that artificial intelligence is going to wipe out civilization, it manages to demand our attention.”

Indeed, Phil. Indeed.

(A small digression, if you’ll indulge me, Phil. 

Of Elections Director Virginia Ross’s continued silence on this matter in the face of Jen’s multiple attempts to contact her, you write, “As they would say in Texas, this mystery is ‘hotter than a billy goat in a pepper patch.’” 

I have consulted my elders in Texas and can confirm that no one says this. Exhibit A: 

I completely agree, however, that absconding with a bunch of money and relocating to a small town in East Texas is a pretty spicy move, billy goat notwithstanding.)

Phil  asks, “But was it incompetence or funny business? The worst part is we don’t know.” 

Pinal County has been strikingly opaque during this process, despite their mistakes having a direct impact on voters — hundreds were nearly disenfranchised, without knowing it, because their ballots simply weren’t counted. 

The spokesperson told Jen they were declining interview requests because they were “looking to the future and not to the issues of the past,” which means “there is no appetite to do an interview.”

This isn’t the first time Pinal County, a fast-growing Republican county in the central part of the state, has unsuccessfully tried to move on from election problems. In fact, hiring Ross to run the election was the county’s response to a disastrous primary in August that occurred after county leaders neglected to provide enough resources for elections for years.

It looks as if that very expensive Band-Aid did not work. 

As Jen tweeted this week, she’s already heard from at least two public officials, a county supervisor and a state senator, who might have enough juice to make sure this doesn’t happen again. That’s great.

Less great: Many other people are also tweeting the story out to make political points that sometimes misstate the story’s actual findings. We’d encourage all of these people to use their positions to engage in real oversight that serves voters in Pinal, and we’ll follow up with all of them to see what their plans are for doing so.

Jen has even made it easy for them, suggesting four ways — complete with expert voices! — for counties to ensure that the errors she found in Pinal aren’t made elsewhere.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to sign up for our Arizona newsletter. And if you are in Pennsylvania, Texas, or Michigan, we have one for you, too! Our reporters are dedicated to doing exactly this type of unique and important work. It’s a brand of journalism that Election Law Blog called a “deeeeeeeep dive.” 

That’s eight E’s, folks. 

Back Then

As a palate cleanser, let’s examine a hero of Arizona’s voting space: Frances Mund. She was a leader of the suffrage movement in Arizona — first the territory and then the state. Unlike other suffragette leaders, Mund actively reached out to the Mormon community to win their support. She also helped strike a deal with statewide labor leaders to support their causes in exchange for supporting women’s suffrage, and was ultimately successful in achieving statewide suffrage for women in 1912. In 1915, she became the first woman elected to the Arizona state senate — representing Yavapai — and the second woman elected to a state senate in the country. 

New From Votebeat

From Votebeat Arizona: Pinal County’s election errors could have been avoided. Here’s how Arizona counties can prevent the same mistakes. 

From Votebeat Pennsylvania: These local candidates have given oxygen to election conspiracy theories. Now the Pa. primary could hand them control over the 2024 election. 

From Votebeat Pennsylvania: Despite advances, Philadelphia still falls short of providing equal polling place access to disabled voters. 

From Votebeat Pennsylvania: Everything you need to know about voting in Philly’s 2023 primary election (and not just for mayor)

In Other Voting News

  • Virginia last week became the eighth Republican-led state to withdraw from the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, a multistate consortium that helps states clean their voter rolls, NPR reported. Many of the state election officials now withdrawing have praised ERIC in the past.  
  • There’s bipartisan momentum behind a push to move Pennsylvania’s 2024 presidential primary date up, to increase the state’s influence over presidential nominees and avoid the Jewish holiday of Passover, Fox43 reported
  • A Wisconsin judge is ordering the state’s election commission to reconsider a complaint against false electors who, in 2020, attempted to cast the state’s electoral college votes for former President Donald Trump, the Associated Press reported. The commission must reconsider the complaint without allowing a commissioner who was one of the fake electors to participate. 
  • A Pennsylvania county judge ruled that images of ballots cast in person are not public, PennLive reported. The same judge had earlier ruled that cast vote records are public, a ruling under appeal by the Department of State. 
  • Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates spoke to the Washington Post about how the threats and false allegations over elections since the 2020 election prompted him to seek treatment and led to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, a harrowing look at what election officials around the country are facing.
  • Union County, N.J., and the U.S. Department of Justice have settled a voting rights lawsuit, with the county agreeing to provide all election-related information in both English and Spanish and ensure in-person language assistance is available to Spanish-speaking voters, among other things. 
  • Election officials are among the government Twitter accounts that lost the blue checks verifying their identity under the social media service’s new rules, increasing worries about impersonator accounts spreading misinformation, the Associated Press reported.  

Jessica Huseman is Votebeat’s editorial director and is based in Dallas. Contact Jessica at jhuseman@votebeat.org.

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