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Early closing times for some Maricopa County drop boxes frustrate last-minute voters

Some county messaging had said drop boxes in the all-mail election would be open until voting ended at 7 p.m. on Election Day.

A dropbox at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center in downtown Phoenix on Election Day 2022. (Olivier Touron/AFP via Getty Images)

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Maricopa County voters who waited until the last minute Tuesday to drop off their ballot for all-mail local elections were surprised to find some drop-off locations closed when they arrived.

Seven of the county’s ballot drop boxes closed before 7 p.m. on Election Day, when voting ended, out of 45 total drop boxes and ballot replacement locations. Maricopa County had generally advertised that drop boxes would be open until 7 p.m., causing confusion at the sites with earlier closures and potentially preventing some voters from casting ballots.

“I truly felt bad for people who did not get to vote,” said voter Lori Walker, who was at one of the locations — Paradise Valley Unified School District’s office — just before 7 p.m. and provided photos and a video of several cars lining up behind the closed drop box. “There was panic in some faces when told they would have to go elsewhere to vote with very little time to try to make it.”

Maricopa County ran the elections — which mostly consisted of bond and budget-related questions — for 29 participating cities, towns, and school districts. All voters were sent a ballot in the mail about a month ahead of time, and there was no in-person voting, but voters could drop off their ballot or get a replacement ballot in person.

A department spokesperson said all of the county’s messaging directed people to the county’s website, locations.maricopa.vote, which had accurate information about closing times. That information was on the website since Sept. 21.

“There were 45 sites on election day and this was the most effective way to inform voters about where to go,” deputy elections director Jennifer Liewer wrote in an email to Votebeat. “There were several ballot drop boxes that were available until 7 pm. Even if we had said, ‘some ballot drop boxes will close early,’ we would have still sent people to the website to learn where to go.”

Every jurisdiction with an election had at least one ballot replacement and drop-off site open until 7 p.m. on Election Day. County voters could use any of the county’s locations, regardless of what jurisdiction they were voting in.

County messaging to voters and media, though, did not mention that some sites would close early. “Ballot replacement centers and drop boxes will be open from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m.,” the Elections Department wrote on Election Day in a news release sent out to reporters and posted on its website.

An insert sent to all voters with their ballot also told voters they could drop off their ballot “at any voting location or ballot drop box no later than 7 p.m. on November 7,” with an additional note telling people to visit the website for specific locations and hours.

And while the county’s website had correct information, Merissa Hamilton, a conservative activist on election issues, said that some people calling the county’s call center to get location information were not told that some locations closed early. Votebeat was unable to verify that.

Frank Walker, Lori’s husband, told Votebeat that the call center representative he spoke with seemed confused when he told her that the Paradise Valley drop box closed early and told him, “I’m not sure. That’s their regular business hours.”

Liewer said she didn’t have details about what voters were told by the call center, a separate county department.

Lori and Frank Walker showed up to Paradise Valley at about 5 p.m., after it closed at 4:30 p.m. After visiting another location to drop off their ballot, they went back to the Paradise Valley school district’s office to help direct voters, some of whom told them they didn’t have time to visit a second location, or were worried they wouldn’t make it in time.

“A dozen people said they were just going to forget it,” Frank Walker said.

Hamilton, who has worked with former GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, posted about the early closings on X, the social network formerly known as Twitter, calling it “ABSOLUTE CHAOS ON ELECTION DAY.” Hamilton said she stood outside the Paradise Valley location after it closed and helped direct voters to the closest open location. She also posted several videos of voters complaining.

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, who runs early voting for the county, responded to one voter complaint on X with no sympathy.

One of the drop boxes closed at 4:30 p.m., he wrote, “as was advertised. For weeks. And as was on the Locations website. And you could go to MANY other locations. On 26 other days.”

Supervisors Chairman Clint Hickman told Votebeat he stands by the recorder and elections director’s answers. He said his mindset is: “Now it’s bond elections???”

“Using words like ‘chaos’ and ‘suppression’ in regard to a bond election? Someone needs to buy a thesaurus,” he said.

Jen Fifield is a reporter for Votebeat based in Arizona. Contact Jen at jfifield@votebeat.org.

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