Voters across the Valley encountered a series of problems when they tried to cast their ballots on Tuesday at their polling places.
Many complained about long waits for provisional ballots, which are given to those who don’t show up on the poll roster or fail to produce proper identification.
Officials with Promise Arizona in Action, an organization that advocates immigration reform and fights discrimination, said they are concerned that poll workers were given pre-election instructions that may have forced the huge number of provisional ballots. They also said numerous voters reported their names were not on lists used by precinct workers.
Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona, said she was told that 200,000 provisional ballots were cast, as well as 200,000 early ballots. She said counting of those votes will not even begin until this morning and she feared the Maricopa County sheriff’s race would be called before then. And it was, with Sheriff Joe Arpaio beating Democrat Paul Penzone to win his sixth term in office.
“Four hundred thousand ballots — that’s a lot,” Falcon said. “Even if it’s an Arpaio win, those votes should be counted.”
Roopali Desai, Promise Arizona’s attorney, said the number of provisional ballots is “unprecedented” in Arizona — or anywhere. “Nobody can explain it,” she added. “We’re trying to get to the bottom of it.”
Desai said the explosion in provisional ballots appears to be a Maricopa County phenomenon that produced long lines and may have caused some qualified voters to walk away out of frustration or confusion. Desai added that the surge in provisional balloting seemed especially strong in minority neighborhoods. If that suspicion is verified, she added, “it won’t look good for the county.”
The problems appeared to be widespread, though. The Mitchell Park precinct in Tempe reportedly ran out of provisional ballots. It took about two hours to get additional ones to the location, prompting many voters to leave without voting.
Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell said polls ran out of provisional-ballot envelopes, not the actual ballots. She urged “a whole lot of patience.”
“We have a number of precincts throughout the Valley — I can’t tell you how many — that still have lines. Some of them may have lines for a while,” Purcell said after polls had closed Tuesday night. At least one precinct, in Mesa, “had 200 people in line” by closing time, she reported.
“It’s going to be awhile until we see all the precincts come in,” Purcell said. “From what we hear from precincts today, there were a number of provisionals. I’m thinking it will probably take us 10 to 12 days to finish up our process.
In Glendale, Ray McGuran said he waited 21/2 hours in line to cast a provisional ballot.
“I ended up dragging a folding chair around with me,” the 67-year-old said. “The time it took was unnecessary.”
When Jason Whiteside, 32, showed up to vote at the Gathering Place church in Phoenix, he was told he could not fill out a regular ballot because his name was on a list of voters who had requested an early ballot by mail. Whiteside didn’t recall ever receiving the early ballot. To vote, he had to fill out a provisional ballot.
Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne said the county had an unusually large number of provisional ballots cast at polling places because many voters ordered an early ballot but went to the polls to vote without it. Provisional ballots ensure people don’t vote twice — at the polls and by early ballot.
Francisco Heredia, executive director of Mi Familia Vota, said a polling place in south Phoenix opened Tuesday morning 45 minutes late. His group, which has been working to increase the number of Latino voters in Arizona, also received many calls from voters concerned they had to vote by provisional ballot.
“They wanted to know if their vote would count,” Heredia said.
Lydia Guzman, executive director of Respeto (Respect), a Hispanic activist group in Phoenix, said there appeared to be a lot of voters frustrated by problems involving provisional ballots at the Maravilla Care Center in south Phoenix.
“We probably need poll workers with better training,” she said. “I was inside and some of them are clearly flustered.”
One first-time voter’s case illustrated the extent of the problems, as well as voters’ determination to make their voices heard.
Gabriel Polanco, 19, said he had to visit the polling site four times before he was allowed to vote.
Polanco arrived to learn that his name was not on the list of registered voters. Polanco, who registered last month, said his voter ID card had not arrived in the mail, so he showed his driver’s license and asked to cast a provisional ballot, but he was told he would need additional identification.
Polanco said he went home and returned with his vehicle title, a bank statement and other documents, but was turned away again because the address on his driver’s license was for his father’s business, rather than the family residence. “I started getting frustrated — more down than anything,” Polanco said.
Polanco’s mother, Reyna, pushed her son not to give up. “We always teach our children about responsibility to the community,” she said.
So Polanco went to a Motor Vehicle Division office and got a new license showing his home address. Again, Polanco said, he was told that he could not vote because his name was not on the registered-voter list. Polanco said he was ready to give up when he got a call from home: His voter ID card arrived in the mail.