Glendale council criticizes county for election handling - Your West Valley News: Glendale

Glendale council criticizes county for election handling

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Posted: Wednesday, September 21, 2016 7:00 pm

Glendale recently adopted the official vote count but not before some of its council members harshly criticized the county for how it handled the city election.

A polling place that opened late on primary election day and a bag of ballots left unattended overnight in a school building prompted concerns among elected leaders. The Glendale City Council election was tight with an upset in the Yucca District race where the incumbent lost by 46 votes.

"We entered into a contract with Maricopa County to conduct the election for us," Councilman Bart Turner said. "We have a duty on the taxpayers’ behalf of getting what we paid for."

Mr. Turner said the county was not proactive with predictable difficulties such as a polling place opening up late and election officials kept the Glendale city clerk in the dark about problems that occurred. He also raised concerns with unattended ballots left at Don Mensendick Elementary School near 67th and Missouri avenues.

"I’m concerned that the county did not attach a much higher level of rigor in its chain of custody," Mr. Turner said. "For the county not to do its best is a disservice to our residents."

Mr. Turner said his constituents called to say the Aug. 30 primary day blunders undermined their confidence in the election process.

"We did a good job," county elections spokeswoman Elizabeth Bartholomew said. "Sometimes things happen out of our control."

She disputed comments staff was not forthcoming with information to the Glendale city clerk and added staff was available all day during the election to answer questions.

Countywide five precincts opened past 6 a.m. with the latest one opening at 7 a.m., Ms. Bartholomew said. The polling place at Glendale High School opened late because the one poll worker who showed up was in a wheelchair and was unable to open the polls by himself, she added. Polling places opened at 6 a.m. and closed 7 p.m.

"When we found out he was by himself, we sent out our own staff to help him open up the polls and it was opened by 7 a.m.," she said. "The first voter voted at 7:20 a.m. We had heard nothing from actual voters complaining that they were unable to vote because a polling place was not opened."

As for the unattended ballots, she explained an inspector at a co-located polling site was to bring two black bags containing the ballots and memory packs back to the elections department for counting but he inadvertently failed to grab one of the bags. By the time election officials discovered the missing bag it was 10:30 p.m.

"It was too late to do anything," Ms. Bartholomew said. "It’s 10:30 at night, the room is locked and nobody was going to let us in at the school."

The following morning the inspector and county election staffer retrieved the missing bag.

"The bag was sealed in a locked room and a locked school," Ms. Bartholomew said. "It was the exact same seal that the poll workers sealed the bag with. No one tempered with it.

She said with all elections, officials learn from them and make subsequent changes. For the Nov. 8 general election, poll workers will receive more training.

Poll workers are paid $120 for the day, $5 if they go to a set-up meeting the night before an election and $10 for training. Ms. Bartholomew said the county hired 4,000 poll workers to work the

primary election. She was unsure how many of them showed up for work. For the general election, the county is looking to hire 6,000 to 7,000 workers, she said.

This is the not the first time, Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell has come under fire for her department’s handling of an election,

During the presidential preference election in March, the department reduced the number of polling sites down to 60, which resulted in inordinate wait times for voters to cast a ballot.

Councilman Jamie Aldama shared Mr. Turner’s concerns and made it clear that the city clerk was blameless in any foul-ups. He said Glendale paid the county $128,000 for less-than-stellar service.

"There should be safeguards in place," he said, adding the city should hold everyone it has a contract with accountable. "The integrity of the process was violated by the lack of planning by the Maricopa County Elections Department."

Councilwoman Lauren Tolmachoff said when she spoke with the city clerk 10 days after the election the clerk still was not fully informed by the county of the glitches.

"The customer service provided by the county is unacceptable," Ms. Tolmachoff said. "The city clerk can’t even get answers 10 days after the election." The county needs to figure it out, They need to do more training and they needed to get it right. I hope people will reach out to the county that it is not acceptable anymore."

Councilman Ray Malnar, however, said his colleagues were too critical.

"There are always going to be issues and problems in an election," he said, adding he has been involved in elections and knows what all goes into them. "I think we are overreacting here a little bit. We need to work together to fix it so it won’t happen again."

Mr. Malnar said he was satisfied with the county’s explanations with what happened during the election.

"It’s not fair for the City Council to send a condemning message to the county," he said. "It’s a little bit stronger than the county deserves."

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