Arizona officials confident about Tuesday voting, feel good for long-term outlook

Local elections across Arizona on Tuesday could be a low-level test
of voting systems stressed by years of threats and challenges that have
left some worried about the 2024 presidential election, now less than a
year away.

But elections officials said they are fairly confident – in the short
and the long term – that they will be able to train and staff polling
places, despite three years of what Maricopa County Recorder Stephen
Richer refers to as the “hullabaloo” of election challenges.

“We still have a great crew of poll workers throughout most of
Arizona. These are folks that have been doing it for a long time,”
Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes said last week. “In fact, I met
one recently who’s been doing it for 75 years and she ain’t gonna
stop.”

Research
by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice found that as many
as one in five workers will be handling their first presidential
election next year as a result of a mass exodus of election workers that
followed the charges and threats of the 2020 election.

In Arizona, Fontes said 12 of the state’s 15 counties have lost their
top election official since 2020. But he was careful to note that there
is a difference between poll workers and election administrators.

“Administrators are the folks who are really managing at the higher
levels and then training all the rest of the folks,” Fontes said.

He and Richer acknowledge that the public still has concerns over how experienced the frontline poll workers will be.

“I think it has been a real challenge for election officials and
election jurisdiction staff throughout the country to play catch up with
some of the things that one needs to know in order to administer
elections,” Richer said this fall.

Richer feels Maricopa County is doing its best to prepare workers for
the long nights, hard work and everything in between that come with
being an election worker.

“It’s a lot of public scrutiny,” he said. “And then couple that with
all the extracurriculars that have been piled on over the last three
years, whether it’s the threats, whether it’s dealing with global
pandemic and then add to that, that a lot of people are new and a lot of
people are learning things and a lot of people haven’t been in this
situation before.”

While a major election cycle would require Maricopa County to hire about 3,000 temporary workers, Tuesday’s elections on a range of intensely local issues will require only a fraction of that, said county elections spokesperson Jennifer Liewer.

Elections are scheduled in 12 counties, and issues will be decided by
mail-in ballots in most of those – although voters in La Paz, Navajo
and Santa Cruz counties will be able to cast a vote in person in certain
districts, according to the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

Commission Executive Director Thomas Collins said there will be some
voting locations open on Election Day for voters with a spoiled or lost
ballot.

“I was talking to a person who was working at one of them last week
and there are very few people coming through for those,” Collins said.
“It’s not something folks are using like they would in a state general
election like 2024.”

Liewer said that, even though Tuesday is a mail-in ballot election,
the county has staffed 36 election sites and hired more than 300
temporary workers who have been on the job since Oct. 30. This week’s
election may be light, but the training workers receive is the same as
for any election, she said.

Richer said that when it comes to training poll workers, there is now
a “premium poll worker training” program for people in lead positions
at voting locations who are put through different scenarios. He said the
“very intensive training program … did not exist prior to 2021, and
we’re trying to get it deployed to more of our co-workers who then can
help out the other workers that are at the various voting locations.”

Fontes said that workers now have to be prepared for what to do in
the event that they are threatened, something that was not included
before. That includes not just what to do in the event of a physical
threat, but for threats that might come “via social media or the
internet or on the phone.”

“It is a lot better than just kind of throwing them to the wolves and
hoping for the best,” Fontes said. “We can move forward in a
responsible way to try to stave off the negative impacts of the threats
that some folks are feeling.”

With just under a year to Nov. 5, 2024, Election Day, Richer said it
does not matter whether workers are new or old, they are all trained
alike to ensure they feel comfortable and confident at the polls.

“We welcome all types and we train them up and we get them in a good
position,” he said. “I think that election jurisdictions throughout the
United States are doing a good job but I do think that they have an
added challenge with all the hullabaloo that has been compounding on
election administration over the last three years.”