E-Pollbook Malfunctions To Blame For Some Maricopa County Voting Lines Tuesday Morning

Published: Tuesday, November 8, 2016 - 4:00pm
Updated: Tuesday, November 8, 2016 - 7:10pm
(Photo by Jude Joffe-Block - KJZZ)
An e-pollbook is seen at a Maricopa County poll worker training in August.
(Photo by Jude Joffe-Block - KJZZ)
Randy Parraz of Bazta Arpaio, which is compaining of lines at the polls.

Glitches with the e-pollbooks caused lines at various polling places throughout Maricopa County on Election Day morning. By late morning, election officials said sites that had seen morning lines were running smoothly again after problematic equipment was swapped out.

Poll workers use e-pollbooks, which look like tablets, to check in voters electronically. They are generally seen to be a way to speed up the voting process, but equipment malfunctions in some locations delayed voting on Tuesday morning. Maricopa County has used the technology in previous elections but this will be the first presidential election the county is using e-pollbooks.

After long lines during the March Presidential Preference Election, the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office set a goal of less than 5 percent of voters waiting more than 30 minutes in line.

In the weeks leading up to Nov. 8, KJZZ previously reported experts predicted lines would exceed that goal unless county officials purchased 100 more e-pollbooks or changed their plans for allocating them.  In response to the expert feedback, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office told KJZZ it was too late to purchase more e-pollbooks and said her office was confident its own plan would not result in long lines for most voters.

Not all polling places experienced lines on Tuesday morning, for example polling places KJZZ visited in Laveen and Avondale appeared to be running smoothly.

At Madison Park School in Central Phoenix at 8 a.m., e-pollbook-caused delays meant it took a KJZZ reporter about an hour to vote even though there were only 25 people ahead of her in line. The site only had two e-pollbooks, and it took workers several minutes to check in each voter. The reporter observed 12 voting stations inside the polling place, but only saw, at most, four in use at a time.

At the Church of the Nazarene in Maryvale, Jonathan Gutierrez waited two hours in the morning with his young son before giving up and abandoning the line. When he came back several hours later, the line was shorter, and it took him 45 minutes to vote.

Gutierrez started his day trying to vote at a different polling place, but a poll worker directed him to the church. E-pollbooks show poll workers where voters’ correct polling places are located and are instructed to direct them to go there, since under Arizona law, voters must vote in their correct polling place for their vote to count.

“It was a lot more smoother last election than it was this time,” Gutierrez said referring to the 2012 presidential election. “You have problems too, where people are coming from different places and they think they can vote anywhere. And that’s how I thought it was too.”

At the Salvation Army in downtown Phoenix there were reports of long lines as soon as the location opened. Voters who got there before 6 a.m. or just after that reported waiting an hour or more. They were told by poll workers the e-pollbooks were not working.

Stacey Morley, a volunteer with the Arizona Advocacy Network, arrived at the Salvation Army at 10 a.m. to observe. She said she saw people leave the line without voting. But by 11:30 am there was no longer a line outside of the building.

Maricopa County Recorder’s Office spokeswoman Elizabeth Bartholomew said the e-pollbooks were the primary cause behind the delays in the morning but that county election officials were able to swap out the ones that were not working. She said there was not one single reason why e-pollbooks malfunctioned, some were not charged, while others froze.

“It was just kind of random things,” Bartholomew told KJZZ late Tuesday morning. “It would be 1 in a polling place of 4 e-pollbooks or something and so you know it’s electronics, it’s technology. Your phone freezes your laptop freezes stuff like that.”

Bartholomew said once the issue with the technology was resolved, lines died down and some locations were even a little slow by mid-morning.

The group Bazta Arpaio, which is trying to mobilize voters to vote against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, said its volunteers observed lines longer than 30 minutes at 18 of the 50 polling locations it monitored in the morning.

“People having to wait 45 minutes to an hour, people leaving to go back to work, we call that voter suppression. Voter suppression does not require intent, it requires outcome,” said Randy Parraz, with the Bazta Arpaio campaign. “And that is happening in the precincts we are looking at, not all the precincts, the predominantly Latino precincts.”

The campaign called on County Recorder Helen Purcell to keep polling locations open longer if they experienced problems in the morning. After they got no response, a campaign leader told KJZZ the group would issue a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice.

The polls are slated to close at 7 p.m. Anyone who is in line before 7 p.m. is supposed to be allowed to vote.

After some voters waited more than five hours during the Presidential Preference Election, Democratic groups sued Maricopa County over the lines. The parties reached a partial settlement in that case, which required the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office to consider expert advice over how to reduce lines and allocate e-pollbooks.

In October those experts alerted Maricopa County officials that 1,900 e-pollbooks would be necessary to ensure fewer than 5 percent of voters wait in line for less than 30 minutes.

But Maricopa County only owns 1,800 e-pollbooks and planned to deploy 1,650 to polling places, keeping the remainder in reserve to swap out if equipment malfunctioned.

The experts also recommended county officials further extend in-person early voting hours to decrease Election Day lines, which county election officials declined to do.

“I think our plan is going to be successful,” Bartholomew told KJZZ in late October in an interview about the experts’ advice. “And we are still hoping for the best that 30 minutes is the maximum that voters are going to have to wait in line for this election."

KJZZ reporters Jude Joffe-Block, Carrie Jung, Casey Kuhn and Stina Sieg contributed to this report.

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