Maricopa County Officials Approve 2020 Election Day Plans

Published: Wednesday, December 11, 2019 - 2:50pm
Updated: Wednesday, December 11, 2019 - 5:24pm
Paul Atkinson/KJZZ

Maricopa County election officials and supervisors vowed to avoid a repeat of the 2016 election season, when long lines at polling sites drew backlash from voters.

The county Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Wednesday to approve plans for emergency voting and Election Day voting procedures.

They include plans for 220 polling places for the Presidential Preference Election on March 17, more than tripling the 60 sites that proved woefully inadequate when Maricopa County voters last chose Democratic and Republican presidential candidates in 2016.

Voter outrage led to the ouster of the former county recorder, the top election official in Maricopa County. Under a revamped election-planning process, new County Recorder Adrian Fontes and his staff have worked closely with an elections director, Scott Jarrett, hired by the board of supervisors to plan accordingly.

“If we all hearken back to 2016, I think we remember some of the issues that occurred during the presidential preference election,” Jarrett said. “There were long lines. You see images of voters standing in line even with their early ballots. I actually look back on that, and we can move and learn from those experiences.”

Among those 220 polling sites are 40 voting centers, or “vote anywhere” locations, that will open on March 9, two weeks before Election Day. Nine of those voting centers will open before then, on Feb. 19.

Those sites are available to all voters who want to turn in early ballots or vote on Election Day.

Rey Valenzueala, director of election services and early voting under Fontes, said the county plans to keep those 40 voting centers open for future elections.

“We are trying to brand this for every countywide election,” Valenzuela said. “We will have (at least) 40 vote centers, plus whatever amount of polling places are needed. … We will not move backwards from that 40 vote centers because they are our critical vote-anywhere sites.”

The early voting plan, under the purview of the county recorder, was adopted on Monday by county recorder Fontes.

As for Election Day plans, every polling site will be staffed with at least seven election workers, including voter registration clerks who can help voters update their information — for example, name or address changes — the day of the election.

In total, the county will hire and train more than 1,500 poll workers before the presidential preference election in March.

Those efforts, combined with new ballot tabulation machines purchased by the county, are expected to reduce peak wait-times for voters, as well as waits for results after the polls close.

That means voters should expect waits of no longer than 30 minutes on Election Day.

Voters will also be filling out new ballots. Gone are the fill-in-the-space arrows, replaced by ovals.

Jarrett said it’ll be easier for voters to vote and reduce misreads when running ballots through tabulation machines.

County officials also plan for a voter education initiative to stress that only registered Democratic voters can participate in the Presidential Preference Election.

The Arizona Republican Party canceled the GOP contest, ensuring President Trump will be the state’s Republican nominee.

That leaves 18 Democratic candidates to choose from. There are no other parties with candidates on the ballot.

Of the roughly 2.3 million registered voters in Maricopa County, roughly 724,000 are Democrats. The county estimates voter turnout from 45% to 59% of those voters.

Still, the county is prepared for at least some confused Republican and independent voters to still show up on Election Day – as many as 39,000 by conservative estimates. Those voters will be allowed to cast provisional ballots, since federal law does not allow them to be turned away at the polls, but their ballots will not be counted.

Supervisor Steve Gallardo said the plan ensures the county won’t be caught off guard again on Election Day.

“I think we were, even myself, caught flat footed four years ago,” Gallardo said. “I never anticipated the excitement on either side of the aisle… We just were not prepared. I believe we are prepared. I still think we need to be on our toes.”

The election plans also include steps to prepare for the March 10 city elections in Tempe and Chandler.