Arizona county blames human error for discrepancies in attorney general race

The county found hundreds of additional votes during a mandatory statewide recount

The third-largest county in Arizona is blaming human error and poorly-trained staff for the hundreds of additional votes it found during a state-mandated recount, which narrowed the already close race for state attorney general.

In a meeting Wednesday morning, Pinal county officials laid out various human errors and training lapses that led to a discrepancy of more than 500 votes between the canvassed results and the recounted totals. The initial count was off by 0.3% from the recounted results, the county said.

The errors included not tabulating ballots that should’ve been counted because of problems with poll workers checking in voters on Election Day and not double-checking ballots flagged by machines for further review.

“We made mistakes. There’s no two ways about it,” county attorney Kent Volkmer told the county’s board of supervisors on Wednesday. “Fortunately, it did not result in anybody’s election being changed.”

Volkmer said he is now confident that the recounted totals are correct.

“It took us a second try,” he said. “And a third try, quite frankly, with the day-of ballots. We have very thoroughly examined why this happened. And we’re taking every step we can to ensure that it does not happen again.”

Until last year, statewide recounts in Arizona were rare, but a new state law that went into effect in September 2022 increased the margin for automatic recounts, sending two statewide races to them.

It’s not unusual for recounted vote totals to differ from initial counts by a few votes, barely affecting the total and hardly ever changing the winner. But Pinal’s different totals is an outlier.

The changes most dramatically affected the attorney general race between Democrat Kris Mayes and Republican Abe Hamadeh. Mayes won the election, but her lead narrowed to just 280 votes after the recount, down from 511.

Hamadeh is now seeking a new trial to contest his loss. The large difference between the vote totals in Pinal county has led some Republicans to call for further counting in other counties, where discrepancies were nowhere near as big as Pinal’s.

The meeting of the county’s board of supervisors followed a public report that detailed the counting problems for day-of ballots, which include:

  • Some provisional ballots were not counted correctly.

  • Some polling electronic poll pads would not scan voters’ driver’s licenses, so some voters cast ballots without being formally checked in.

  • Paper jams in tabulation may not have been interpreted correctly, leading to miscounts.

  • Ballots with unclear marks weren’t adjudicated and counted in some cases.

  • A tabulation team in one case didn’t sort through ballots that were flagged for not being processed by the machine, leading to a stack of ballots that weren’t counted.

The county attributed the issues to “human error” largely caused by training lapses, not machine problems or any outside interference.

The problems during the general election come after different woes plagued the primary election in Pinal county. In the primary, some precincts ran out of ballots, causing long waits for voters, some of whom did not end up voting.

After the primary, the county fired its new elections director, David Frisk, and replaced him with the county recorder, Virginia Ross. The amount of staff and election spending increased under Ross, though long-standing issues with turnover, funding and a lack of institutional knowledge couldn’t be fully cured in the short time between the August primary and November general election.

Another new elections director, Geraldine Roll, is now in place, as Ross was only tapped to run last year’s election. Roll is the county’s fifth elections director since 2020. Ross received a $25,000 (£20,730) bonus for completing the general election successfully.

Roll told the supervisors she found “absolutely no evidence” of anything nefarious with the vote count, but that she believed the canvass of results was done “prematurely”.

“I think we had enough to have raised a few questions and we should have taken more steps before we canvassed, and we certainly had time,” Roll said. Ross was in charge of the department at the time of the canvass in November.

Roll, now tasked with leading the department after yet another problem election, said she will be compiling an internal procedures manual to ensure that all employees and poll workers know how to complete their tasks accurately and thoroughly. The manual, Volkmer said, will help address the gaps in institutional knowledge in the department.

While the vote count was off, board of supervisors chairman Jeff Serdy noted, “every vote got counted”.


Rachel Leingangin Phoenix

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Democrat Kris Mayes wins Arizona race for attorney general after recount
The state held a mandatory recount that saw Mayes beat her Republican opponent Abraham Hamadeh by 280 votes

Sam Levine in New York

30, Dec, 2022 @4:05 PM

Article image
Former attorney general in key state withheld evidence debunking 2020 election fraud
Republican Mark Brnovich’s successor releases reports that debunked claims of fraud in Maricopa county in 2020 election

Rachel Leingang

22, Feb, 2023 @9:17 PM

Article image
‘We will prosecute death threats’: Arizona’s new attorney general fights to protect election workers
As the state’s top prosecutor, Democrat Kris Mayes has the power to investigate voting crimes and bring charges against those who break election laws

Rachel Leingang

01, Mar, 2023 @11:00 AM

Article image
‘I see things now that I’ve never seen before’: the Maricopa county attorney fighting false election claims
Tom Liddy, a lifelong Republican, is a target of his own party for fending off lawsuits against the county over blatant election lies

Rachel Leingang

19, Jan, 2023 @11:00 AM

Article image
Arizona voters approve Republican measures to restrict ballot initiatives
Two measures get go-ahead from voters but bid to institute stricter voter ID requirements fails

Rachel Leingang in Phoenix

21, Nov, 2022 @3:30 PM

Article image
Revealed: Trump secretly donated $1m to discredited Arizona election ‘audit’
Funding for controversial review of state’s vote count in 2020 election can be traced to former president’s Pac

Brendan Fischer and Ed Pilkington

27, Jan, 2023 @11:00 AM

Article image
Early voters in Arizona midterms report harassment by poll watchers
Complaints detail ballot drop box monitors filming, following and calling voters ‘mules’ in reference to conspiracy film

Rachel Leingang in Phoenix, Arizona

20, Oct, 2022 @7:57 PM

Article image
Arizona judge declines to sanction Kari Lake for lawsuit challenging election
Case contesting race for governor was rejected and Republican candidate ordered to pay $33,000 to cover legal costs

Sam Levine in New York

28, Dec, 2022 @3:07 PM

Article image
Arizona: elections director in county that refused to certify results quits
Lisa Marra, who worked in Republican Cochise county, condemns ‘physically and emotionally threatening’ work environment

Rachel Leingang

26, Jan, 2023 @11:00 AM

Article image
Could election denialism in a feuding Arizona county upend US democracy?
Republicans in Cochise county who undermined midterm election gain control in critical swing state for 2024

Rachel Leingang

16, Mar, 2023 @10:00 AM