PHOENIX — A massive mistake on more than half of Pinal County's early ballots has now morphed into a legal and electoral mess that might not be cleared up for days or weeks.
Here's the problem: Up to 63,000 early ballots - more than half of all ballots mailed out last week - either list the wrong municipal elections for the voter's jurisdiction or they're missing the municipal races entirely.
Elections on the ballot for federal, statewide, legislative, and county offices aren't affected.
Just days after the county shared with voters and the media its solution to the problem, Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer said Monday that plan was "on hold."
"It's a terrible time to make that mistake. It was a human error," Volkmer said in an interview Monday.
But the plan presented Friday - 48 hours after the ballot mailing - might have resulted in lawsuits, Volkmer said.
"Our concern became that if we rushed and did things too quickly, we could actually compound an already very difficult situation."
Volkmer had this message for voters who've received or requested an early ballot:
"Go vote now. If you've received a ballot, fill it out. If you are on the permanent early voter list, fill out your ballot, send it in. Do not wait on us."
If votes for incorrect contests are cast, Volkmer said, the county can deal with that when ballots are received.
2 Groups Of Voters Affected
Two distinct groups of Pinal County voters are affected.
- 46,000 voters who live within city or town limits in these seven municipalities: Apache Junction (Pinal County portion), Casa Grande, Eloy, Maricopa, Mammoth, Queen Creek (Pinal County portion), and Superior.
-Their ballots don't show city and town contests, or local elections like bond overrides. Voters in the seven municipalities can still use the original ballot for federal, state, legislative, and county contests.
- 17,000 voters outside of city and town limits mistakenly received city and town contests on their ballots. They can fill out the federal, state, legislative and county contests on their ballots. Any votes cast in city and town elections won't be counted.
How Election 'Got Twisted'
Volkmer described what went wrong at the county Elections Department:
"There were a number of small errors that continued to compound. But ultimately, what really caused the issue that we couldn't overcome immediately was simply a programming error.
"Somebody in our elections department, when they were ... putting all of these programs together, just made a mistake, they just did not properly code something. And as a result, for those seven municipalities, the election got twisted."
Seeking 1 Solution For All
"Our hope is to have one solution that works for everyone," Volkmer said. "We don't know if that's viable."
Among the options: Asking a judge to approve a new plan for the election, or holding a special election for municipal elections in the seven affected communities.
"We're really trying to explore everything," Volkmer said.
The Time Crunch
He acknowledged the clock is ticking.
Ballots are in the hands of tens of thousands of voters - up to 90% of the total turnout - and the election is just 22 days away.
"There's obviously a time crunch," Volkmer said.
"We worked all through the weekend. You know there's emails going at six o'clock this morning. We'll be here well into the night tonight and then tomorrow morning, we're back at it again, doing everything we can to try and bring a fair resolution to this matter."
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