Election Problems Hearing

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Republican representative Michelle Ugenti-Rita, the chair of the House Elections Committee, will talk about a hearing where angry voters expressed their outrage at last week’s long voter lines in Maricopa County.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," we will hear from the state lawmaker who held yesterday's contentious hearing on long election lines. And we will discuss how American Universities can and should evolve. That's next on "Arizona Horizon."

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS. Members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The ninth circuit court of Appeals rejected yet another attempt to block an Indian casino on the tribal land near Glendale. The court ruled unanimously against arguments by other tribes and the State that the casino violated a gaming compact ratified by voters in 2002. State officials argue the compact prohibited a casino on land that wasn't originally part of the tribe's reservation. The court ruled the compact was negotiated at length. The language is unambiguous and authorizes gaming on Indian lands. The tribe's attempts to conduct Class 3 gaming waits a separate ruling in U.S. district court. Long voting lines in last week's Presidential Preference election led to a raucous hearing yesterday by the House elections committee. A number of people spoke and they were not happy.

Video: Helen Purcell, please resign. Do us all a favor and resign.

Video: I want a Federal investigation in a nonpartisan recount of this entire vote. We need another day of voting. OK? We need to count all provisional ballots! OK? That's what we need to do. [cheers and applause]

Video: No more voter suppression should be tolerated in Maricopa County. We demand our votes be counted. We demand a revote on June 7th with an open primary. Current corruption needs to be held accountable.

Ted Simons: Joining us now to talk about the hearing and what can be done to avoid similar voting problems in the future is state representative Michelle Ugenti-Rita, chair of the house elections committee. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon."

Michelle Ugenti-Rita: Thank you.

Ted Simons: This was your meeting.

Michelle Ugenti-Rita: Yes.

Ted Simons: You held this meeting. What were you looking for?

Michelle Ugenti-Rita: Well, I was looking for answers. I wanted to provide a platform for the public to hear from their elected officials who were part of the decision-making process that led up to last Tuesday's election cycle. And then also provide them with a platform so they could express their either dissatisfaction or their experience at the poll.

Ted Simons: First of all, did you get answers?

Michelle Ugenti-Rita: Yes. I'm not sure they were satisfactory. But we did, answers were provided.

Ted Simons: What questions were answered? Do you think? Or at least what did you hear as far as explanations?

Michelle Ugenti-Rita: Well, the biggest problem was polling locations. It was -- immediately the public could tell there was a lack of polling locations. So the first part of the hearing centered on why. Why did we go from, in 2008, 403 polling locations, 2012, 411, 2016, 60 polling locations?

Ted Simons: And the answer was?

Michelle Ugenti-Rita: I messed was the answer, basically. From the County recorder.

Ted Simons: We had Helen Purcell on the program as well, County recorder who has taken, apologized continually, said they made a big mistake, a big mistakes, it was a bad decision. She also mentions, though, that the State has been cutting funds to Counties regarding elections, has not fully funded the Presidential Preference election, which is what this was. And that she hasn't said the State is responsible but others are saying it. And wondering, what is the responsibility of the State to fully fund these elections?

Michelle Ugenti-Rita: Well, their funding reimbursement has been the same for several Presidential Preference elections. It's been at $1.25. To now all of a sudden say that you weren't able to hold a proper Presidential Preference election because there was a cut is really inaccurate. They operated with a $1.25 reimbursement which is what they had in '12 and '08 and what they had beyond that.

Ted Simons: But again, some County voting officials, and not just Maricopa County, are saying they haven't been reimbursed and the County has had to pay, roll back and pay for some of the past No reimbursement. Valid argument?

Michelle Ugenti-Rita: No. That doesn't, that's not an adequate answer to what happened on Tuesday. Again, we went from 411, 403 polling places to 60. Look at the other Counties. This was the only County that had this problem. Look at the other 14 counties. They were able to manage with the, with that reimbursement rate.

Ted Simons: I know they had Clint Hickman on this week, last night as a matter of fact and he said he remembers saying, he told Helen Purcell be as frugal as possible because of some of these cuts from the State. Again, is that a fact, not the main factor but was it a factor? It sounds like it was a cost cutting move.

Michelle Ugenti-Rita: Other Counties decided to maximize their voting locations. There isn't enough justification there to make those kinds of drastic cuts in voting locations. They operated fine in all of the other Presidential Preference elections with the same reimbursement rate. They never had 100% full reimbursement from the state. There was nothing unusual about this Presidential Preference election when you look at their past Presidential Preference elections. So why this one took a drastic turn? It's hard to say.

Ted Simons: Was it a miscalculation?

Michelle Ugenti-Rita: You know, I think that's probably -- probably a lot to do with it, a miscalculation. Not being in touch with what's going on, turnout across the country has been huge. To not anticipate that here seemed like a miscalculation.

Ted Simons: Was this an example of voter suppression in your mind?

Michelle Ugenti-Rita: No. I don't think this was a case of voter suppression. I think it was a case of mismanagement, and not, and not understanding the political dynamic. This is a very important race. This is an open presidential seat. Turnout was going to be high naturally. And so to make the kind of drastic cut in polling locations, there's really still not a good justification.

Ted Simons: Mayor of Phoenix among others, I think he call would it a fiasco. The Governor said it was unacceptable. Called it a fiasco. Wants the Department of Justice to take a look because there were so few polling places in low-income and minority neighborhoods. Does that concern you?

Michelle Ugenti-Rita: I didn't hear anything in the hearing that suggested that was intentional. So I'm not necessarily concerned that there was an effort to do that. What I am concerned about is there was a drastic cut in polling locations beyond a reasonable -- you could understand, you know, a certain level of cut. But this one was so extreme in nature. And there was really no justification.

Ted Simons: As far as the hearing is concerned, were you surprised by the turnout?

Michelle Ugenti-Rita: Yes and no. No in the sense that people care about their vote. People care about their vote, it's a fundamental right. They ought to care about it and when it gets messed up, people get upset. So to that degree, I'm not surprised.

Ted Simons: Some people said they didn't get to speak. There should have been extra time allotted because so many folks wanted to say different things. Did they have a valid argument?

Michelle Ugenti-Rita: I had to manage it. Everyone got two minutes. Public engagement should ever be considered a bad thing. I called the hearing because I believe in public engagement. At some point there had to be an end point. So we did the best that we could with the time. That's the allotted time that I got. And I think we used it to the best of our ability.

Ted Simons: Let me throw some things at you. You are elections committee here, state lawmaker, can affect change. Should voting hours be extended from what you saw last week?

Michelle Ugenti-Rita: I think that is a very relevant policy discussion. I think that should be considered. Extending voting hours could be very impactful.

Ted Simons: Should same day voter registration?

Michelle Ugenti-Rita: Potentially. Potentially. I mean, these, all of these ideas are good ones and I think that I think there needs to be a methodical effort to look at all the different things that we can do. But we have to remember, some of the items are legislative in nature. And some of them, there's not necessarily a legislative fix and we need to make sure we know which is which.

Ted Simons: I know, I believe that one of the people that we had on, one of the speakers, it's a blur now we have had so many people talking about this. But they had mentioned that voter fraud, the Legislature is constantly harping on voter fraud whether it exists or not. Ballot collection the latest major issue that the Legislature took up and affected. And yet this seems to have affected so many more people. Does the Legislature get -- I mean, do you understand that some of those folks were so upset about concerns over voter fraud by you and other lawmakers, and yet this was just a glaring example of folks whose voting opportunity was compromised at best.

Michelle Ugenti-Rita: Well, I mean, I will tell you that after Tuesday, I'm even more confident about championing I think the bill that you are referencing is 2023. Because that bill has to do with voter integrity. A voter needs to be responsible for voting and then turning that vote in via the mailbox or at a polling location. Yesterday's hearing showed me that voter integrity was what that audience cared about. And so I don't see that those two items are connected at all. I think that the bill is about voter integrity. The hearing was about voter integrity. And getting to the bottom of why we had such few voting locations was about making sure that we continue voter integrity and voter trust in our electoral process.

Ted Simons: But you see how they did, some folks did make the connection. There's so much concern about this and so much legislate zilch activity and something like this flies under the radar and explodes. They are still not sure if lawmakers, Board of Supervisors, elections officials are taking this seriously.

Michelle Ugenti-Rita: What happened on Tuesday?

Ted Simons: Well, what happened on Tuesday in general, but just the -- what seems to be a perception of an increased difficulty in voting.

Michelle Ugenti-Rita: Well, I'm not sure that's necessarily true. I mean, that may be someone's perception. But I'm not necessarily -- we make it very -- we make it as convenient as possible in Arizona. To vote. That is something that the Legislature, I think, prides itself on. We have early -- we have early voting rolls. We have long hours. Whether we should extend them is an interesting point and I think that's up for conversation. But really Arizona makes it as easy as possible to vote.

Ted Simons: Last question. What is going to come of what happened Tuesday? What is going to change? Your hearings, what will come out of them? What changes?

Michelle Ugenti-Rita: Well, one, I think people are engaged. They're watching. This next election that's coming up May 17th will be an interesting one to watch. People are participating. And I think one public official responsible for this are on notice. And, two, over the interim we can look at legislative changes and you will probably see legislation be introduced next session.

Ted Simons: All right. Very good. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Michelle Ugenti-Rita: Thank you.

Michelle Ugenti-Rita: Chair of the House Elections Committee

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