Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell

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Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell says she is taking full responsibility for the long lines at polling places Tuesday. Purcell will talk about what led to those long lines.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," Helen Purcell will join us to discuss long lines. We'll look at the history of Phoenix's art district, Roosevelt row. Next on "Arizona Horizon."

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." The Arizona Diamondbacks might be shopping for a new home. They say that Maricopa county has not lived up to it. The Diamondbacks wants to be released from provisions from the county that prohibit talks from others. In a statement released late to date, they stated that, quote, this spiral is in surmountable. May in fact, be become unsuitable for continued use. We cannot risk being put in this position. The county refused the team's request and said the d-backs must have permission through the 2024 season.

Ted Simons: A bill to expand Arizona will allow them to attend private schools with taxpayer's money. The new version will be children on free or reduced lunch plans. It had been criticized because most of the families come from wealthier areas.

Ted Simons: Arizona's unemployment rate is down 1/10 of a percent. 23,000 jobs were added and showing gains.

Ted Simons: Fewer polling places and higher voter turnout led to problems in Maricopa County during Tuesday's Presidential Preference Election. Many voters had to wait in lines for hours, with some finally casting their ballots after midnight. Governor Ducey called the situation unacceptable and Mayor Stanton declared it a fiasco. Joining us now is Maricopa county recorder, Helen Purcell, who is taking responsibility for what happened.

Helen Purcell: Yes, sir.

Ted Simons: So, what happened?

Helen Purcell: Well, we looked at a number of factors. The last contested presidential preference was in 2008 so we looked at our register roles since then. We have more people but we have a tremendous amount of people on our permanent voting list so you anticipate that those people since they're going to get a ballot in the mail won't be at the polling place. We also had a third of our voters who were independents and couldn't vote in the election. We took those into consideration. Before, we had bound precincts so you had to go within those lines wherever you lived and soforth. We decided another feature we could add, people could go anyplace. So you could go to any one of the polling places. If we spread it out, looked at the maps, tried to arrange it where there was enough coverage in all areas, that was our decision. It was obviously the wrong decision.

Ted Simons: Apparently so. But why such a drastic cutback from 200 four years ago to 60?

Helen Purcell: If you look at the drastic change in early ballots, you will see that.

Ted Simons: Still though, fewer than half -- the county has twice as many. You're saying because of early voters?

Helen Purcell: That was a lot of the issue.

Ted Simons: So do the early voters that you expected to vote early by mail, did a lot of them show up at the polling places?

Helen Purcell: Some of them did. You could drop your early ballot off of a polling place. We had some people who didn't do that and didn't bring their ballot with them so they had to go in and vote. If we could see the electronic polling books -- which we can now see at each polling place, we can see you haven't returned your early ballot, you don't have to vote a provisional. If you're an independent however and you go to vote, which we had a number of those, you have to vote a provisional. If your registration is independent, that vote isn't going to count.

Ted Simons: I don't know why independence showed up to begin with. I mean they aren't allowed to vote in the presidential preference election, that's A. But B, there were some reports, it sounded like some folks who were registered Republican or Democrat showed up and all of a sudden the list says they're an independent.

Helen Purcell: That's what we have heard. If we have a number of names have been sent to us, I know the Democratic Party sent us a list of names and every single one of the people on there is registered as an independent in their own hand, they're registered that way. They've either left it blank when they've gone to MVD. Now when you go to service Arizona, if you're registering that way on the internet, you have to put something in there. So there's a drop-down box that gives all recognized parties and you can say otherwise, I don't want to be recognized party. That's not the case when you walk in and are given an application. If you leave that blank, the person at the counter who is taking that, if they recognize that, they're supposed to ask you. If not, that is left blank.

Ted Simons: So I could be a registered whatever, but if I go to the MVD for whatever reason and leave that blank, I'm no longer a registered whatever.

Helen Purcell: We go back to your previous one. If you've left that blank, we go back to your previous registration.

Ted Simons: You mentioned back to cutting back to 60 was a bad decision.

Helen Purcell: Yes, absolutely, and I apologize to the voters for that. It was a bad decision on my part and it was inconvenient for them and I'm sorry. I applaud the voters who stayed in those lines because they wanted to vote and that's what this is all about.

Ted Simons: But, the board of supervisors, they ultimately decided on your advice, correct.

Helen Purcell: That's correct.

Ted Simons: Did anyone on the board express concern that we were cutting polling places by too much?

Helen Purcell: No, there were two of the supervisors that wanted one more in their area type of thing. At that point, it was almost too late for us to do that. We will certainly look at that because we were going to do something similar for the May election. We are now looking at if at all possible, doubling the number of polling places.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, something similar for May would not be another good idea.

Ted Simons: There was concern at the time that there weren't enough polling places.

Helen Purcell: Yeah, he did. But he did vote for it with our assurance that we would ultimately add more.

Ted Simons: The governor called this unacceptable. How do you respond?

Helen Purcell: I think it was unacceptable.

Ted Simons: Weren't election funds for counties cut in the last budget.

Helen Purcell: We are still looking at the money to come from the state to pay us for this election. There's a bill in the election that pays us for the election. But that has not worked its way all the way through the legislature. We hope that it does. We've also been told, if that's not the case, hopefully they will put it in part of the budget.

Ted Simons: I asked because the governor called it unacceptable. Because it calls for fewer funds to elections for counties, was that a reason to look for cost-cutting measures?

Helen Purcell: We always look for cost-cutting measures. We're dealing with taxpayer money. We're going to try to look at that issue. You can't ever make any decisions without that being a part of your decision. And that of course was a part of our decision. How can we make it more economical? And there again, the decision was wrong.

Ted Simons: Mayor Stanton called it a fiasco. He also noticed that there were disproportionately fewer voting locations in his city as opposed places like Peoria, Paradise Valley. Fountain Hills had one polling place for 23,000 voters. Phoenix had one her 108,000 voters and he doesn't like that. He thinks the justice department should take a look. How do you account for these discrepancies?

Helen Purcell: Well, as I said, we looked at the numbers where registered voters where and that was part of our decision. If that was an error, we didn't try to discriminate against anybody or look at one area or not the other. We were trying to spread it out. Fountain hills is in kind of a capsulated area. To my knowledge, they had lines but not the kind of lines they have in other places. Most people are right there. But, if there were less polling places, we will certainly look at that.

Ted Simons: But, we've also had state lawmakers say that in their legislative districts, they were zero or 1 polling place. How do you account for that?

Helen Purcell: For the presidential preference election, we don't put the legislative districts on the map to look at that. So I don't know and I'm sure my people don't know when they're looking at that.

Ted Simons: Did you understand their concern?

Helen Purcell: Absolutely.

Ted Simons: There's a thought that perhaps Latino voters, democratic voters in the city of Phoenix, more democrats there than in Fountain Hills I think it's safe to say, fewer polling places, disenfranchising.

Helen Purcell: We have never looked at the difference between republicans and democrats. I've been doing this for a long time and I don't look at that and my staff doesn't look at that. I tell them when they come into the office, you are not a party anymore, you are serving all the citizens.

Ted Simons: Last question on this. How again are -- the polling places are determined by previous voter turnout?

Helen Purcell: Turnout, number of registered voters, how many people are on the permanent early voting list. Many factors.

Ted Simons: So, when people say that this was an attempt at voter suppression, you say?

Helen Purcell: No. No. not on my part, it wasn't.

Ted Simons: Do you understand why they are concerned about it?

Helen Purcell: I understand it, yes. Never my intention. You and I have talked over the years about how do we get people out to vote, I ask that question a lot. That is my intent is get as many people as possible out to vote.

Ted Simons: We talked earlier about saving money, cutting back to 60 polling places. How much money did that save?

Helen Purcell: I can't you a hard and fast figure because it goes into several areas. I think it was considerable.

Ted Simons: Was it worth it?

Helen Purcell: Not now, no. Our hindsight is wonderful.

Ted Simons: Speaking of hindsight, as the day went on Tuesday, folks were realizing something isn't right here. Yet a lot of folks were not getting answers. Could the county recorder's office, could someone have provided more information as the day went on?

Helen Purcell: We sent out additional people and equipment to the polling places during the day, more in the evening because as you know, a bigger influx of people is that drive home time from 4 to 7 so we tried to send as much equipment out there. Had our regular employees stay there until the polling place was closed and helped them in that process.

Ted Simons: Help them only so much because the line stayed. So what they understood what was going on?

Helen Purcell: Well one of the things we were trying to do was walk the lines. We had asked the Marshalls to walk your lines. Make sure -- if somebody needs assistance, make sure they get to the front of the line. If they have a ballot they want to drop off, they can go right in because the box is right there to drop off their ballot. If there's any other conditions there, we need to know about that and if -- reminding them that if you are an independent, you are not eligible in this election.

Ted Simons: So there were folks out there walking the lines?

Helen Purcell: Yep.

Ted Simons: All right.

Helen Purcell: We have some people who voted in this election who had already voted.

Ted Simons: A lot of folks said they were in the dark, they stood there for hours and no one told them anything.

Helen Purcell: I hope that is not the case.

Ted Simons: This will be rectified by the May special election? This will be rectified by the November election?

Helen Purcell: Yes. August and November is a completely different thing. They're not special elections, those are regular elections. August and November both, we have 724 precincts and there will be polling places for all of them.

Ted Simons: You understand people are ticked off about this. I can't imagine standing in line like that. Some have called for your resignation. Will you resign?

Helen Purcell: No. Over the years, I've done a good job. Did I make a mistake? Yes. Do I think I can correct it? I think so.

Ted Simons: You think by May, all will be well?

Helen Purcell: I hope so.

Ted Simons: It's good to have you. Thanks for joining us.

Helen Purcell: Maricopa County Recorder

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