Local elections across Arizona on Tuesday could be a low-level test of voting systems stressed by years of threats and challenges that have left some worried about the 2024 presidential election, now less than a year away.
But elections officials said they are fairly confident – in the short and the long term – that they will be able to train and staff polling places, despite three years of what Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer refers to as the “hullabaloo” of election challenges.
“We still have a great crew of poll workers throughout most of Arizona. These are folks that have been doing it for a long time,” Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes said last week. “In fact, I met one recently who’s been doing it for 75 years and she ain’t gonna stop.”
Research by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice found that as many as one in five workers will be handling their first presidential election next year as a result of a mass exodus of election workers that followed the charges and threats of the 2020 election.
In Arizona, Fontes said 12 of the state’s 15 counties have lost their top election official since 2020. But he was careful to note that there is a difference between poll workers and election administrators.
“Administrators are the folks who are really managing at the higher levels and then training all the rest of the folks,” Fontes said.
He and Richer acknowledge that the public still has concerns over how experienced the frontline poll workers will be.
“I think it has been a real challenge for election officials and election jurisdiction staff throughout the country to play catch up with some of the things that one needs to know in order to administer elections,” Richer said this fall.
Richer feels Maricopa County is doing its best to prepare workers for the long nights, hard work and everything in between that come with being an election worker.
“It’s a lot of public scrutiny,” he said. “And then couple that with all the extracurriculars that have been piled on over the last three years, whether it’s the threats, whether it’s dealing with global pandemic and then add to that, that a lot of people are new and a lot of people are learning things and a lot of people haven’t been in this situation before.”
While a major election cycle would require Maricopa County to hire about 3,000 temporary workers, Tuesday’s elections on a range of intensely local issues will require only a fraction of that, said county elections spokesperson Jennifer Liewer.
Elections are scheduled in 12 counties, and issues will be decided by mail-in ballots in most of those – although voters in La Paz, Navajo and Santa Cruz counties will be able to cast a vote in person in certain districts, according to the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission.
Commission Executive Director Thomas Collins said there will be some voting locations open on Election Day for voters with a spoiled or lost ballot.
“I was talking to a person who was working at one of them last week and there are very few people coming through for those,” Collins said. “It’s not something folks are using like they would in a state general election like 2024.”
Liewer said that, even though Tuesday is a mail-in ballot election, the county has staffed 36 election sites and hired more than 300 temporary workers who have been on the job since Oct. 30. This week’s election may be light, but the training workers receive is the same as for any election, she said.
Richer said that when it comes to training poll workers, there is now a “premium poll worker training” program for people in lead positions at voting locations who are put through different scenarios. He said the “very intensive training program … did not exist prior to 2021, and we’re trying to get it deployed to more of our co-workers who then can help out the other workers that are at the various voting locations.”
Fontes said that workers now have to be prepared for what to do in the event that they are threatened, something that was not included before. That includes not just what to do in the event of a physical threat, but for threats that might come “via social media or the internet or on the phone.”
“It is a lot better than just kind of throwing them to the wolves and hoping for the best,” Fontes said. “We can move forward in a responsible way to try to stave off the negative impacts of the threats that some folks are feeling.”
With just under a year to Nov. 5, 2024, Election Day, Richer said it does not matter whether workers are new or old, they are all trained alike to ensure they feel comfortable and confident at the polls.
“We welcome all types and we train them up and we get them in a good position,” he said. “I think that election jurisdictions throughout the United States are doing a good job but I do think that they have an added challenge with all the hullabaloo that has been compounding on election administration over the last three years.”
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