The election is 33 days away, but a battle over polling places is already well underway in Tempe.
Maricopa County has decided to add a ballot drop-box location in Tempe after frustration and confusion over a late polling change.
Tempe’s mayor was worried about voter confusion over where to actually cast a ballot after the Maricopa County Recorder moved a long-standing polling place last minute. The county also printed the wrong polling address on election materials mailed out in early October.
Three separate pieces of official election mail went out to approximately 3,500 registered voters in two Tempe precincts. The mail listed the old polling place rather than the updated location on ASU’s campus — a mile west of the old address.
“Nobody notified us that they were eliminating one of our polling sites,” said Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell on Wednesday morning.
Helen Purcell's County Recorder office makes the decisions about where to put polling places. The Knights of Pythias Lodge on Apache Boulevard was used for the August primary and the decision to move the polling place to ASU’s Sun Devil Fitness Center for the general election was last minute.
“This is not normal,” said Elizabeth Bartholomew, a spokesperson for the Maricopa County Recorder's Office.
The change was made so late that election materials with the old address had already been sent the printing service and mailed out to voters. Bartholomew said the change came after pressure from ASU students, voting advocates and some on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
“I don't know that I would call it pressure,” said Denny Barney, Maricopa County supervisor for District One. “I think in the end it make sense to try and respond to a community request to relocate a facility that would make it more accessible to a very large, active and robust university community.”
Bartholomew said a corrected sample ballot going out 11 days before the election will have the new polling address.
But that wasn’t enough for Mayor Mitchell.
“That doesn't hit the permanent early voter's list,” said Mitchell, worried that people would show up to drop off their early ballots on Nov. 8 and find a vacant building with no explanation.
After several days of pressure from the mayor and voter advocates, including the same ones who pushed for the ASU polling location in the first place, the county decided to make changes.
Late Wednesday, Supervisor Barney’s office said the old Knights of Pythias polling location will be staffed on Election Day with a secure ballot drop off. Election workers will also be there to help direct any confused voters who show up at the old polling address.
By the close of business on Wednesday, Mayor Mitchell seemed satisfied with the resolution, releasing the following statement:
“We want as many Tempe residents as possible to have a voice in local, state and national decisions and for that to happen, voting information must be accurate and the process must be accessible,” Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell said. “I would like to personally thank County Supervisor Denny Barney and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors for their expediency and for giving Tempe voters the ability to drop off ballots at Knights of Pythias.”