PHOENIX — Election officials in Arizona say they'll be prepared for Democrats to vote in their party's presidential primary Tuesday despite the unprecedented cloud of a global pandemic and pleas by public health officials to avoid unnecessary social interactions.
Officials say they're working around the clock to consolidate polling places, line up backup pollworkers or open emergency voting centers where people can cast a ballot early. In some areas, pollworkers will collect absentee ballots directly from cars so people don't have to enter a public building to turn them in.
“We think it's safe to vote at a polling place on election day,” said Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat and the state's top election official. “We're making sure that the counties are implementing common sense health precautions.”
Hobbs on Friday joined the top election officials in the three other states holding primaries Tuesday in pledging to press forward with the elections, even as two states scheduled to vote in the coming weeks — Louisiana and Georgia — delayed their primaries. Delaying Arizona's primary would require an act of the Legislature.
The potential for complications remains, particularly as harried election authorities change plans at the last minute or if nervous pollworkers don't show up.
As nursing homes and churches opted against serving as polling places, poll workers backed out and disinfectants became difficult to buy, Maricopa County officials scrambled to consolidate from 229 to 151 polling places. The new “vote anywhere centers” will allow registered Democrats in Maricopa County to cast a ballot at any official polling place in the county; there's no need to visit an assigned precinct polling place. The locations are available here.
“The ever-changing world that we are living in is creating some stress for all of us but we want to make the voter assured that we are going full speed on having a great election as we are tasked to do,” said Clint Hickman, the Republican chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, a Democrat who oversees mail voting but not election-day operations, said he'd mail a ballot to 189,000 people in the county who hadn't received one but was quickly slapped down by a judge.
In Pima County, voters with health worries can take part in emergency voting today, county officials say.
Emergency voting will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, March 16, at the three Pima County Recorder’s locations: Pima County Recorder’s Main Office, 240 North Stone Avenue, first floor; Pima County Recorder’s Office Annex, 6550 S. Country Club Road; and Pima County Recorder’s East Side Annex, 6920 East Broadway Boulevard, Suite D.
The disease for most people causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some, particularly older people or those with underlying health conditions, it can cause more severe illness.
That could be problematic for the army of workers who staff the polls, who are often older Americans most at risk to experience severe complications if they contract COVID-19. Hobbs said she worked with Arizona State University to enlist students to replace pollworkers who quit or don't show up.
The prospect for long lines could be mitigated by the popularity of early voting and mail balloting in Arizona. In recent elections, about eight in 10 voters have cast their ballot outside of a traditional Election Day polling place.
To expand that option to more people, Coconino County will open five emergency voting spots Monday across the sprawling jurisdiction, the second-largest by land area in the country. The county originally planned just one in Flagstaff but will now have additional emergency voting facilities in Page, Tuba City, Sedona and Williams.
"We want people to vote, so we really want them to feel that we’re making it as accommodating for them in case they have concerns," Hansen said.
Hobbs said she's looking at what emergency authority she and election officers might need from the Legislature to protect voters if the outbreak is still disruptive during the August primary or November general election.