As Maricopa County voters dealt with excruciatingly long wait times, Pima County residents struggled with a different challenge on Tuesday: incorrect party-affiliation listings that prevented some from casting a ballot.
Longtime election volunteer Sister Karen Berry, 72, said she noticed quickly that something was amiss during this week’s presidential preference election.
Time after time, voters showed up at St. Frances Cabrini Church — where Berry was volunteering — convinced they were properly registered and ready to vote for their party’s nominee.
But poll workers had to tell them they weren’t listed as affiliated with any party. Others found out their voter ID card — which many received in the mail on election day — read “PND,” or party not designated.
In Arizona’s presidential preference elections, voters must be registered with a party — Democrat, Republican or Green — to vote for one of the party’s candidates.
In a minority of cases, the voters realized it was their own mistake, Berry said, but most were adamant they had registered properly. Berry got those voters provisional ballots in the hopes that when their party affiliation is double-checked at the Pima County Recorder’s Office, those votes will count.
“That happened so much (Tuesday) that I hope it gets investigated,” said Berry, former religious education director at St. Frances Cabrini. “So many said, ‘What! I’ve been a Republican or Democrat all my life.’ When that happens so often, we begin to think it’s not the people’s fault.”
Berry’s story echoes those of more than a dozen voters who contacted the Star on Wednesday about what they believe to be mistakes that either prevented them from voting entirely or forced them to complete provisional ballots.
One local Republican, Melissa King, said she discovered Tuesday she was inexplicably registered as a Democrat and so couldn’t cast her vote for John Kasich.
Hunter Guerin changed his affiliation from the Green Party to Democrat last year. But even with his new voter ID card in hand — he provided the Star a copy — his polling place said it still had him listed as a Green Party member and would only let him vote on the Green Party ballot.
“I left, unable to express my political opinion in my first presidential election,” he said in an email.
Others complained of poorly trained election site staff who didn’t distribute provisional ballots when they should have.
John Read, who says he’s been registered as a Democrat since 1988, was told he had no party affiliation at his polling place, and the staff refused to let him fill out a provisional ballot.
“I’m feeling a little defeated,” he said.
Provisional ballots will only be counted after the Recorder’s Office checks out whatever discrepancy prevented the voter from casting a normal ballot, such as not having ID, being in the wrong polling location or having an incorrect party designation listed.
These issues will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, F. Ann Rodriguez, Pima County recorder, said on Wednesday.
“We’ll plug through these things. If it’s our error, we’ll fix it, right then and there,” she said.
But many worry mistakes in the office’s records will result in their provisional ballot being discounted anyway.
Tucson resident Alisa Wolfe filled out a provisional ballot because election volunteers told her she was listed as having no party affiliation. But last July, Wolfe changed her affiliation from independent to Democrat so she could vote for Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Later in the day, she went into the Pima County Recorder’s Office and asked why she was listed as unaffiliated.
During the encounter, which Wolfe recorded, the operator pulled up the record of her July 2015 registration as a Democrat. Then she pulled up another record from January 2016 — which Wolfe says appeared to be a photocopy of the first document, including her earlier signature — which changed her status to “party not designated.”
When Wolfe said she had not made that change, the operator said it was an error and with the click of a mouse, changed Wolfe’s status to Democrat.
“I went into the County Recorder’s Office still believing I must have done something wrong, that this was my fault somehow,” she said. Afterwards, she felt totally confused.
In response to an inquiry from the Star, Rodriguez said she looked at Wolfe’s documentation. She said the January record originated from a visit to the Motor Vehicle Division. Rodriguez could not account for how the document was created and is requesting the original document from the MVD.
Wolfe said she had in fact gone to the MVD earlier this year to get a new license, but she had no intention of changing her political preference during that visit.
The Motor Vehicle Division’s drivers’ license applications include an option to select a party preference. That information is transmitted to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office.
But if the applicant doesn’t select a party preference, “then they are assumed as a PND,” or party not designated, said Matt Roberts, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office.
The office is undertaking a series of public hearings to review all the problems that beset this election — including complaints about false PNDs, he said.
“We have heard enough of this issue that this will be part of our public hearings we’re going to hold,” he said.
Longtime Democrat Kindall Gray, a writing instructor at the University of Arizona, wasn’t allowed to vote at her polling place — and wasn’t offered a provisional ballot either — because she was listed as “party not designated.” Afterwards, Gray called the County Recorder’s Office and was told she had changed her affiliation at the MVD in 2014.
Gray remembers getting a new driver’s license with her new address two years ago but said she did not change her party affiliation.
“I didn’t even think about that when I got my driver’s license,” she said.
Confusion is common during Arizona’s presidential preference elections, Rodriguez said. She said the Legislature should change the law to allow anyone — including independents and those who don’t designate a party affiliation — to vote in the election.
“We don’t look forward to this election,” she said. “Our goal is always for citizen participation. This election just throws a monkey wrench into everything.”
Brad Nelson, director of the Pima County Elections Department, said he encountered many voters complaining about incorrect party affiliations as he toured polling places Tuesday.
“Does it need extra scrutiny and research? Absolutely,” Nelson said.
Otherwise, Nelson said, the day went “fairly well.” Pima County polling sites processed a steady stream of voters without any long waits or lines, he said.
Early numbers show 80 percent of people who cast their votes this election did so by mail, he said.
“The advent of people voting more and more by mail leads to a more civil and efficient election,” he said.