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Some Arizona polling places down, frustrating primary voters

A cyclist rides past a sign directing voters to a primary election voting station early Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016, in Phoenix. (Matt York / Associated Press)
A cyclist rides past a sign directing voters to a primary election voting station early Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016, in Phoenix. (Matt York / Associated Press)
By Astrid Galvan Associated Press

PHOENIX – A contractor hired to set up voting machines in the Phoenix area failed to send enough technicians, leaving several polling places out of operation during Arizona’s primary election Tuesday, two years after voters endured hourslong lines.

By 10 a.m., only four polling locations were down, Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes said. He said the contractor didn’t set up the machines on time and his office in the state’s most populous county quickly trained and deployed workers to get the machines going once it learned of the issue Monday afternoon.

“This is not a hiccup, this is a serious concern where lots of voters in Maricopa County are not able to get voting,” Fontes said.

There were dozens of reports of people who showed up to cast a ballot and were turned away. Fontes made no mention of the troubles during a Facebook Live video he recorded with a voter shortly before polling places opened at 6 a.m.

“We are excited about opening up our polling places in a couple of minutes,” Fontes said.

He said in the video that voters could go to their usual polling places or to any of 40 voting centers that anyone can use regardless of where they live.

His office estimated Monday that some 250 polling locations would not open on time, but it’s unclear how many were actually down by the time polls opened at 6 a.m.

Fontes said he learned of the issue around 2 p.m. Monday and realized by the evening that it “was going to be a real problem.” He said only about 70 of the 103 technicians contracted to set up the machines at individual polling sites showed up.

It comes after Phoenix-area voters waited for hours in massive lines in the 2016 presidential primary after the county drastically cut the number of polling locations. It led to voters ousting the county’s longtime elections chief that November and electing Fontes.

He has pledged to make elections smoother.

Phoenix voter Tyler Knecht, a registered Democrat, said he was frustrated after he first went to a polling station in downtown Phoenix that anyone can use regardless of where they live only to be told to go to his specific polling place.

He then was sent back to the first location and was told he could only cast a provisional ballot, which may be counted once a person’s eligibility is confirmed.

“They made me cast a provisional ballot, and I didn’t want to after what happened in 2016,” Knecht said, adding that he has no expectation it will be counted.

A large number of provisional ballots were thrown out statewide in the 2016 presidential primary.

Another frustrated voter, Ben Saylor, said he arrived at his polling place in north Phoenix and was told the equipment would not be set up until lunchtime. He was directed to a vote-anywhere polling station and also was told he would have to cast a provisional ballot.

“If you’re a registered citizen, and you have the right to vote, there should be no such thing as a provisional ballot,” Saylor said.

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