Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell has had a rough couple of weeks.
Purcell acknowledged in a written statement issued Oct. 23 that her office is at least partially responsible for some mistakes and misconceptions that reflect poorly on the agency in charge of carrying out elections.
But she also reiterated that her office is dedicated to the mission of helping voters take part in efficiently run elections that facilitate the greatest level of political participation.
The problems began when the office put a wrong date on two Spanish- language election promotions. A Spanish-language voter ID card and leaflet told Spanish speakers that the election would be held on Nov. 8, two days after the actual date of Nov. 6.
“I wish I could say we never made a mistake in this office. But we do,” Purcell said in her Oct. 23 statement.
The erroneous Spanish-language materials made national headlines and caused an outcry among Hispanic activism groups.
Days later, Purcell took part in a local CBS affiliate KPHO news story that she subsequently said misrepresented cautionary information she provided about early ballots.
In the TV news item, a KPHO reporter said Purcell indicated it is a felony to possess anyone else’s ballot. The incorrect information drew the ire of Hispanic groups that are offering to pick up and deliver early ballots to increase voter turnout.
In an interview after the story ran, Purcell said she told her interviewer it is a felony to pose as a county official offering to deliver somebody’s early ballot or to pick up the ballot and then fail to deliver it. She said she had heard two reports of someone posing as a county official and offering to turn in ballots.
The news report provided a different version: “According to County Recorder Helen Purcell, no one has been authorized to pick up the ballots,” KPHO reporter Donna Rossi narrated. “In fact, Purcell points out that it’s a Class 5 felony to possess someone else’s ballot.”
The article on KPHO’s website attributed Purcell as saying that if anyone comes to a voter’s door, offering to deliver an early ballot, to call the police. Purcell said she did not make that statement. The television station stood by its reporter and said the story was accurate.
Purcell addressed the KPHO story in the Oct. 23 statement.
“I never said that it is illegal, much less a Class 5 felony, to collect, possess and deliver ballots of voters,” Purcell stated. “It is wrong, illegal, a Class 5 felony, to misrepresent yourself as an elections official if you are not… We applaud the work of Promise Arizona (a Hispanic activism group) and other groups in their efforts to register new qualified voters and have their ballots counted.”
Adding to the confusion, the re-election campaign for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio ran a robocall to voters on Oct. 22, telling them that county election officials are warning voters not to give their ballot to anyone who comes to the door offering to deliver it.
Karen Osborne, the county’s election director, called Chad Willems, Arpaio’s campaign manager, the next day, asking him to remove that section of the robocall. He said the robocall was finished by then.
Purcell said her office will soon launch an aggressive Spanish language voter education campaign, aimed at spreading correct election information.
Leaders from several Hispanic activism groups thanked Purcell for correcting the mistakes. But several said they also think it’s possible that some of the misinformation may have had an irreversibly negative impact on some Spanish speaking voters or newly registered voters.
And despite Purcell’s explanations, the recent events may lead to federal monitoring of the election in Maricopa County.
Roopali Desai, an attorney who represents some of the Hispanic activism groups, said officials from the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division contacted her, asking for details about what has gone on during the past several weeks.
“They’ve asked us to be in close communication,” Desai said. “Maricopa County is one of their identified jurisdictions, in terms of voter suppression and voter intimidation.”
Representatives from the DOJ said they will likely announce next week whether Maricopa County will be monitored.