Audit: election mishaps due to faulty equipment, no backup plan


Malfunctioning voting equipment and the lack of a back-up plan led to 62 polling locations opening late for the Aug. 28 primary election, the Maricopa County auditors concluded.

The Maricopa County Internal Audit Department conducted a review of the election-day mishaps and found they were tied to the county’s electronic voter check-in and ballot printing system, which was first used in the November 2017 municipal elections and the special election for Congressional District 8 in February.

The review found that the county’s electronic voter check-in system, SiteBooks, which was used at all 463 polling locations and 40 vote centers, didn’t work at the polling locations that opened late.

The Recorder’s Office denied many of the auditor’s findings, which were made public Sept. 21.

According to the report, which included the Recorder’s Office’s response to the auditors’ recommendations, the Recorder’s Office said it had already addressed many of the issues the auditors brought up.

The Recorder’s Office challenged the auditors’ claim that the office didn’t have a contingency plan in place in case equipment malfunctioned.

The office said that had it not been for 40 voting centers, places where voters from any precinct can drop their ballots, the office would not have handled the record turnout.

“The plan worked,” the office wrote in response.

The Recorder’s Office also said that the auditors’ assertion that there were no procedures in place to address long lines at polling locations was “false.” The office said additional staff and equipment was deployed to two locations in the county with long lines, and the office said that the SiteBooks check-in system allowed the lines to move quickly.

The Recorder’s Office also said that a contractor’s failure to provide enough technicians to properly set up the voting equipment “should not be considered as a particular fault of the Elections Department, but that of the contractor who did not perform on the guarantee.”

The Recorder’s Office had previously stated that an information technology contractor hired to set up and test the voting equipment did not deploy enough technicians to properly set up the machinery, which led to many of the problems on election day. The county review did not examine the Recorder’s Office use of an outside contractor to set up voter check-in systems at the polling locations. Maricopa County Auditor Michael McGee said auditors are still reviewing information related to those services.

The report showed that auditors found that only contracted technicians were authorized and trained to set up SiteBook equipment, and the county did not have a backup plan in place if a technician failed to show up at the scheduled time to set up the voting equipment. Poll Workers, county inspectors and troubleshooters were not trained to set up SiteBooks and could not diagnose or address equipment issues that came up, the report showed.

Auditors also found that the county did not have any plans in place to provide onsite voting options to voters if the SiteBooks system wasn’t working, forcing voters to cast their ballot at one of the 40 vote centers.

The preliminary review was requested by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. Additional information from the audit department is expected to be released at a later date, the county said.

The board of supervisors also approved $200,000 in funding to hire an external firm to review primary election processes. BerryDunn, a CPA and consulting firm, has been hired to carry out the review.

According to the report, in addition to equipment malfunctions, auditors found that while election inspectors and troubleshooters received some training related to the vote centers, many poll workers did not. The auditors recommended that in addition to better training employees and poll workers, the county also needed to do a better job of communicating the differences between using a vote center and a traditional polling location.  

The report showed that the auditors also found that the Recorder’s Office did not have any procedures in place to address long lines at certain polling places, such as redeploying voting equipment and resources from a low-trafficked location. The auditors said that was one issue that needed to be addressed if in-person voting during the general election was expected to reach more than 240,000 voters.

In a separate report released by the Recorder’s Office, a timeline shows that the contractor, Insight, confirmed via email two days before the primary election that 91 technicians would be available on Aug. 27 to set up and test voting equipment. County officials received word the next day that the contractor was behind schedule and had only about half as many contractors in the field as promised.

The county reported that as of 2:35 p.m. on Aug. 27, only 187 of the 459 polling locations had been set up by contract technicians. Insight officials told county staff that any sites that weren’t set up by end of day Aug. 27 would be set up the following morning before polling locations were set to open. It is estimated that 72 sites still needed to be set up the morning of the election.

The Recorder’s report shows that five of the 62 polling locations that failed to open by 6 a.m. on election day were up and running by 6:10 a.m. All polling locations were online by 11:33 a.m.

In response to the county’s review, the Recorder’s Office said while the office relied on a “reactive” model requiring poll workers to call in with issues during the primary election, going forward, the elections department will use a new dashboard system for monitoring equipment. The office said the dashboard is currently being designed and should be ready for testing and implementation before the general election.

The Recorder’s Office also said because it does not plan to hire an outside contractor to help with equipment set up for the general election, the office has asked the county manager for 100 extra county staff members to be designated to assist with set up. The Recorder’s Office is also actively hiring additional staff and plans to train troubleshooters and poll workers to set up and connect the equipment.