Officials ‘braced for the worst,’ but report little voter intimidation

Voters line up outside of the Glendale Community College polling center to cast votes. Despite heavy turnout, and record-breaking early voting, county officials reported smooth voting around the state, and said fears of voter intimidation operations did not materialize. (Photo by Sarandon Raboin/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Elections officials feared cases of voter intimidation would mar Election Day, but said Tuesday they had seen few problems over the course of the day and that the issues they did encounter were quickly resolved.

While advocates reported isolated instances of voter intimidation and other issues with casting ballots in Arizona on Tuesday, the most prominent issues around the state seemed to be finding the correct polling location or late poll openings.

“It has been the quietest presidential Election Day I’ve gone through in my 33 years of working in elections,” said Coconino County Recorder Patty Hansen shortly before polls closed.

A national election hotline run by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law had received around 30,000 calls by 6 p.m. EST, with most calls coming from Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, New York and Michigan. But even then, most claims of voter intimidation were resolved relatively quickly, said Kristen Clarke, the group’s president and executive director.

“We braced for the worst,” said Clarke, who said reports of voter intimidation nationally turned out to be sporadic but not systematic.

That appeared to be the case in Arizona, where a watchdog group reported a handful of voter intimidation cases that recorders either could not confirm or said were quickly resolved.

Yuma County officials confirmed that police were called to Cesar Chavez Community Center in the morning for a report of someone “conducting themselves improperly” at the polling place there. Yuma County spokesperson Kevin Tunell said the incident was “minimal enough” that the poll worker had not reported it – Tunell only learned of it after a reporter asked.

He could not confirm a report by Scott Nathan, Arizona director for the Voter Protection Corps, that the Yuma incident involved a man who had been walking around with a gun and a “Make America Great Again” hat outside the polling place’s 75-foot electioneering boundary. Nathan said Tuesday afternoon that his group’s records showed the incident had been resolved, but he could not say how.

Nathan said there was another incident of “more organized nonsense” at the Somerton Library polling place, also in Yuma County, but Tunell said he had not heard anything “of significance” there – or any other polling place.

“Maybe all the preparation worked,” said Tunell, adding that he was “very surprised” at how smoothly everything had gone as of Tuesday evening.

Maricopa County officials were able to confirm most of Nathan’s report of an incident at a Queen Creek polling site, in which he said a group of people handed out pens that would not be picked up by ballot readers.

“There were people who were clearly supporting the president handing out pens telling them those were the only things they could use to vote with,” Nathan said. “And apparently they were pretty aggressive.”

Megan Gilbertson, communications director for the Maricopa County Elections Department, said the incident was swiftly resolved.

“We did have reports of a citizen handing out pens and telling voters their ballot wouldn’t count if they used Sharpies,” Gilbertson said in an email. “We sent out a plain-clothed deputy that asked the citizen to stop handing out the pens and pamphlets. The citizen complied.”

Pinal County spokesperson James Daniels said officials there “had plans in place if any issues arose,” but that he had not heard of any all day. Daniels said the only incidents reported were communications issues, where voters needed to be redirected to their correct polling place in order to cast their ballots.

Daniels said the lack of incident reports could be the result of the large amount of early and mail-in voting this year that led to short lines and few difficulties.

“We, like many places, had record levels of early voting,” Daniels said. “We haven’t even heard issues with lines or anything like that.”

Hansen had a similarly glowing report for Coconino County.

“I’m happy to report that we have not had any reports today of voter intimidation, very few complaints about observers or none of disruptive activity at the polling places,” she said in an email. “The phones have even been fairly quiet today.”

Clarke said voters in general had been “determined and resilient” throughout the day about “going out and making sure that their voices are heard today.”

News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Joycelyn Cabrera is an Arizona native who expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication and a minor in digital audiences. She is a digital reporter and producer at Cronkite News in Washington, D.C., and has reported for a nonprofit organization and local news outlets in Arizona.

News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Calah Schlabach is a multimedia storyteller pursuing a master’s degree in mass communication. She has been a graduate assistant for Global Sport Matters and a 2020 News21 fellow. Schlabach was a grant writer for a social services nonprofit and has written and copy editied in Vietnam and Haiti.