Municipalities Hiring Temps to Meet Elections Demands Raise Concerns About Security, Irregularities

by Natalia Mittelstadt

 

Municipalities across the country trying to meet the demands of collecting and tabulating election ballots with their set workforce have resorted to hiring temporary workers, which has contributed to election irregularities and security concerns.

Such issues surfaced last month in Arizona’s Maricopa County and have been seen in other county or city governments including Detroit, Florida’s Orange County and Georgia’s Fulton County over the prior two election cycles.

And as the November presidential election approaches, some municipalities will hire hundreds – even thousands – of temporary election workers.

Maricopa County 2024:

A Maricopa County temporary election worker was arrested last month for allegedly stealing from the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center.

Walter Ringfield, Jr., 27, was booked on charges of theft and criminal damage for allegedly stealing a security fob and keys from the center. The fob is used to gain access to ballot tabulators, as workers hold it to the machines and then enter a password, according to Votebeat.

MCTEC released a statement to ABC15 on the alleged theft, saying, “[W]hen completing a daily inventory, Maricopa County elections workers identified that an item was taken from the Ballot Tabulation Center on Thursday evening, and staff took immediate action to investigate the matter and contacted the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.

“The stolen item has been recovered, but to ensure the integrity of Maricopa County Elections, election workers are reprogramming and re-conducting logic and accuracy testing of all equipment.”

The reprogramming cost the county around $20,000.

Court records and media reports show Ringfield has previously registered as a Democrat voter and received ballots in recent Democratic primaries.

He also had been charged with stealing cash last year – more than $1,000 cash from Fry’s Food And Drug, according to court documents, the Arizona Republic reported.

Rather than the state pursuing a conviction, prosecution was suspended after Ringfield entered a felony diversion program.

Ringfield also allegedly stole from a security desk at the Arizona state Senate building a day before his alleged theft at MCTEC, Fox News reported.

Last week, the Arizona Department of Public Safety said Ringfield allegedly entered a restricted area of the Arizona Senate Building and “removed numerous items from a security staff member’s desk.”

The state agency said that the items included “challenge coins and other desk accessories.” Detectives recovered the items from Ringfield’s residence while executing a search warrant.

Ringfield is facing additional charges of burglary, theft, and trespassing.

Maricopa County didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Abe Hamadeh, an Arizona GOP congressional candidate, told the “Just the News, No Noise” TV show on Wednesday: “Can you imagine a temporary worker having access to those machines, and what did Maricopa County do? Within a few hours of his arrest, they proclaimed that there no political motivation. How could they know this?”

Orange County 2022:

In a sworn affidavit filed with the Florida Secretary of State’s office last year, poll worker Robin Wheeler alleged that the Orange County Supervisor of Elections office violated state law by hiring poll workers from outside the county and state.

They are also supposed to be registered Orange County voters.

Wheeler alleged in her affidavit that some were hired from outside of either the county or Florida because the precinct service clerk – who chooses precinct clerks, poll deputies, and e-pollbook inspectors – “lack[ed] training and had no poll workers to fill positions.”

Wheeler further alleged that “untrained and unvetted temporary workers” were used to fill the roles of poll deputies at many polling places due to a shortage in staff, despite the position requiring additional background checks, according to the Orange County SOE website.

Another issue that Wheeler flagged in her affidavit is that election “training materials were not updated during the time between the 2020 general and the 2022 primary elections,” which resulted in the early voting supervisor having “to rush and use temporary workers to perform the updates and there was [sic] mistakes and contradictions in the training materials.”

The office of the Supervisor of Elections declined to comment at the time the affidavit was reported.

The Florida secretary of state’s office and Department of Law Enforcement didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. It appears the allegations have not led to any law enforcement investigations or charges.

Fulton County 2020:

Carter Jones, an investigator contracted by the Georgia secretary of state’s office to monitor election counting in Fulton County in 2020, found problems with temporary staffers recruited by the county to manage numerous aspects of its election.

“Some temp staff are down to help and over-eager to do so,” Jones wrote at one point in his report. “[N]eed them to help less bc they’re making extra problems.”

In multiple cases, Jones reported on what appeared to be tension between county employees and temporary staffers, specifically those employed by Happy Faces, an Atlanta-area personnel group.

He noted that one county employee “had issues with them not following her direction b/c they said that they were taking order from the Happy Faces rep (who was not fully trained on correct procedure) and not her,” Jones wrote, claiming that the confusion had resulted in workers doing things “eagerly but incorrectly.”

At one point Jones alluded to what appeared to be a potential security issue brought about by Happy Faces workers.

“Learned that waiting until lunch was a powerplay by Ralph because he didn’t trust the Happy Faces people,” he wrote. “He had a big problem with them fixing the issue w/ Abbey’s box away from the cameras this morning.”

Jones’s notes – and his executive summary of his findings on Fulton’s election process – appear to conclude the county has created an unstable infrastructure situation to carry out the labor of election work.

“Fulton has leaned very heavily upon an army of temporary workers to fulfill the litany of tasks that must be completed from logistics to processing ballots to scanning final results,” Jones wrote in his report. “It would perhaps be best to offset this number of workers with stakeholders from the local community who would like to get involved in the electoral process.

“By conducting multiple interviews with temporary staff, it was made clear that some have no keen interest in participating in this immensely-important process, which is perhaps to blame for some of the sloppy clerical errors and logistical shortcomings that have plagued the complicated electoral process.”

Happy Faces CEO Michael Hairston told Just the News at the time that Happy Face’s “performance was good” in the months leading up to the election, to the point that the elections Director Richard Barron “asked us to manage the other agencies, and sort of keep tabs on who’s where, who’s reporting, who’s not reporting.”

The Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Following the 2020 election, the Georgia secretary of state’s office used an election integrity law enacted in 2021 to request that the State Election Board examine the county’s election administration and determine whether the board should take it over. After a report recommended the state board not replace the county’s election board, the state board voted in favor of the report’s suggestion, the Georgia Recorder reported.

However, after an independent investigation found that the county likely scanned thousands of ballots twice in a recount of the 2020 election, the state board voted to require Fulton County to implement an independent election monitor in the 2024 election.

The allegations have not led to any law enforcement charges.

Detroit 2020:

In September 2020, the Detroit City Council approved a $1 million contract for lawyer and entrepreneur William A. Phillips’ staffing firm P.I.E. Management, LLC to hire up to 2,000 workers to work the polls and staff the ballot counting machines.

“They will provide up to 2,000 employees (Detroit Residents) the ability to operate election equipment on Election Day as poll workers under the MiDeal Cooperative Agreement with the State,” the council boasted about P.I.E.

However, numerous allegations of irregularities occurred in Detroit during the 2020 presidential election.

Poll observers claimed they were kept from observing ballots as allowed by law or witnessed unusual behavior that included piercing the secrecy of some ballots and unexplained additions and rejections of votes. And one longtime city worker, Jessy Jacob, swore out an affidavit saying she witnessed widespread tampering ordered by her supervisors that impacted thousands of ballots.

“On November 4, 2020, I was instructed to improperly pre-date the absentee ballots receive date that were not in the QVF as if they had been received on or before November 3, 2020,” she stated in her affidavit. “I was told to alter the information in the QVF to falsely show that the absentee ballots had been received in time to be valid. I estimate that this was done to thousands of ballots.

P.I.E. Management, LLC, was incorporated in Detroit in 2002 by Phillips, a longtime Democratic operative who attended the same Cass Technical High School as Kwame Kilpatrick, the disgraced mayor who received a 28-year sentence on federal corruption-related charges.

The allegations have not led to any law enforcement investigations or charges.

Phill Kline, director of The Amistad Project, told Just the News on Wednesday that hiring temporary election workers “shouldn’t be allowed.”

Instead, “in the name of transparency, election workers should be bipartisan, and election officials should be required to accept” workers that the political parties nominate, he said.

There is “a lot of conflict of interest in election workers,” especially considering the “financial ties of companies with these workers to candidates,” Kline also said.

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Natalia Mittelstadt is a reporter for Just the News.
Photo “Poll Worker” by Phil Roeder. CC BY 2.0.

 

 

 


Reprinted with permission from Just the News

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