PHOENIX — The county official who took the blame for hours-long lines that plagued this year’s presidential primary in Arizona was dumped from office amid widespread frustration among voters over the bungled election.
Republican Helen Purcell conceded on Tuesday to Democrat Adrian Fontes in the Maricopa County recorder’s race. The county was still tallying ballots but she was nearly 13,000 votes behind when she acknowledged the loss.
Purcell, 81, was first elected in 1988 and never before challenged for re-election while serving seven four-year terms as county recorder. Her decision to cut the number of polling places for the March election caused voters to wait more than five hours to cast their ballots. Purcell and Secretary of State Michele Reagan were blamed for the foul-up, but Purcell became the most public face for the decision.
“I made bad decisions based on the information I had, obviously, or we wouldn’t have had long lines,” Purcell told The Associated Press days after the March election.
Her sudden fall in the public eye made her a target, and she barely survived the August primary election, beating back a Republican challenger by just 202 votes. She wasn’t so lucky in the general election.
Fontes is an attorney in private practice and a former prosecutor who served in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is making his first foray into politics and will take office in January. He promised to push a statewide referendum to make county recorders a non-partisan office to eliminate politics from the election process. He also said he would work with all groups to help boost voter registration and election participation and to avoid long election lines by properly determining the number of needed polling places.
Fontes issued a statement Tuesday thanking Purcell for her years of service and for running an honorable campaign. He said he plans to run the recorders’ office free of political bias.
“My job — this job — is to call balls and strikes with integrity, with accountability and with a full-throttle effort to make sure every eligible citizen is able to register and to vote,” Fontes said.
Maricopa County had 200 polling places in the 2012 presidential primary, but Purcell cut that number to just 60 in March, thinking large numbers of people would vote by mail. High voter turnout and the fact that independents who can vote in all other Arizona primaries showed up to vote in the closed presidential primary led to long lines.
Purcell issued a statement Tuesday congratulating Fontes and thanking her staff and voters who turned out for the Nov. 8 election.
“It has been the pleasure and privilege of a lifetime, and one I will never take for granted — just as I hope you will never take for granted this awesome and truly American responsibility of participating in the electoral process,” Purcell said.