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Election Security A Top Priority As Early Voting Gets Underway In Arizona Primaries

Early voting is underway in Arizona primaries. Primary day is Aug. 28. Election integrity is being scrutinized after a tumultuous 2016 election.

This is the first statewide election for the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office under new leadership. 

At the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center, the building is locked down and the staff is on full alert. Even guests using the bathroom need a chaperone.

Election integrity is always a priority, but this year, there’s more attention than ever.

Brittney Johnson is the training coordinator at the Recorder’s Office. She gestures to a row of tablet screens in a large room with standalone booths and folding tables.

"These are our check-in terminals, also known as SiteBooks," she said. "Board workers and voters will know them as 'check-ins' because that’s exactly what they’re doing. They’re going to check in they’re going to verify their information and they are going to receive a ballot."

Your name, address, political party and a few other bits of information are pre-loaded onto these machines so it can send information to a big, fancy printer. But the system is closed to safeguard the data.

Johnson says the machines are connected to the printer but not the internet.

On a recent weekday at the Elections and Tabulation Center, Johnson addressed a group of poll workers getting ready for a training session.

"I know a lot of you have driven from a very far place,” she said. "Who worked for Congressional District 8 election? Lots of hands right? Yes thank you for all coming back.”

The Recorder’s Office had to quickly put together a  special election in the northwest Valley last spring after  Trent Franks resigned.

They spend the next few hours going over procedures, defining their roles and learning about the equipment they’ll be using. Poll workers used to have to set everything up, but this year special staff have been assigned to do some of the heavy lifting.

"Everything is gonna be ready to go," Johnson told the group. You’re gonna walk in on your first day. Unlock your terminals, clock in and you are ready to start voting people right away.”

There are more than 3,000 extra people working for the Recorder’s Office during election season.

“There are a lot of pragmatic components to running an election that ... if people don’t think about, it means the election is running smoothly." — Murphy Hebert, Maricopa County Recorder’s Office

Johnson told the poll worker they were the "front line" for the 2018 primary election.

In another part of the building, election officials conduct a logic and accuracy test voting machines that blind and hard of hearing voters will use.

"Oftentimes we have people from the communities that these machines are designed to serve helping to test the logic and accuracy of them," said Murphy Hebert, Recorder's Office spokeswoman.

"There are a lot of pragmatic components to running an election that, I think, if people don’t think about, it means the election is running smoothly," she said. "Elections are complicated. democracy’s hard."

Find instructions for voting in Maricopa County at maricopa.vote.

Bret Jaspers was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2017 to 2020.