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Maricopa County polling place robbery: Temporary worker in custody

Maricopa County polling place robbery: Temporary worker in custody

Maricopa County polling place robbery: Temporary worker in custody

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Authorities say a temporary election worker stole a security key fob from Maricopa County vote tabulation headquarters last week, but investigators say there is no evidence to suggest the theft was politically motivated.

Walter Ringfield, a 27-year-old Phoenix resident who is not currently registered as a member of any political party in Arizona, took the remote control the night of June 20 at the facility, authorities said. In a statement, officials said the key fob was recovered and they will reprogram and retest the election equipment to “ensure the integrity” of the upcoming state primary.

“Security key fobs are used in conjunction with special security tablets during elections,” Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office detectives said in court documents. “A facility director stated that the estimated cost of the reprogramming would be more than $19,000, and the safe operation of the facility is severely impeded until the reprogramming is completed.”

Officials said Tuesday that the command would not have allowed Ringfield to independently operate the county’s tabulators. The machines also require passwords, they said.

Another key on the lanyard opens a blue container under the machine that holds the ballots after the votes are counted, officials said. The vote counting process did not take place last week. Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates said Tuesday that the incident should have “no impact” on the upcoming state primary.

“Hopefully, what it should do is instill even more confidence in people in the community,” he said, noting that election officials became aware of the theft within hours and that the keypad was quickly found.

A spokesperson for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that Ringfield was in custody on the morning of June 24. Court documents show he is charged with felony criminal mischief and misdemeanor theft, and that a search warrant was executed at his home.

He is being held without bail, according to court documents. Sheriff Russ Skinner said Tuesday that investigators continue to actively investigate the robbery and analyze physical and digital evidence. He said there is “no indication” that the keychain was stolen in an effort to influence the election.

“But we’re not ruling it out,” Skinner said. “We’re leaving no stone unturned… but at this point, we don’t have anything to indicate that.”

The case comes a little more than a week before early ballots are sent to voters for the state primary. In recent years, election operations have come under increased scrutiny across the country amid a polarized political climate and the spread of election conspiracies.

In Maricopa County, the state’s most populous, election officials have faced threats and harassment. They also saw widespread technical problems with their ballot printers on Election Day 2022, causing lines at some polling sites and damaging voter confidence.

Secretary of State Adrian Fontes said Monday that the county’s “quick” response to the stolen security key fob should give voters confidence that its security measures are working.

“Our systems are not only designed to detect anomalies, but are also supported by dedicated professionals committed to defending the democratic process,” Fontes said. “While this event is unwelcome, it speaks to the effectiveness of the security protocols built into Arizona’s election systems.”

Election officials said on June 24 that Ringfield was hired on June 3 as a temporary ballot tabulation center operator. A background check was required and there were no criminal convictions, according to a Department of Elections spokesperson.

But court documents show Ringfield was previously accused of pocketing more than $1,000 in cash from Fry’s Food And Drug last year. The case never led to a conviction. Instead, Ringfield entered a diversion program and prosecution was suspended.

Ringfield was fired June 21, county officials said June 24.

The Arizona Republic could not immediately reach Ringfield for comment. His father, Walter Ringfield Sr., declined to immediately comment when contacted by The Republic.

A review of voter records shows Ringfield registered as an independent in 2015. Less than a year later, he briefly registered as a Democrat. In the last primary election, she requested the Democratic vote.

An Instagram account that appears to belong to Ringfield includes photos of him with Democratic Senators Mark Kelly and Amy Klobuchar. But he also appears to use a Truth Social account that includes links to conservative outlets like Epoch Times and Gateway Pundit. Other social media accounts that appear to be Ringfield’s were made private or deleted as of Monday afternoon.

What to know: Arizona’s primary elections are July 30. Here’s how to register, vote early and more

Charging documents expose reported theft of security key fob

Security cameras captured Ringfield taking the controller out of the county tabulation room, according to court documents.

“The suspect, Walter Ringfield, was seen on surveillance cameras walking past a desk and several tabulators,” the documents read. “On the desk was a red wrist lanyard with a security keychain and keys attached. Walter stops at the desk, grabs the security keychain, and continues walking.”

Ringfield kept the controller in his shorts pocket, authorities say.

He initially denied taking the keychain to county officials. Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office detectives later questioned Ringfield. He told them that he took the remote control, but that he returned it to county officials after about 20 minutes.

“Walter said the reason he accepted control was because he wanted to ‘clean up,'” detectives wrote in court documents. “Walter said the job was temporary and that he was trying to make it permanent, so he wanted to clean up.”

Detectives eventually executed a search warrant at Ringfield’s home. They said they found the remote inside the residence’s master bedroom, on top of a dresser.

Sasha Hupka covers county government and election administration for The Arizona Republic. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter: @SashaHupka. Follow her on Instagram or Threads: @sashahupkasnaps.