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Phoenix polling place robbery suspect apparently acted alone

Phoenix polling place robbery suspect apparently acted alone

Phoenix polling place robbery suspect apparently acted alone

PHOENIX – The robbery of the Maricopa County polling place last week does not appear to have been politically motivated, authorities said Tuesday.

However, Acting Sheriff Russ Skinner said during a news conference that he is not ruling anything out during the ongoing investigation into a stolen digital security key.

“We’re leaving no stone unturned,” Skinner said. “We are going to make sure that we evaluate all the evidence that existed and follow up on anything that may be pointing us elsewhere or (towards) other actors that may be involved in this, but at least at this point we have nothing that indicates ( political motivation).

Walter Ringfield, a 27-year-old temporary poll worker, was arrested Friday for allegedly taking the black digital key from the Maricopa County Election and Tabulation Center (MCTEC) in downtown Phoenix a day earlier.

What is the stolen digital key used for?

Supervisor Bill Gates, who appeared alongside Skinner at Tuesday’s news conference, said the incident will not affect the upcoming primary election process.

Gates said election workers had been testing tabulation machines ahead of the July 30 election when the digital key, also referred to as a security key, was stolen Thursday.

The key, he said, is a part of the process of turning on the vote-counting machines on Election Day.

“With this alone… the nefarious actors would not be able to turn on the tabulation machine. … I’m not going to go into all the different levels that are involved, but know that this in itself would not be able to start a tabulation machine,” Gates said.

The theft from the polling place was discovered when workers took inventory Friday morning. Ringfield was identified as the suspect through security camera footage.

“We cannot thank the sheriff and his office enough for their incredible partnership,” Gates said. “They got to work on it. …The suspect was arrested the day we determined he was missing, and the black security key was recovered again that same day. “This is incredible work by our law enforcement partners.”

How has the county responded to the polling place theft?

Gates said one of the reasons for the news conference was to avoid speculation.

“In Maricopa County, we have been subject to many conspiracy theories over the past few years, which have been debunked time and time again,” he said. “I certainly hope that people don’t take this incident to generate new conspiracy theories.”

Gates said the key was deactivated and the tabulation machines were reprogrammed after officials learned it had been removed from MCTEC.

“The additional step we took was that we did a new logic and accuracy test, and we reached out to all political parties in the county and invited them to be part of that logic and accuracy test,” he said.

Additionally, all political parties in the county were informed of the situation Monday morning, Gates said.

Officials estimated the cost of reprogramming the equipment at around $20,000.

What did the suspect say about the theft of the security key?

Ringfield was jailed on charges of theft and criminal damage. He is not eligible for bail because he was free as part of a felony diversion program in a 2023 case when he was arrested Friday, according to court records.

The suspect allegedly admitted to taking the key, but claimed he returned it after about 20 minutes, according to his arrest report.

As for the possible motive, “Walter claimed that the reason he accepted control was because he wanted to ‘clean up.’ “Walter said the job was temporary and that he was trying to make it permanent, so he wanted to clean it,” the report says.

Like all temporary poll workers, Ringfield underwent a criminal background check before being hired. Gates said the felony diversion program did not appear on the check, but that it would not necessarily have disqualified him from being hired.

“We analyze that on a case-by-case basis. … But it takes 2,000 to 3,000 temporary employees to run an election in Maricopa County, so security is very important,” Gates said.

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