Report Finds Flaws With Voting Process In Some Arizona Counties

January 16, 2014

(Photo by Jude Joffe-Block-KJZZ)
A vote sign in Phoenix during the last election.

A new report from a liberal advocacy group looks at how the November 2012 election was administered in Arizona and 16 other states. Activists said the results show how counties could make casting a ballot easier, but the proposed fixes may not be feasible.

The Center for American Progress Action Fund report said 37 percent of ballots cast in Maricopa County on Election Day 2012 were provisional, the highest rate among Arizona's counties, and that 18 percent of those ballots were ultimately not counted. Voters get provisional ballots for a number of reasons, including if they show up to vote at the wrong polling place.

"What election officials have the ability to do is prevent these provisionals by better training their election workers to direct people to the right polling places if they're in the wrong place, and not just hand them a provisional [ballot], which is essentially throwing that vote in the trash," said Robbie Sherwood with ProgressNow Arizona.

Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell said her team is rolling out new electronic poll books for this year's elections. Voters will swipe their ID or driver's license when they arrive.

"(If they're in the wrong place) the electronic poll book will print out a receipt and that will be handed to that voter," Purcell said. "The receipt will them where they're supposed to vote, and it will give them location and the major cross streets that are at that location."

Some activists have called for voting centers where any registered voter in the county can cast a ballot, and they want polling places to process mail-in ballots that voters take to a polling place on election day. While Purcell likes voting centers, she said Maricopa County's equipment cannot accommodate either of those ideas.

Coconino County had the second highest rate of provisional ballots both cast and rejected. County Recorder Patty Hansen said a spike in provisionals was due in part to a misinformed get out the vote effort that told NAU students they could vote for president even if they were registered elsewhere, and she said 2012 was actually an improvement over the prior presidential election.

"In 2012, 20 percent of the provisional ballots we rejected were because they voted at the wrong polling place. In 2008, of the rejected provisional ballots, it was 27 percent," Hansen said. "But in my opinion, that's still too high."

Hansen said her county's addressing the problem by adding voting centers and electronic poll books for 2016.

The report ranked Yuma and Pinal counties as the worst in the state for their low rates of voter registration and turnout.

Updated 1/16/14 4:35 p.m.