Democrats Criticize Policy To Reject Early Maricopa County Ballots Without Contacting Voters

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Tuesday, November 15, 2016 - 7:50am
Updated: Tuesday, November 15, 2016 - 6:08pm
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More than 1,400 early ballots in Maricopa County won’t be counted because election officials think there is a problem with the signature on the envelope.

But not all of those voters were alerted to the issue, which Democratic party officials say is a violation of election procedures.

The Arizona Elections Procedures Manual says the county recorder "shall make a reasonable and meaningful attempt to contact the early voter" if the signature on an early ballot envelope doesn’t match the signature on file.

Ballots are counted once voters verify their identities.

In Maricopa County, elections officials called voters who had either a problematic signature or no signature on their ballot so they could remedy it leading up to Nov. 8. But anyone who dropped off an early ballot with a problematic signature on Election Day likely wasn’t contacted before their ballot was disqualified.

In addition to about 1,440 ballots rejected for a mismatched signature, more than 2,000 additional ballots were rejected for no signature.

“This impacts thousands of voters who span all parties and all parts of the county and [their ballots] deserve to be counted,” said Spencer Scharff of the Arizona Democratic Party. “Thus we strongly urge officials in Maricopa County to implement their full verification process to all early ballots, including those received on Election Day.”

That is what election officials in Pima County did. They contacted all voters with questionable signatures, including those who dropped off ballots on Election Day, and gave them until Nov. 11 to verify their identities.

In an email, Maricopa County Recorder's Office spokeswoman Elizabeth Bartholomew said there is no time limit specified in the Election procedures manual, so Maricopa County officials refer to the statute that says all early ballots must be turned in by 7 p.m. on Election Day. The county elections officials have decided early ballots cannot be altered after that point.

Secretary of State Matt Roberts said the elections manual includes another provision that limits the mandate to contact voters. On a separate page, the manual says “the county recorder, if time permits, may attempt to contact the voter to ascertain whether the voter actually voted the early ballot and any reasons why the signatures may not match."

But Scharff said the manual never specifies that 7 p.m. on Election Day should be the deadline to contact voters, especially since early ballots are currently being verified and counted.

“The county has not canvassed the vote, so time certainly permits the county to contact the voter,” Scharff said.

Scharff said voters have five business days after the election to provide necessary identification if they voted a conditional provisional ballot, so similar rules should apply to voters who need to verify or add a signature to their early ballot.

"The Arizona Secretary of State and county elections officials have an obligation to interpret the law in the light most favorable to the voters," Scharff said. "It is disappointing and disheartening to hear Arizona's elections officials take such a narrow approach to the processing of early ballots — an approach that disenfranchises thousands of Arizona voters."

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