Delayed count due to ballotless 'early' voters at polls

2012-12-09T00:00:00Z Delayed count due to ballotless 'early' voters at pollsCarli Brosseau Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 09, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Looking for someone to blame for Pima County's slow election results?

Turns out the prime culprit is an abundance of voters who requested early ballots - and then, rather than filling them out, showed up empty-handed at their polling place on Election Day wanting to vote.

More than 15,400 voters did just that, which accounts for more than 55 percent of all provisional ballots issued.

A similar trend was seen statewide.

That's got Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez thinking a change to Arizona's early voting system is in order. She's working on legislation that might kick people off the early-ballot list if they repeatedly fail to use their early ballots or they keep showing up to vote despite receiving an early ballot in the mail.

By law, anyone who wants to vote must be issued a ballot. But if the voter's identity can't be verified, the voter was sent an early ballot or the voter is not on the polling place roster, he or she gets a provisional ballot rather than a regular one.

Processing all those provisional ballots takes time because each one requires signature verification and an additional check of the voter's eligibility and precinct. When there are a lot of them, as there were this year, vote counting can stretch out a week or more, delaying results.

Taxpayers also lose out when they have to foot the bill for providing multiple ballots to the same voter.

UNCLEAR ON EARLY VOTING

Rodriguez suspects that many people ended up on the permanent early voting list without fully understanding what they were signing up for.

She said she believes many checked the box to join the list while registering on the state Motor Vehicle Division website, servicearizona.com.

"We have to educate the voter," Rodriguez said. "If you sign up, that means every election you're going to get an early ballot."

But improved voter understanding is only part of the solution, Rodriguez said.

In her view, the system for taking people off the early voting list once they've been put on it also needs to change.

Right now, voters have to write a letter formally requesting to be taken off. The only other way voters are removed is if their registration is canceled or their mail is returned as undeliverable.

Rodriguez is working on legislation that would describe other methods of removal while keeping voters registered.

Rodriguez met with other county recorders and elections officials Thursday to discuss potential reforms. One suggestion was to send out a postcard asking voters to opt in to stay on the list, said John Moffatt, a technical consultant to the county on elections issues.

81 percent were used

The Recorder's Office sent out more than 314,000 early ballots this election cycle, and about 81 percent of those were used properly, the office's figures show.

About 43,000 voters were sent an early ballot but didn't vote at all.

Recorder's Office statistics show that more than 5,000 voters requested a second early ballot. Almost 200 voters asked for a third.

The reasons varied from changing opinions on candidates or propositions to unfortunate animal run-ins. One ballot was eaten by a parrot; one was shredded; and one caught fire after a voter accidentally got it wet and dried it in the microwave.

Under Arizona law, voters can receive up to three, though only one will be counted.

NO POLITICAL LINK SEEN

Many Tucson skeptics saw the high number of provisional ballots issued this election cycle and suspected that their political party had been targeted.

It doesn't appear so.

A Star analysis found a statistically significant relationship between the percentage of a precinct's population that belongs to a minority group and the percentage of total ballots in that precinct that were issued as provisionals.

That relationship was even stronger than the link between estimated average household income in precincts and the percentage of provisionals.

But no significant correlation was found between the percentage of ballots issued in precincts and political party affiliation.

The biggest clusters of provisional ballots were near the University of Arizona, Sahuarita, the Oracle corridor and the area around Sunnyside High School.

On the whole, the south side was more affected than other parts of town. American Indian reservations were among the precincts with the highest percentage of provisional votes.

Some of the same areas stood out in an analysis of the areas most affected by errors at the Pima County Recorder's Office that led to names that were missing or difficult to find in polling place rosters.

The voters most affected by a database malfunction that caused some voters' names to appear at a polling place matched to an old address were in Avra Valley and the southeast side.

An alphabetization malfunction that affected voters registering near the deadline was most concentrated in the Oracle corridor, Avra Valley and the southeast side.

Elections Director Brad Nelson said he suspected redistricting, precinct consolidation and the sequence of elections with different polling places and all-mail elections have together led to confused voters.

"We do more (voter education and outreach) than the statute requires, and I think that helps a lot," Nelson said.

The county sends each voter not on the early voting list a yellow postcard with polling place information, and many voters bring that with them to the polls.

On StarNet: For the final numbers in all of the local and state races go to azstarnet.com/elections

"We have to educate the voter. If you sign up, that means every election you're going to get an early ballot."

F. Ann Rodriguez, Pima County recorder

Contact reporter Carli Brosseau at cbrosseau@azstarnet.com or 573-4197. On Twitter @carlibrosseau.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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