The day that Thomas Curtin began to wonder why his early ballot hadn't arrived, he received a letter from the Pima County Recorder's Office asking him to verify his signature.
The handwriting on his ballot didn't match the sample the office had on file.
"There was a good reason for that," said Molly Stranahan, Curtin's wife.
He hadn't voted, and neither had she, she said. Still, both ballots had been mailed back to the Recorder's Office.
Although Curtin's signature was rejected as a bad match to the one on his voter registration form, Stranahan's signature was accepted, and her ballot was put through for processing.
Curtin emailed the Recorder's Office, which sent two employees last week to the couple's home at Miraval to hand-deliver new ballots and get signed affidavits that the signatures on the submitted ballots were fake.
Stranahan's ballot was pulled from its processing tray, and both ballots will be sent to the Pima County Attorney's Office for investigation, said Chris Roads, deputy recorder and registrar of voters.
"It wasn't perfect, but it feels like, in a lot of ways, the system is working," Stranahan said. She plans to get taken off the early voting rolls and go to the polls next time.
She also signed on as a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed this week against the Pima County Board of Supervisors that demands unrelated changes to the county's election processes.
Among the other plaintiffs in the case are the Republican candidate in the Pima County Recorder's Office race, Bill Beard, and two election-integrity advocates involved in other election-related cases against Pima County since 2006 - Jim March, a Libertarian and Black Box Voting activist, and Mickey Duniho, an independent who, with March, serves on the county's Election Integrity Commission.
"I would love to know the way the person who voted my ballot voted," said Stranahan, a registered Democrat who has previously funded election-integrity projects.
So far, the only the person who knows how Stranahan's first ballot was voted is the person who filled in the bubbles. Stranahan and Curtin's first ballots are still sealed in their envelopes, Roads said.
The incident is the only one of its kind in Pima County, Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez said. "It hasn't happened before."
That's not to say the Recorder's Office isn't on the lookout for cases like this. Employees trained by a handwriting expert to identify fraudulent signatures regularly contact voters whose signatures look different than the ones on file.
Most often, that's because a parent signed for a child away at college or an older person has a younger family member sign for them, Roads said.
Sometimes, the voter has had a stroke or other significant physical impairment since their last signature, leading to a mismatch.
The office is especially vigilant for caregivers signing ballots for patients or the elderly, with or without their knowledge.
Recorder's Office employees have even gone to a group home in person to ensure there was no vote-tampering, Roads said.
If the signature the Recorder's Office has on file - often signed on a screen at the Motor Vehicle Division - is unclear, the Recorder's Office sends the voter a signature update form. That happens most often with MVD signatures, which often are signed with a fat pen that produces small letters as black blobs. That was the case with Stranahan's signature. Only half of the letters were discernible, Roads said.
"I'm not sure I would have accepted it," Roads said. "It's a close call as to whether it should have gone out for a new signature."
The acceptance of the ballot signature was also questionable, he said.
"Some letters are the same, some are different," he said. "There's definitely some similarity."
The handwriting on Curtin's ballot did not at all resemble his signature, Roads said.
Other plaintiffs joining Stranahan in the elections lawsuit recently filed against the county are Dave Croteau of the Green Party; Paul Hilts, a Democrat who heads the party's Election Integrity Committee; Arlene Leaf, a Democrat; Marcelo Ruiz, an independent; William A. Lolos, a Democrat; Sherry Mann, an independent; and Lori Oien, a Republican former City Council candidate.
Attorney Brad Roach, who ran against Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall in 2008 as a Republican, filed the case.
How to track your ballot
You can track the status of your early ballot on the Pima County Recorder's Office website, www.recorder.pima.gov. It should show when your ballot was mailed, when it was received, when it was approved and when it was sent for tabulation by the Elections Department. You must enter your birthday and your name exactly as it appears on your ballot. If you haven't yet received an early ballot that you expected, call the Recorder's Office at 724-4330.
Did You Know?
Early ballots have become an increasingly prominent part of voting. About 80 percent of votes cast in Pima County in the primary came via early ballots.
Source: Star news archives
Contact reporter Carli Brosseau at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4197.