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Judge is asked to let some disabled Arizonans vote by video conference

Judge is asked to let some disabled Arizonans vote by video conference

  • Updated

PHOENIX — Maricopa County’s recorder wants a court to bless his practice of allowing some people to cast a ballot by video conference.

In a lawsuit filed Friday, Recorder Adrian Fontes said state law provides for “special election boards” composed of one Republican and one Democrat to assist voters who are confined because of illness or disability. In general, they will go to where someone lives and help that person fill out the ballot.

But Fontes said the COVID-19 pandemic and public health restrictions may keep board members from entering these facilities. So he has developed — and used in the August primary election — a system that uses video technology.

“Unfortunately, (Republican) Gov. Doug Ducey has taken the erroneous position that providing this common-sense assistance to severely disabled voters violates Arizona law and must be suspended immediately,” attorney Mary O’Grady wrote for Fontes, a Democrat.

Francine Correll, an office specialist for the the Pima County Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener Program, was celebrated in a drive-by retirement party after 36 years of work. (Video by Josh Galemore / Arizona Daily Star)

She noted that the Attorney General’s Office has also expressed concerns.

So, Fontes wants a judge to declare that what he’s doing is legal.

The ruling would affect more than Maricopa County.

Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs already has provided “guidance” to election officials in all 15 counties telling them that she finds the practice to be legal. Whether the other counties are entitled to follow suit is dependent on what a judge concludes.

Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez, a Democrat, said she hasn’t used videos with her special election boards until now.

But Rodriguez said everything has changed with the pandemic. The election board members have to live with access rules that the corporations that own nursing homes and long-term care facilities establish.

“We’re just trying to do our job for a group of citizens that we know it’s going to impact,” she said, saying it is her intent to begin using video for voting in the upcoming election.

The litigation is designed to resolve the issue before early voting begins next month in the Nov. 3 general election.

No one questions the use of these special election boards. Rodriguez said they go not only to nursing homes and similar facilities but even to private homes where someone needs help filling out a ballot.

Even if someone else is available at the house, she said, the person may not want others to know how she or he is voting. The board members are sworn to secrecy.

Fontes said he got about 10 requests for such help for the August primary for people who could not fill out their own ballots due to conditions like multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy. They could not receive face-to-face assistance because of the health concerns over COVID-19.

He said he expects more such requests for the general election, with the complicating factor of limited access to care facilities.

The solution, Fontes said, was the option for a video meeting, but only if the person is physically incapable of marking a ballot and there is restricted access. The method also involves showing the voter the ballot as voted.

Hobbs followed suit, issuing recommendations for how other counties can do the same thing.

All that blew up last week when Ducey wrote to Hobbs, accusing her of facilitating the violation of state laws and directing “these policy changes should be suspended immediately.”

Hobbs disagreed, with Ducey then seeking intervention by Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich. Fontes decided to short-circuit all of that and take the case directly to a judge.

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Related to this story

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Arizona's top two elected officials, a Republican and a Democrat, are squabbling over election procedures. Hanging in the balance is the ability to vote for people in some nursing homes, hospitals and other places who can't physically fill out ballots themselves but also can't have visitors due to COVID-19.

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