Sadly, confusion still reigns after CBS 5's recent report on early ballots and the volunteers from different groups picking them up, in which this legal, and very common activity was labeled, wrongly, as illegal.
CBS 5 reporter Donna Rossi incorrectly paraphrased the remarks of Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell as stating that, ""it's a Class 5 felony to possess someone else's ballot."
Later, CBS 5 corrected a text version of the story to quote Purcell as stating, "Being in custody of somebody else's ballot without their permission is a Class 5 Felony."
But the correction is unlabeled and a video of the original broadcast still contains the incorrect information.
Moreover, the underlying premise of the segment is wrong: i.e., the suggestion that there is something improper or illegal about volunteers for groups like Promise Arizona in Action, the Campaign for Arizona's Future and Citizens for a Better Arizona's gathering early ballots for voters and either mailing or delivering them to Maricopa County Elections, which is part of the Recorder's office.
Rossi's report states that "no one is authorized" to pick up ballots, when, in fact, no one has to be "authorized" to do such independent, volunteer work.
The segment gave the impression that Purcell was unaware of the groups involved in such standard get-out-the-vote efforts, when, in fact, county elections is very aware that hundreds of early ballots are delivered to them at a time by various independent groups.
"Purcell says she has no idea who is out there trying to collect [ballots]," Rossi stated in the news item. "But she wants it to stop."
As I've already blogged, both the Arizona Secretary of State and elections law attorney Tom Ryan have told me that it is not illegal to pick up someone's ballot with their permission, as long as no one is misled and the ballot is turned over to the county in a timely manner.
But, weirdly, the recorder's office has been reluctant to issue a clarifying statement to the CBS 5 broadcast. And CBS 5 has not helped matters by avoiding a clear, obvious correction.
That's why I was encouraged to receive the press release below from Petra Falcon of Promise Arizona in Action, explaining how the group met on Monday with Purcell, elections director Karen Osborne and their lawyers, to present them with a petition, asking that Purcell issue a clarifying statement about the CBS 5 report.
"We're very concerned people have heard this on the news and will be hesitant to talk with our volunteers," Falcon explained.
Falcon is also worried about rumors of pro-Arpaio robocalls telling people not to turn over their ballots, based on the CBS 5 report.
The 40-minute meeting with Purcell went well, according to Falcon, and Purcell promised to respond to PAA's request within 24 hours.
"She feels CBS 5 misquoted her," Falcon said of Purcell. "She asked us to go to the TV station and request that they retract the statement. [But we told her] that request has to come from her."
The reality is that various organizations have been collecting early ballots for years. There's nothing new to the practice, which even GOPers engage in.
Promise Arizona in Action is part of the Adios Arpaio movement, which has registered more than 30,000 new voters since April. Falcon told me they have communicated with the county elections department previously, and are confident that they are complying with the law.
She said the message Promise's volunteers deliver as they approach voters has been vetted by the group's attorney.
Purcell has indicated to more than one media outlet that county elections has received reports of people trying to pass themselves off as county workers picking up early ballots.
When I asked county elections for a written record of these reports, I was told there was none, that the reports were verbal.
Certainly, such reports are a cause for concern, but the suggestion that there's something illegal about picking up a ballot for someone who wants it picked up, smacks of voter suppression.
Elections law wiz Ryan explained that state statutes governing the handling of ballots do not restrict the efforts of Promise Arizona in Action and similar groups.
"There is nothing illegal about passing your ballot to someone to turn in," he told me via e-mail. "What IS illegal is someone pretending to be someone from the County running around and gathering them. That sounds like a voter suppression kind of trick. Gee, which party is into voter suppression these days, hmmmm?!"
Point taken. Also, recent mistakes by county elections regarding the printing of ballots in Spanish make it incumbent upon Purcell to reassure the public that there is no voter suppression going on, and that the efforts of PAA and other groups are welcome.
I too hope Purcell takes it upon herself to correct CBS 5's misleading report, which is one reason I signed PAA's petition, something I rarely do.
And if CBS 5 wants to stay true to its mantra of "telling it like it is," it needs to issue a formal correction and do a follow up piece on the legal and quite inspiring efforts of various Latino groups to encourage voting. Otherwise, the channel does a disservice to the community and to its own reputation.
Promise Arizona in Action's 10/22 press release:
Promise Arizona in Action Meets with Helen Purcell and Delivers Petition Signatures to Urge Her to Set the Record Straight
Phoenix, AZ - Petra Falcon of Promise Arizona in Action met with County Recorder Helen Purcell today urging her to set the record straight regarding the legality of having volunteers deliver ballots to the Recorder's office. Purcell was quoted recently as saying it was a Class 5 felony to be in possession of someone else's ballot. In fact, Arizona law is perfectly clear that it is legal to deliver ballots on behalf of a voter, with their permission.
Over 400 petition signatures collected by the organization were delivered to Purcell today in a closed-door meeting that included another county official, Karen Osborn, and county attorneys. The petition urged Ms. Purcell to publicly correct misstatements regarding ballot pick up by volunteers and support new voters. The following is a statement by Petra Falcon, Executive Director of Promise Arizona:
"In today's meeting, County Recorder Helen Purcell conceded that statements attributed to her by CBS Channel 5 were incorrect. We requested that she issue a clarifying public statement in writing. She is considering this request, and will respond in the next 24 hours."
"There are many reasons why it is appropriate for the County Recorder to issue a clarifying statement. Just one of those reasons is that Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now exploiting the misstatements for his own benefit. It was recently reported that Arpaio has recorded a robo call telling voters not to allow anybody else to deliver their ballots. Arpaio's message is clearly in response to the recent misstatements that were attributed to the County Recorder. The County Recorder should not allow Arpaio to further intimidate voters and to capitalize on the inaccurate statements that were attributed to her. She should issue a clarifying statement immediately so voters know the law."
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"We want a collaborative relationship with the County Recorder, one that encourages full support and participation of voters in Maricopa County. We registered over 34,000 new voters with our partners at the Campaign for Arizona's Future, and these new voters are extremely excited about participating in the November 6 election."
"The volunteers with Promise Arizona in Action are out in the community each and every day encouraging voters to cast their ballots. In some instances, volunteers offer to deliver early ballots to the Recorder's Office. In every instance, they have the permission of the voter, and the ballots are delivered to the Recorder's Office immediately. "
"We call upon the County Recorder to do everything in her power to ensure that new voters are fully empowered and enfranchised. There is no room for misstatements that may inadvertently suppress voter participation in our democratic process. "