Canvassers from a community-engagement group falsely accused of voter fraud staged a large-scale drop-off of ballots yesterday. About 30 canvassers from Citizens for a Better Arizona brought more than 300 completed ballots to the Maricopa County Recorder and Elections Office late yesterday afternoon.
The move was a direct response to comments made by A.J. LaFaro, chairman of the Maricopa County Republican Party, in which he accused the group of voter fraud after witnessing a CBA canvasser turning in ballots. A video of the canvasser dropping off ballots received more than 532,000 hits.
CBA's work in fact is completely legal. The non-partisan group has knocked on over 60,000 doors in the last four months, asking residents to register to vote and to request and complete mail-in ballots. Volunteers also offer to bring completed ballots directly to the Elections Office for those who don't want to mail them in.
The group has focused its efforts on engaging the Latino community. They say in a press release that LaFaro's comments have made their efforts more difficult.
"Because of our enthusiasm, passion and commitment, these voters now trust us with their ballot, knowing full well that we will drop their ballot off at the Elections Office," said Ramiro Luna, CBA's field director, in a written statement.
LaFaro called the canvasser he witnessed turning in ballots, Ben Marin, a "violent thug." At yesterday's ballot drop-off, many of the CBA volunteers wore paper masks of Marin's smiling face.
"Today we will all be Ben Marin," said Molly Duran, a board member of CBA, in a statement. "We will walk into the Elections Office just like Mr. Marin did on August 25th and proudly drop off the ballots our canvassers have collected from voters all across Maricopa County."
Yesterday, the volunteers lined up, each with a stack of ballots in hand, and took turns stuffing them into the early ballot box.
Daniel Ruiz II, public affairs director of the Recorder and Elections Office, confirmed that the practice is legal. "There are many ways voters can get back to us," he said, including filling a ballot out at the Elections Office, requesting an early ballot in the mail and returning it by mail or by dropping it off at the office, or going to a polling place on Election Day.
Many voters request early ballots, Ruiz said. His office sent out 1.295 million ballots this year, and has received about 28 percent of them back so far. "It isn't prohibited to have someone drop it for you," he said.
Ruiz said this was one of the larger ballot drop-offs he had seen.
And CBA wasn't alone yesterday.
Joanne Markis, a volunteer with the Democratic Party, was also on-site dropping off ballots. She had 192. Markis said her appearance with CBA was coincidental, but she was glad to be there at the same time as the group. "I was upset about the misrepresentation I heard around collecting ballots," she said. "That was really a misunderstanding of what it's about. It's a service to people. This idea of making it seem nefarious, it's just wrong."
CBA agrees. The group delivered a letter to LaFaro giving him until noon today to issue a retraction, apologize, and resign from his position. The group said it will file a defamation suit against him and the county Republican Party today if those demands are not met.
But first, the volunteers hit the pavement. As soon as the ballots were dropped off, the group split into teams to continue canvassing. Each group had a list of registered voters' addresses to stop at. "Make it happen, team," said Luna. "Good luck out there. Get them ballots."
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