Thousands of Arizona Voting Ballots Going Uncounted Every Election, Report Says

Thousands upon thousands of votes aren't counted every election year in Arizona, according to a new report.

The Arizona Advocacy Network, which is run by a onetime Democratic politician, released a report detailing how Arizona's election laws affect voter turnout, and it doesn't look good -- through public records and voter data, the organization found that more than 100,000 votes haven't been counted over the last 10 years.

"When it comes to disenfranchising eligible voters, Arizona is, unfortunately, a national leader," the report states. "These discarded votes were not the result of fraud, which is so extremely rare it borders on nonexistent. These were eligible voters - sometimes confused, sometimes misinformed or merely forgetful, sometimes willfully targeted because they share a common last name."

For example, there were more than 121,000 provisional ballots rejected from 2006 to 2014.

Provisional ballots are those cast at polls, but aren't quite the same as the regular ballot. If a voter didn't bring ID, or the voter's name wasn't on the roster at that precinct, the voter had a name or address change, or the person already requested an early ballot, then they vote with a provisional ballot, and the counties then determine whether those votes count.

The Arizona Advocacy Network actually surveyed people at the polls to find out why people were voting provisional ballots, and a lot of the responses revolved around early ballot problems:

The following excerpts are from interview notes taken at polling locations on Election Day:

"Diana received PEVL ballot day of election. Husband did receive his several weeks ago. Unsure why his came and hers was delayed. They had moved"

"Did not receive early ballot".

"We have voted at this location for 4 years and have not requested early ballot. The poll worker said this has been as issue for a lot of voters today."

"Thought I was (on early ballot) but didn't receive a mail-in ballot, so came to vote in person".

"Didn't realize he was early ballot. Didn't get it. Assumes wife signed him up."

There have also been a lot of reports by voters in recent years that there's confusion over their correct polling place. Some people are told that they're at the wrong place despite voting there in the past, and there have been reports that poll workers have told people to go to the wrong place.

In 2014, 12 percent of the provisional ballots cast were rejected, for one of a few reasons: the voter not actually being registered, voters in the wrong precinct, voters providing incomplete information on the provisional ballot, or otherwise aren't eligible.

A lot of these issues came up just this past election, when Republican Martha McSally narrowly defeated Democratic Congressman Ron Barber. Barber's campaign filed a lawsuit over 133 votes that weren't counted due to the various issues described above. (The 133 votes wouldn't have given Barber the victory anyway.)

Additionally, the report states more than 8,000 early ballots were rejected in 2014 due to a mismatched signature (which is a judgment call by elections officials), no signature, or the ballot arriving late.

Despite nearly 3,000 early ballots not being counted because of the ballots not arriving on time, some Republican lawmakers are pushing a measure to ban get-out-the-vote groups from going door-to-door to collect these ballots and drop them off at an elections office.

Many election laws in Arizona are defended as voter-fraud protections or attempts to protect the integrity of elections, but the Arizona Advocacy Network argues that doesn't add up, when you compare the documented cases of voter fraud with the number of rejected ballots:

The Arizona Advocacy Network is recommending several changes to the voting law to make it easier for people to vote and make sure their votes are counted:

  • Repeal ARS 16-120, which states that no person can vote whose registration hasn't been received at least 29 days before the election, and replace it with language allowing for Election Day Registration (EDR).
  • Amend ARS 16-579, which states that valid forms of identification at the polling place must bear the photograph of the elector. Otherwise the voter needs to provide two types of different identification that prove their residency.
  • Amend ARS 16-552, which states that if a voter's affidavit on their early ballot is "not sufficient" the vote shall not count.
  • Amend ARS 16-547, which states that early votes are not counted if they arrive at the county after 7 p.m. on Election Day.
  • An additional procedural change that should be adopted is to allow voters, who take their early ballot to their polling place on Election Day, to open their ballot envelope and feed their ballot into the optical scan voting machine at the polling place.
  • Amend ARS 16-135, which puts the full onus on the elector to notify the county of any change of address in order to update their voter registration.
  • Amend ARS 16-584, which states that the precinct the voter votes their provisional ballot in must be correct for the address they live in, otherwise the entire vote is thrown out.
  • Eliminate Arizona's bifurcated voting system.
  • Opt into the ERIC System (Electronic Registration Information Center)
  • Amend ARS 16-409, which states that only towns and school boards can conduct all-mail ballot elections.
Click here to see the full report.

Got a tip? Send it to: Matthew Hendley.

Follow Valley Fever on Twitter at @ValleyFeverPHX. Follow Matthew Hendley at @MatthewHendley.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley