No lawsuit on early ballot verification, but big gains made

Three out of 15 wouldn’t normally be considered a high rate of success, but it counts for a lot when it’s three counties that make up nearly 78 percent of Arizona’s registered voters.

Secretary of State Michele Reagan has not granted a request by a coalition of civil and voting rights groups that asked her to instruct all county recorders to attempt to verify any early ballot that’s rejected on Election Day because the voter’s signature doesn’t match the one on file. And most of Arizona’s 15 county elections offices hasn’t moved to adopt such a policy.

Nonetheless, the coalition has not brought the lawsuit it threatened, and with the polls set to open in less than 24 hours, it’s too late to go to court.

But the majority of Arizona voters with mismatched signatures on their early ballots can expect calls from election officials, thanks to Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes’s response to the group’s request.

Fontes decided to implement a new policy under which election officials in Maricopa County, which is home to nearly 61 percent of Arizona’s registered voters, will reach out to any voter who drops off his or her early ballot on Election Day and has it rejected because of a mismatched signature. The county already did so for early voters who mailed in their ballots before Election Day.

Pima County, which accounts for 15 percent of the state’s registered voters, and Coconino County, which has 2 percent, both already had policies of contacting voters to confirm their identities before rejecting their early ballots over signature issues. This year, Coconino County added a new policy of texting voters whose signatures were deemed to be mismatched, in addition to calling, emailing and sending letters, said County Recorder Patty Hansen.

Spencer Scharff, one of the attorneys who signed the letter to Reagan, told the Arizona Mirror that the coalition is still concerned about the lack of uniformity among the counties when it comes to policies on giving voters the opportunity to confirm their signatures on or after Election Day. He wouldn’t address the lack of litigation for the 2018 election, but said the group was “evaluating how the policies will impact future elections.”

In an Oct. 26 letter to Yavapai County Recorder Leslie Hoffman, Reagan said she doesn’t have a position on how the counties should resolve issues of mismatched signatures on early ballots. But she said it would be best if the counties had a uniform policy.

“If there is an emerging consensus, we would be happy to communicate that to (Campaign Legal Center) and help stave off any potential litigation,” Reagan wrote, referring to one of the groups pushing for the new policy.

Jeremy Duda
Associate Editor Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”

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