Arizona GOP threatens legal action over emergency voting, early ballot verification

By: - November 6, 2018 3:42 pm

The chairman of the Arizona Republican Party is threatening legal action against counties that opened emergency voting centers over the weekend or that plan to allow voters to confirm that they signed the early ballots that they dropped off on Election Day before those ballots are rejected for mismatched signatures, issues that could come into play if Republicans find themselves on the losing end of any close votes.

In a letter to all 15 county recorders, dated two days before the election, Jonathan Lines argued that the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office violated state law by opening five “emergency voting centers” on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. State allows voters to cast early ballots at specified centers through the Friday before Election Day, but states that in-person early voting after 5 p.m. on Friday is only permissible in the event of an emergency, which is defined as “any unforeseen circumstance that would prevent the elector from voting at the polls.” Pima County also opened five emergency voting centers on Saturday and three on Monday.

The chairman also said it would violate the law for counties to contact voters after the polls close to confirm the signatures on their early ballots. If a signature on an early ballot is deemed to not match the signature on file for that voter, county recorders contact those voters to give them an opportunity to confirm that they were the ones who signed their ballots. But most county recorders don’t use that practice for voters who drop off their ballots on Election Day.

In response to a request a coalition of civil and voting rights groups, Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes decided about two weeks ago that his office would reach out to voters after the polls close before invalidating their ballots over mismatched signatures. Pima and Coconino counties already had such policies in place.

To prepare for “anticipated litigation,” Lines asked the recorders to identify and segregate any ballots cast at emergency voting centers since Friday, and any early ballots processed after voters confirm their signatures past 7 p.m. on Election Day.

“A uniform and impartial adherence to the law is vital to public confidence in the electoral system and the outcomes it produces. In this vein, troubling reports have emerged of at least two early voting practices in certain counties that not only are inconsistent with the governing statutes and regulatory directives from the Secretary of State, but undermine the constitutional guarantee that all Arizonans are entitled to cast a ballot on equal terms, irrespective of their geographic location within the state,” Lines wrote.

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes and Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez were dismissive of Lines’ allegation about the emergency voting centers. Both said it’s up to the voters, not the counties to determine whether they are facing an emergency that would prevent them from going to the polls on Election Day.

“Are we going to now define what is an emergency for a person?” Rodriguez said. “It’s whatever their emergency is. I’m not the judge and jury to say if it’s an emergency or not.”

Fontes, a Democrat, noted that it’s not unusual for county recorders to reach out to voters whose signatures come under scrutiny. The Pima County Recorder’s Office believes state law authorizes them to conduct such checks through the Monday after the election.

“I’m concerned that some folks just don’t want Maricopa County voters to vote, and they don’t want us to help voters get their voices heard. That’s what bothers me,” Fontes said.

If Lines thinks there should be a list of criteria in statute, or wants to bar election officials from trying to verify early ballots that come in on Election Day, Rodriguez suggested he find a lawmaker to introduce legislation on the subjects. Rodriguez, a Democrat, pondered whether Lines believes it’s predominantly Democrats who drop off their early ballots on Election Day.

“If there are a lot of Republicans, then we’ll be invalidating them too. I do not want to invalidate any voter’s signature unless they’re given the opportunity to confirm that that’s their signature,” Rodriguez said.

Kory Langhofer, an attorney who represents the Arizona Republican Party, said all votes must be properly cast by 7 p.m. on Election Day, and that includes an exact match on the signatures on voters’ early ballots, which he said prevents attempts to rehabilitate those signatures after the polls close. Langhofer added that the emergency voting centers appear to have been set up for the purposes of extending early voting, not for assisting voters with bona fide emergencies.

“The important thing is that the rules are followed. If you want to have more people vote but you want to disregard the law in order to do that, that’s the wrong approach. The party’s goal here is just to ensure that the rules that we all agreed to back when we were amending the statutes are the rules everyone plays by,” Langhofer said.

You can read the letter here or below.


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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. 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.”