Counties’ use of emergency voting procedures under fire
Ariz. GOP head points to possible violation
PHOENIX — The head of the Arizona Republican Party is claiming that emergency voting procedures used in some counties are illegal.
And that could pave the way for a lawsuit if Republicans lose some elections by a narrow margin.
In a letter Tuesday to all county recorders, Jonathan Lines said a procedure being used in Maricopa County — and also in Pima County — illegally allows people to vote in person on the Saturday and the Monday ahead of the election. That, Lines said, violates a law that says all in-person voting has to be done by the Friday before Election Day.
But Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez and Adrian Fontes, her Maricopa County counterpart, point out that the law also permits counties to allow voting right up until 5 p.m. Monday “as the result of any emergency’’ that occurs after the 5 p.m. Friday deadline. More to the point, both said, there is no actual definition of what constitutes an “emergency.’’
“Are we going to be the one that’s judge and jury that meets this pigeonhole?’’ Rodriguez asked.
“We don’t know what an emergency is,’’ she continued. “If the voters say ‘it’s emergency voting,’ we open it up and they vote.’’
Fontes agreed, saying the statute does not require that he come up with a definition of what is an “emergency.’’
What the law does say is that an “emergency’’ means “any unforeseen circumstances that would prevent the elector from voting at the polls.
“The statute is about the voter’s emergency as I understand it,’’ he said.
“If the voter has an emergency and they need to vote, I can let them vote,’’ Fontes said, saying that’s the purpose of his job.
“I want people to vote,’’ added Fontes who, like Rodriguez, is a
Democrat. “I’m sure some people feel differently,’’ suggesting a partisan tinge to Lines’ complaint.
Yuma County Recorder Robyn Stallworth-Pocquette said she received Lines’ letter, but doesn’t think his complaint applies to Yuma County.
But the letter “doesn’t apply to Yuma County, I think it’s addressing to Maricopa County. With our voters, we actually advertised that it is emergency voting,” said Pouquette, a Republican.
Lines, a resident of Yuma, views the law on emergency voting through a different lens, arguing that it is permitted only if individuals “have cited an any articulable emergency,’’ though even his letter does not say what he believes that is.
There are not a lot of votes at issue.
Rodriguez said her office allowed 969 people to vote in person on Saturday and Monday on an emergency basis. Fontes put the number in his county at about 3,000.
But in a close race, whether that many ballots are counted or disqualified could determine the outcome.
Lines is demanding that county recorders who have allowed emergency voting set aside those ballots. That presumes, however, that they are not already mixed in with the hundreds of thousands of ballots cast in person on Tuesday.
The emergency voting is not the only complaint Lines has with the procedures some counties are using.
County officials are required to compare the signatures on the envelopes of early ballots with those on record. If there is a question, the law permits election officials to contact the voter to find out why the signatures do not match.
Lines, however, said that procedure cannot be used when someone drops off an early ballot at a polling place on Election Day, arguing that any of those ballots where the signatures do not match simply must be discarded. Rodriguez and Fontes disagree.
Fontes said the verification process is similar to what happens when someone shows up at a polling place without proper identification. They are given a certain number of days to bring in the proper documents, cure the defect and have their ballots counted.
This, he said, is no different.
“I want voters to be able to vote,’’ Fontes said. “I want to be able to authenticate as many ballots as possible.’’
Rodriguez said it’s only fair to give everyone a chance to explain discrepancies, pointing out that the signatures on file may have come when someone “signed’’ an electronic pad at the Motor Vehicle Division.
“It’s a big difference when you’re signing on a pad than when you do it on a piece of paper,’’ she said.
And Rodriguez has her own questions about whether Lines’ complaints have a partisan purpose.
“I don’t know if they have tracked some information that more people that drop them off are Democrats,’’ she asked. “We just say it’s a voter.’’
Lines, however, said there is no statutory authority for such post-election checking of signatures, saying the procedure “threatens to beget an extended period of confusion and uncertainty following the election.’’