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.’’

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