Maricopa County saved nearly 7,000 ballots through curing policy

By: - November 27, 2018 11:25 am

Photo by Kelley Minars | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Nearly 7,000 voters would have had their early ballots rejected over problems with their signatures if Maricopa County hadn’t initiated a new policy of attempting to “cure” those ballots after Election Day.

According to data provided to the Arizona Mirror by the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, 7,240 early ballots had signatures on their envelopes that required further review after Election Day. The majority of those ballots were dropped off at polling places on Election Day.

County election officials began contacting voters who dropped off early ballots on Election Day and whose signatures needed further review on Nov. 8, two days after the election. The outreach effort allowed the county to verify the signatures on 6,933 of the ballots, which was nearly 96 percent of the ballots that election officials reviewed for potentially mismatched signatures.

Only 307 of those ballots were ultimately rejected due to bad signatures, according to the Recorder’s Office.

In previous elections, those lawfully cast ballots would have been rejected outright.

Unlike in-person voting, voters who cast early ballots don’t show identification when they vote. Instead, they sign the envelope that they use to send their early ballots to election officials. To verify the voters’ identities, election officials compare the signatures on the envelopes with the signatures that are on file for those voters.

When election officials believe a signature doesn’t match, they contact the voter to determine if he or she was the one who signed the envelope. But prior to the 2018 general election, most counties stopped reaching out to voters over signature issues on or shortly before Election Day.

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes decided to implement a policy of contacting voters to verify those signatures after 7 p.m. on Election Day, when the polls close, after several civil and voting rights groups threatened to sue any county that didn’t use that practice. Pima County had used that practice for about 15 years, and Coconino County attempted to cure those ballots, as well.

“Those voters would not have had their ballots count under the old rubric, so we’re very proud of that,” Fontes told the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors on Monday while discussing the official canvass of the 2018 general election.

The Arizona Republican Party alleged that the practice was illegal and sent a letter to all 15 counties two days before the election threatening to sue if they attempted to cure those ballots.

The day after the election, several county GOP organization sued over the disparity, arguing that there should be a uniform policy among the counties. Two days later, the counties reached a settlement in which they all agreed to cure early ballots through November 14.

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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.”