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Arizona has permitted all-mail elections for 30 years

By: - October 12, 2021 1:58 pm
early ballot

Photo by Jim Small | Arizona Mirror

The all-mail elections underway across Arizona for school district bond and override issues, which raised concerns among several Republican political figures this week, have been permitted by state law for 30 years. 

State law permits special districts to conduct mail-only elections with the permission of their county board of supervisors. The law applies to school districts and various other special taxing districts, including those created to fund fire departments, water infrastructure, pest control, flood control, transportation infrastructure, stadiums, hospitals and numerous other issues.

As a result, all bond and override elections currently underway in Maricopa, Pima and most other counties in Arizona are being conducted solely by mail.

In 1991, the same year Arizona approved a landmark law permitting no-excuse absentee voting, the legislature enacted House Bill 2392, which permitted special taxing districts to conduct elections exclusively by mail. All the districts needed to do that was the approval of the board of supervisors in their counties.

The bill elicited little controversy. The vote on the final version of the bill was 23-0 in the Senate and 53-1 in the House of Representatives. Among those who voted in favor of the bill were state Sen. Matt Salmon, a future congressman who is currently seeking the Republican nomination for governor in 2022, and Rep. Jane Hull and Sen. Jan Brewer, both Republicans who would go on to serve as Arizona’s secretary of state and governor. 

The lone vote against the final version came from Democratic Rep. Art Hamilton. Three other Democrats joined Hamilton in voting against an earlier version of the bill.

“The reason we chose to initiate mail-ballot elections in special districts was to get some experience in this area,” Rep. Bev Hermon, a Tempe Republican who sponsored the bill, told The Associated Press in a March 26, 1991, article. Hermon said there would be less of a chance of fraud or other problems because the districts were small.

State law still requires counties to have in-person voting locations in each jurisdiction that’s holding an election. Maricopa County, for example, will have 25 polling places open beginning on Oct. 25.

Despite the long history of all-mail balloting for off-year elections in special taxing districts, several Republican political figures raised concerns with the current elections. 

GOP gubernatorial hopeful Kari Lake asked on Twitter why she had received a ballot in the mail, despite removing herself from the state’s early voting list last year. Republican activist Merissa Hamilton claimed it was “voter suppression” to have all-mail elections, to which Arizona GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward responded, “Or could it be fake voter empowerment?”

While all-mail elections have been a fact of life in Arizona for decades, and election officials in states that vote mostly or exclusively by mail say the system is very secure, there are some issues.

Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, posted a photo on Twitter of a ballot his parents received for his sister, despite the fact that she hasn’t lived at the house for 15 years and currently resides in California. 

ABC15 reporter Garrett Archer, a former official with the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office, explained how such things happen. Archer said that some voters receive ballots at places where they no longer live because they don’t show up as having filed a national change-of-address form, weren’t flagged, for whatever reason, by the multi-state system Arizona uses to compare voter registrations across state lines, and the ballots weren’t reported as undeliverable by the U.S. Postal Service. 

“Election officials will ALWAYS err on the side of not canceling a legal registration, so nearly all of the checks above are manual,” Archer tweeted.

Though some addresses receive ballots for people who no longer live there, it would be difficult for someone to fraudulently vote using those ballots. Voters must sign their names on the envelopes used to return the ballots, and election officials compare those signatures to other signatures on file for those voters to verify their identities. If they are unable to verify a signature, they contact the voter directly. 

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer responded to Grantham that his parents should write “undeliverable, moved,” on the ballot envelope and send it back. Grantham’s sister, he said, should also contact the county elections department. 

This story has been updated to reflect that counties are still required by law to open in-person polling places for all-mail elections.

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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.”