Oct 12, 2022 - Politics

Early voting in Arizona could look a lot different in 2024

Illustration of a hand making a stopping motion coming out of a USPS mailbox

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Arizona's elections could look much different two years from now depending on who wins key races for governor, secretary of state and the legislature.

Why it matters: The overwhelming majority of Arizona voters use early voting, which can entail voting early in person, by mail or dropping off an early ballot at polling places on Election Day.

  • 80% or more of voters routinely use early voting in each election.
  • In the 2020 general election, nearly 92% of ballots in Maricopa County were cast via early voting.

State of play: Many proponents of the false allegations that the 2020 election was rigged against former President Trump point to baseless claims that no-excuse early voting and tabulation machines were the source of widespread election fraud.

  • Most notably, GOP governor candidate Kari Lake and secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem have called the early voting system into question.
  • Lake filed a brief in support of an Arizona Republican Party lawsuit earlier this year to abolish early voting.
  • Both candidates are also plaintiffs in a lawsuit attempting to force election officials to hand-count all ballots, rather than to use machines.

Of note: Lawmakers introduced several failed bills over the past two legislative sessions to eliminate or curtail early voting or to ban machine counting of ballots.

  • Some Republicans have advocated for less-intensive changes, such as prohibiting voters from dropping off their early ballots on Election Day, a practice that prolongs the vote count due to the requirements for verifying voters' identities.

What they're saying: Lake's campaign did not respond to questions from Axios about whether she would support the elimination of no-excuse early voting or machine counting of ballots if she's elected governor.

  • Lake has supported the idea throughout her campaign, saying, "We want an election day. Not an election month."
  • Her campaign website makes no mention of changes to early voting, but it states that she wants to "take all equipment that uses software out of the counting process."

Yes, but: Election officials have warned that requiring hand counts of all ballots would be both extraordinarily time-consuming and less accurate than machine counts.

  • Before and after every election, county officials conduct what's known as a logic-and-accuracy test, which ensures that the tabulation machines are coming up with the correct counts.

Meanwhile: As Finchem noted in a recent debate with Democrat Adrian Fontes, the secretary of state has no control over election law.

  • But the secretary of state's office issues an Election Procedures Manual (EPM) for each election cycle, which is essentially meant to establish policies and procedures and to guide officials in areas where the law is silent or ambiguous.
  • The EPM carries the force of law and must be approved by the governor and attorney general.
  • Fontes would add a provision to the manual calling on counties to use vote centers instead of precinct-based polling places, where ballots are disqualified if they're cast in the wrong precinct.
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