Nov 7, 2022 - News

Maricopa County says chain of custody for ballots is secure

Illustration of a magnifying glass and file folder with abstract ballot elements in the background.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Maricopa County tracks your ballot every step of the way once they get it from the mail or pick it up from a drop box, or once you cast it at a voting center on or before Election Day.

State of play: Election officials expect that there could be as many as 3 million ballots cast statewide in this year's midterms, and the majority of those are likely to be in Maricopa County, home to more than 60% of the state's population.

Details: For years, the majority of votes in Maricopa County and statewide have been via early ballot, either mailed in, deposited at drop boxes, cast at in-person early voting centers or delivered to polling places on Election Day.

  • The remainder are Election Day votes cast at voting centers.

What happens: However ballots are cast, the state's Elections Procedures Manual dictates that they be retrieved and transported by teams of at least two staffers or temporary employees of a county's elections department who are registered to vote in different political parties.

  • Maricopa County mail-in ballots are picked up from the U.S. Postal Service's regional warehouse in Phoenix.
  • Bipartisan teams also pick up ballots from in-person early voting centers and official drop boxes.
  • The teams and on-site inspectors fill out chain of custody logs during the retrieval process.

In Maricopa County, the teams then bring the ballots to the Phoenix facility of Runbeck Election Services, a vendor that scans the envelopes so election workers can use the digital images to verify voters' signatures.

  • This verification must happen before the envelopes can be opened and the ballots counted.
  • Tamper-evident seals with unique serial numbers are placed on the containers that the teams use to transport the ballots back to the Maricopa County Tabulation and Elections Center (MCTEC), where election workers ultimately verify voters' signatures and machine-count the ballots.

Why it matters: The process is designed to maintain the integrity and security of the ballots.

Context: Maricopa County faced multiple allegations of problems with its chain of custody for ballots during the 2020 general election.

  • For example, Attorney General Mark Brnovich said an investigation by his office found that chain of custody documents for 100,000-200,000 ballots were missing signatures or other information.
  • Reality check: County officials said they can account for the whereabouts of every ballot cast in the 2020 election and that the tamper-evident seals were secured on all ballots.

What they're saying: "Every single stage of the process is documented and we can track that ballot throughout," Scott Jarrett, the county's director of Election Day and emergency voting, told reporters during a press conference in October.

  • Jarrett said there were some cases in 2020 in which documentation was missing signatures or had other administrative errors, usually when the bipartisan teams had to fill out multiple forms at once.
  • Yes, but: There are enough safeguards in the system that even when that happens, the chain of custody for ballots is always well-documented, Jarrett said.

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