May 16, 2024 - News

Republicans seek to halt Election Day early ballots

Illustration of a hand placing a red X into a ballot box.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Arizonans may get to decide in November which is more important to them — the convenience of dropping off early ballots on Election Day or a quicker vote count.

The big picture: Republican lawmakers are looking to refer a new proposal to the ballot that would prohibit voters from dropping off early ballots at polling places on Election Day.

  • The deadline for dropping off those ballots in person would be the Friday before the election.
  • Anyone who brings in an early ballot on Election Day would have to show ID and have their ballot tabulated on-site.

Why it matters: Arizona's early voting system emphasizes convenience for voters. And, unlike other Election Day voters, people who drop off early ballots at polling places don't have to wait in line.

Yes, but: The time it takes to verify the signatures on those early ballots after Election Day causes lengthy delays in determining winners in tight races, and that has attracted national attention in recent elections as Arizona has become increasingly competitive.

  • Of the more than 1.5 million ballots cast in Maricopa County in the 2022 general election, about 290,000 — more than 18% — were early ballots dropped off on Election Day.

Driving the news: A Senate committee approved the measure on a party-line vote Thursday.

  • It now goes to the full Senate.
  • If both chambers pass the measure, it will go straight to the ballot without needing the governor's signature.

Between the lines: The proposal would also require counties to tabulate all Election Day ballots at polling places, prohibiting them from counting the ballots instead at central locations.

What they're saying: "The goal here is accuracy, sanctity of the vote and timely reporting," committee chair Wendy Rogers (R-Flagstaff) said.

The other side: State and county election officials and Democratic lawmakers argued that eliminating Election Day drop-offs would make voting less convenient.

  • Eight of 15 counties tabulate ballots at central locations instead of polling places, and critics said the $11 million in the plan isn't enough for those counties to add more equipment, staff and other needs to comply with the proposed law.

The intrigue: The bill replaces the term "vote center" with "polling place," leading some to question whether it would threaten the voting centers that allow voters in Maricopa and some other counties to vote outside their precincts.

  • The Arizona Association of Counties, which opposes the measure, believes it would ban voting centers, executive director Jen Marson told Axios.
  • Sen. Ken Bennett (R-Prescott), who served as Arizona secretary of state from 2009 to 2014, said he wants an amendment clarifying that the measure wouldn't bar voting centers, which Rogers said wasn't the intent.
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