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Not too late for Nov. 3 ballot, but time very short

State election officials say they can still put a temporary tax increase on the Nov. 3 ballot if the Legislature acts today (Aug. 11), but time is running out and no one is quite sure when the last grain of sand will fall to the bottom of the hourglass.

The Secretary of State’s Office and county recorders across the state had pinpointed Aug. 10 as the “drop-dead date” for putting a temporary sales tax hike and other budget measures on the same ballot as November’s municipal and school board elections. Now past that deadline, Assistant Secretary of State Jim Drake said a Nov. 3 ballot referral is still possible.

“If they get it done on Tuesday, any time on Tuesday, we’ll find a way to make it happen,” Drake said.

Lawmakers adjourned Aug. 10 without a new budget in place, but expecting a vote today (Aug. 11) on a package that includes ballot referrals for several controversial proposals. Under the deal negotiated by legislative leaders and Gov. Jan Brewer, voters would decide whether to temporarily raise the state’s sales tax by one cent, temporarily suspend the Voter Protection Act and impose a $10.2 billion spending limit on the state.

If the Legislature passes the budget today, Drake said election officials can come in on Aug. 12 with enough time to create the publicity pamphlets that must be sent to every voter in the state. The Secretary of State’s Office will accept pro and con arguments on the ballot measures until the end of the week, he said, then lay out the pamphlet, translate it into Spanish, proofread it and send copies to about 1.8 million registered voters in Arizona, as well as military and other voters overseas. Under state election law, the pamphlets must be sent out at least 80 days before the election, a deadline that falls at the end of the week.

Drake was certain that it was still possible to make it all happen if the Legislature was to vote to refer the measures by the end of the day. But he wasn’t as clear whether it could still be done, say, if the Legislature passed a budget later in the week.

“There’s no absolute date, but every day you go later it’s harder to get them to the early voters and to the overseas folks,” Drake said of the publicity pamphlets.

Even sending the pamphlets takes about a week, Drake said.

“We need to send ballots to every household with a registered voter. That’s 1.7, 1.8 million folks. That’s between five and eight semi trucks of ballot pamphlets, and if you show up at the post office with five semi trucks, they turn you away,” he said. “We need to trickle that into the post office one semi truck a day. So that right there takes a week.”

County election officials must also get their ballots printed in time to comply with the state’s 26-day early voting period. Right now, state law dictates that period as 33 days, but a new law that takes effect in October shortens the early-voting period. It takes about 30 days to print the ballots.

Any deviation from the 26-day early voting period or other election laws will require federal approval. Under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, changes to the state’s election law must receive preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice.

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