Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s re-election campaign launched a robocall Monday warning that county officials don’t want voters to give their early ballot to anyone who offers to deliver it to the recorder’s office.
But that warning, the elections officials say, is not accurate.
Arpaio’s campaign manager, Chad Willems, said he decided to include the warning in his robocall after talking to Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne. He said she told him officials were responding to reports about people offering to deliver ballots while posing as county officials, which is a crime. Willems said he had also heard reports about anti-Arpaio volunteers collecting ballots from admitted Arpaio supporters.
The conversation between Willems and Osborne happened the day after local CBS affiliate KPHO ran a story that attributed Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell with saying that it’s a felony for anyone to possess a ballot that doesn’t belong to them.
Purcell has since clarified that it is not a crime to deliver ballots. She said it is a crime to pose as a county official while doing so, or to pick up a ballot and then not deliver it. Purcell said KPHO is to blame for misrepresenting her message, although the station has said it stands by its story.
“My comment to (the KPHO reporter) was that I would not give my ballot to someone I didn’t know,” Purcell explained in an email.
Willems said that when he saw the KPHO story, he thought it sounded inaccurate.
“It sort of made it sound, to me, like if you carry a ballot for someone, that’s a felony,” Willems said.
But he decided to include the warning anyway, because of his conversations with Osborne and voters.
Willems said the robocall went to Republican and independent voters who had requested early ballots, but who had not yet mailed them back. But Hispanic activists said they have heard the robocall also went to Democrats.
Willems declined to say how many people received the call.
Hispanic political groups note that under Arizona law, the approach they’ve been using to increase voter turnout is legal.
Groups such as Promise Arizona in Action and Citizens for a Better Arizona have deployed a strategy where volunteers go door-to-door in heavily Hispanic areas, urging eligible voters to register and sign up for the early voting list. The volunteers return when they know ballots have been mailed to voters, offer to collect the ballots and turn them into the recorder’s office.
Leaders from the groups say the strategy has helped boost voter participation in Maricopa County by tens of thousands, most of whom are first-time voters.
The leaders and their attorneys maintain the strategy is perfectly legal, and Purcell agrees, as long as they do not pretend to be county officials, and as long as they actually deliver the ballots.
But the leaders say the doubt cast on the strategy could mean some voters will be dissuaded from participating in this year’s election. Although volunteers continue to offer to help people cast their early ballot by taking it to the county recorder’s office, activists fear some people now think it’s a crime to do so.
Willems said he spoke with Osborne Tuesday and that she told him to remove the part of the script that mentioned county officials wanting voters not to give their ballot to anyone who asks to deliver it. But Willems said the robocall campaign is was finished finished by then.
KPHO’s story also said that Purcell said “if anyone comes to your door wanting to pick up your ballot, call police,” but Purcell said she never said that.
Leona Wood, an assistant news director at KPHO, said she has full confidence in her reporter’s story and that any claims of misinformation spring from taking isolated bits of the story out of context.
Corrective: This story originally said that Willems initially decided to run the robocall after seeing the KPHO story. He said he made the decision after talking to Osborne and saw the TV story later.