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Report: Arizona lags most states in election administration

A sign outside Maricopa County Recorder’s Office tabulation center. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Natasha Khan)

A sign outside Maricopa County Recorder’s Office tabulation center. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Natasha Khan)

Most states had better overall election administration procedures than Arizona in 2008 and 2010, according to a study released this week by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The group’s Election Performance Index rated states based on 17 factors including voter turnout, voting wait times and rejection rates of provisional and early ballots.

Arizona’s relatively high rates of provisional ballots cast in 2008 and 2010 and its rate of non-voting due to registration and early ballot problems in 2010 helped knock down the state’s scores.

Data for the 2012 election wasn’t included because it isn’t yet available.

“(The study) looks pretty much like it paints a clear picture knowing that in 2008 we had some real challenges that were not addressed for 2010,” said Sam Wercinski, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network.

The study comes as Arizona lawmakers are considering dozens of election reform bills. Many are responses to the 2012 general election that drew national attention to the number of provisional ballots cast in the state and the time required to count early and provisional ballots.

The Election Performance Index ratings fall along a 100-point scale. The higher a state’s index, the higher the better it did across the 17 categories. Arizona scored a 63 in 2010 and a 61 in 2008. North Dakota, the top-scoring state, earned an 82 in 2008 and 2010. Mississippi scored the lowest in both years with 42 in 2008 and 37 in 2010.

“What we did is the first comprehensive study on how well states are running elections,” said David Becker, director of election initiatives for The Pew Center on the States.

Although Arizona has problems, he said, it was the first state to offer online voter registration, a practice now employed in 13 states. Becker said the study could help spread good ideas, just like Arizona’s online voter registration model.

“We want to inform the discussion,” he said. “Right now a lot of the discussion is based on ideology, partisanship and, often, anecdotes based on what people have seen. What the index demonstrates is that we can come up with a better picture based on hard data.”

Matt Roberts, spokesman for Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, said Bennett wouldn’t comment on the report until he could do a full review.

Tammy Patrick, the Maricopa County Elections Department’s federal compliance officer, was one of two dozen advisers to the study. She said Pew approached the research as best as possible, but comparing elections in different states isn’t as simple as it sounds.

“Any time you’re looking at elections around the country and trying to do any sort of comparison it’s very difficult because it’s so decentralized,” she said.

For instance, some states include inactive voters in voter turnout counts while others don’t, Patrick said.

Patrick, who works closely with Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell and Elections Director Karen Osborne, said the study could help improve election laws where needed.

“What we’re hoping with this is it allows election administrators to go to legislatures,” Patrick said. “Sometimes (this data) is a litmus test for legislation being passed in a state.”

Categories:

• Absentee ballots rejected
• Absentee ballots unreturned
• Data completeness
• Disability or illness-related voting problems
• Military and overseas ballots rejected
• Military and overseas ballots unreturned
• Online registration available
• Post-election audit required
• Provisional ballots cast
• Provisional ballots rejected
• Registration or absentee ballot problems
• Registrations rejected
• Turnout
• Voter registration rate
• Voting information lookup tools
• Voting technology accuracy
• Voting wait time

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