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County: Early ballot list, not demographics, biggest factor in provisional ballots

In this Oct. 26, 2012, photo, members of the Native American Voters Alliance mark their ballots at an early voting center in Albuquerque, N.M. NAVA, the National Congress of American Indians and other groups have been working to turn around low voter participation that has persisted in Indian Country for decades. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

(AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

A Maricopa County analysis found that provisional ballots cast in the general election had more do with the number of people on a precinct’s permanent early voting list than any other factor, officials say.

The analysis by the Maricopa County Elections Department found that precincts with higher rates of provisional ballots were spread across the Valley rather than concentrated in areas with more minority residents.

“There were some precincts in minority areas that had a high volume of provisionals and then also the (minority) percentages were high, but in the same regard … we had large volumes in Sun City and other areas where you have large numbers on the permanent early voting list,” said Tammy Patrick, the county’s federal compliance officer and the person managing the post-election analysis.

About 1.4 million of the county’s 1.8 million registered voters cast ballots for the Nov. 6 general election. About 122,000 were provisional ballots, which voters are given when their names don’t appear on a polling place’s list of registered voters. About 82 percent of those ballots were counted.

Patrick said half of the county’s provisional ballots in the general election were cast by voters on the permanent early voting list.

Cronkite News Service reported Dec. 4 that an analysis of precinct-level provisional ballot data found a strong relationship between provisional ballots as a percentage of total ballots cast and a precinct’s overall minority percentage.

The statistical analysis drew upon the county’s precinct-level provisional ballot summary and precinct-level demographic data prepared by the U.S. Census Bureau and provided by the county.

The Cronkite News Service analysis didn’t point to a reason that precincts with higher percentages of minorities tended to have higher percentages of provisional ballots cast. It also didn’t show whether minorities cast those provisional ballots.

County election officials didn’t respond to repeated messages seeking comment before that story moved.

Patrick said later that the county steers clear of using much of the census data because officials consider it outdated.

“We rely on Hispanic surname analysis, which is what the (U.S.) Department of Justice wants us to use, and the allocation of our bilingual poll workers,” she said.

Arizona is one of nine states, along with parts of seven others, that have to preclear voting procedures and changes with the federal government under the Voting Rights Act to protect against discrimination of minorities. Hispanic surname analysis is based on how people self-identify on U.S. Census surveys.

Hispanic rights groups have criticized what they characterize as large numbers of provisional ballots in precincts with large minority populations. Contributing to those concerns: The county listed the wrong election date on some Spanish-language materials.

Patrick said the groups, some of which protested the length of the ballot-counting process, may have been reacting to misinformation about how the county’s processes provisional ballots.

“The name ‘Maricopa County’ doesn’t elicit warm, fuzzy feeling for a lot of people in the minority community locally or nationally,” Patrick said, adding that she doesn’t believe the county elections office is the source of the perception. “So there’s an immediate visceral reaction to that for many people.”

Karen Osborne, the county’s elections director, said she is concerned any time a news story suggests that minorities are being treated unfairly here.

“I don’t know of an agency in the world that tries harder to not disenfranchise minorities,” she said.

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