Arizona ranks low in election performance

Arizona ranks low in election performance

Some Arizona voters find ‘convenience voting’ adds to their confusionArizona’s rate of rejected ballots and high numbers of provisional and early voting and absentee ballots submitted has landed the state in the bottom third of all U.S. states for election performance in previous elections.

This is according to the Pew Charitable Trust’s Elections Performance Index, released in February, which compared election statistics from all states in 2008 and 2010.

The index gauges the efficiency of state-level election administration based on a series of indicators, including the rate of provisional and early voting ballots cast, rejection rates and voter turnout, among others.

When compared to the rest of the nation, Arizona in 2008 had the highest number of provisional ballots cast and the highest rejection rate of such ballots as compared to total ballots cast. Nationwide data is not yet available to compare the 2012 statistics.

In 2012, Arizonans submitted more than 183,000 provisional ballots, or about 8 percent of all ballots cast. That’s up from 6.5 percent in 2008, and represents the highest number of provisional ballots ever cast in Arizona for a federal election.

Election experts say high numbers of provisional ballots can be explained, in part, by advocacy groups registering large numbers of first-time voters, many of whom signed up for the permanent early voting list, but later showed up at polling locations. Because these voters were on the PEVL, they were required to cast a provisional ballot.

The provisional ballot rejection rate among all ballots cast here was 1.4 percent in 2012, or more than 33,000 provisional ballots. That’s down from 1.9 percent in 2008.

Thirty-three thousand rejected provisional ballots “is not a small number,” said Sean Greene, election initiatives research manager at Pew Charitable Trusts.

“We don’t really know what’s good or what’s not, honestly,” Greene said. “All we do know is that there are states that tend to be at the top of that, and Arizona is one of them.”

The early voting and absentee ballot rejection rate among all ballots cast, which includes voters on the PEVL, increased from 0.3 percent in 2008 to 0.5 percent in 2012, or by more than 12,000 early voting ballots rejected last year.

To put this into perspective, Arizona in 2008 was ranked in the bottom third of all U.S. states for rejected absentee ballots, according to Pew’s Elections Performance Index.

Election officials said the higher rejection rates in 2012 could be explained because the state now has more voters using early voting and absentee ballots.

According to the analysis by the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, the number of early voting and absentee ballots cast as a percentage of total ballots in 2012 was 67 percent, or more than two- thirds of Arizona’s electorate. That’s up from 53 percent in 2008.Tammy Patrick, federal compliance officer for the Maricopa County Elections Department, said Pew’s Elections Performance Index shows that Western states tend to have higher rejection rates because people have more options on how to vote.

But, she said, that doesn’t make high rates of rejected ballots acceptable.

“I don’t think that any rejection rate is acceptable by the public, by the voters or by election administrators,” Patrick said.