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Bill would require daily early ballot reports from rural counties

Legislators discuss a bill during the House Elections Committee meeting on Feb. 9. (Photo by Samantha Shotzbarger/Cronkite News)

Legislators discuss a bill during the House Elections Committee meeting on Feb. 9. (Photo by Samantha Shotzbarger/Cronkite News)

Currently, Pima and Maricopa counties must maintain daily updated lists of those who have turned in early ballots if requested by state or county party chairpersons.

Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, wants to expand that requirement to all counties, saying it can be difficult to obtain early ballot information in a timely manner from election officials in rural Arizona.

Her bill, HB 2427, won a unanimous endorsement Monday from the House Elections Committee, despite a representative for counties saying the change would be burdensome. It was heading to the House floor by way of the Rules Committee.

Barton acknowledged that she doesn’t know how much it would cost counties to provide the reports daily.

“Whether it’s hiring some interns during that limited cycle, to bring them in and train them to do all sorts of things, I think there’s an answer to get some of this information available,” she said.

A 2009 law requires counties with populations of more than 800,000 to provide requesting party chairpersons with daily lists of voters who have returned early ballots. The requirement is in effect from the first Monday after early voting begins until the Monday before an election.

Jennifer Marson, executive director of Arizona Association of Counties, said that the other 13 counties might have difficulty complying with the proposed requirement. She said election officials already are scrambling to send early ballots to those who request them within the 48 hours required by law.

“It’s more important to get the ballot out to the voter that’s requesting it than to get election returns out to people who are requesting that information,” she said.

Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, the committee’s vice chairman, said the bill would benefit both candidates and frustrated voters.

“I see this as something that will certainly help candidates running for office but more so will help people who are tired of getting the campaign mail and the calls which end as soon as they return the ballot,” he said.

Johnathan Roes, election director for Navajo County and president of the Election Officers of Arizona, said that it might be difficult for counties to comply. His county, which processed almost 14,000 early ballots for the 2014 general election, has two dedicated employees compiling the reports covered in HB 2427.

“For most of the counties in the state it would create a burden for us to provided these lists to the candidates on a daily basis,” he said.

Leslie Hoffman, county recorder for Yavapai County, said that staff members who process the ballots are trained in forensic signature analysis and are state-certified, a process that takes a week of training.

Eighty-five percent of Yavapai County’s voters use early ballots, Hoffman said. For the 2014 general election, Yavapai County processed about 61,000 early ballots compared to about 12,000 voters who went to polling places.

Hoffman said that Maricopa and Pima counties are able to distribute the daily reports with the use of a $300,000 machine that scans and collects the information. They also use a vendor that collects the ballots, runs the equipment and distributes the reports, she said.

“We would love to be able to do it,” Hoffman said. “Logistically it’s very hard to do.”

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