A recent report from the Arizona Advocacy Network attempts, unfairly and inaccurately, to make claims about “thousands” of uncounted votes in recent Arizona elections. The report is exceptionally biased, cherry-picks its data and is grossly misleading.
ProgressNow Arizona, the sole editor of the report, literally defines their mission as, “to promote progressive issues and… to correct right-wing misinformation.” It’s obvious the purpose of this report is not to dispassionately improve Arizona’s electoral process, but to politicize a non-existent problem. The report made no effort to include diverse bipartisan perspectives or organizations in their research. The lead researcher on the report is also indisputably partisan, as Chris Brill has just completed a post with the Democratic National Committee as their National Data Director.
All of the Shelby Project’s conclusions are made to “maximize voter participation” at all costs, which alarmingly ignores the qualitative aspect of voter reliability. Both stages of voting, casting ballots and tallying them, are equally sacrosanct. Without absolute integrity in the lawful process of voting, society loses its ability to affect change, and governments lose the ability to ensure the will of the people is being accurately recorded. This report, more than anything else, ignores the necessity of logistical rules when it comes to running an election.
They suggest amending or outright repealing more than a half-dozen sensible Arizona laws. These suggestions, especially if all simultaneously enacted, would be egregious. For example, they argue that a “necessary change” would be to, “allow voters, who take their early ballot to the polling place on Election Day, to open their ballot envelope…” and to feed their early ballots into voting machines in any precinct. Allowing for the opening of sealed ballot envelopes, at the discretion of the voter, is opening Pandora’s Box.
They also argue that voting in the wrong precinct shouldn’t matter, that electors don’t have the responsibility to notify county officials of a change to their address to update voter registration, and that ballots that are almost a week late should still count. Such notions are a slippery slope. Structured procedures, firm deadlines, and clear laws have to exist so that deteriorating precedents don’t become the norm. It is precisely because elections are the foundation of our American democracy that the rules governing them cannot allow for nonchalance or laxity. Continually pushing back deadlines is a convenient solution for ProgressNow, not a sustainable one for the long term.
Finally, the report attempts to make it appear as though Arizona “throws out” innumerable sums of ballots for no reason, most of which are provisional ones, but this simply isn’t the case. Since 2006, Arizona has invalidated an average of less than 1.8 percent of the total ballots cast in each election. Obviously, this means that over the same period, an average of 98.2 percent of total ballots received, including provisional ones, were counted. As the numbers show, if a vote is cast legally, it gets tallied. The Shelby Project takes their numbers out of the full context of voting done in our state. If a voter cannot produce even a single form of verification — but still believes they are entitled to vote — they are allowed to cast a provisional ballot. This ballot is given to the voter under the condition that the vote will not count until the problem is resolved. Voters can return later if they forgot identification, they can e-mail a photocopy of any valid ID, or choose other options to resolve the issue with their ballot. With so many resources available to citizens, when a ballot still remains uncounted, it does so for good reason.
The Shelby Project even acknowledges the many reasons ballots are rejected, such as being unsealed, unsigned, unregistered, fraudulent, late, or lacking a signature match. Fraud is just one reason why a ballot may be void — not the only one. Denying ballots for these reasons is standard practice across all states and democracies in the global community. In order to have a valid election result, a state must have unspoiled confidence that the ballots they receive are equally valid.
The main flaw of this report is that it claims menacingly that, “tens of thousands [of votes] have been discarded in previous elections.” Consequently, this report is demanding any ballot of any kind– including fraudulent, unverified, and incomplete ones — be counted solely in order to maximize the quantity, rather than improve the quality of our system. It is time to dispel the narrative that if a ballot “isn’t counted” it is a bad thing. My goal as Secretary of State is to making voting easy and cheating hard. The matter is quite simple; every voter in Arizona who follows the laws and genuinely completes any ballot on time will be counted. However, counting incorrect, unverified, or fraudulent votes flies in the face of basic American values. If voting is truly sacred to democracy, then the procedures for ballot processing and validation must be resolute. Arizona’s election laws ensure that the right to vote — and the reflection of that vote — are both equally protected.
— Michele Reagan is Arizona’s secretary of state.