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Early ballot returns suggest some voters may have jumped the gun

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If Maricopa County is an indication, a lot of folks already have decided who they want to be the next president.

It just may be that person is no longer running.

Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell said Monday she had sent out 894,135 early ballots to the 1.25 million people eligible to vote in her county. And so far she had gotten back slightly more than 464,000.

The number of people voting early is no surprise. The ease of the process has resulted for years in more people casting their ballots by mail than in person on Election Day.

But the returns also suggest that some of those voters may have jumped the gun a bit.

Purcell said that 393,358 of those early ballots had come in before this past Wednesday. That’s when Marco Rubio concluded there was no way he could get the Republican nomination and folded his tent.

Election officials will count the votes for Rubio, just as they will for Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and all the other Republicans who had gotten their names on the ballot. There are 14 in all.

Ditto the Democratic side where six candidates qualified for the ballot, though at this point Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are the only ones left standing.

And, no, there’s no way for those who already voted to get back the envelope and try again.

Part of the reason people may have voted early is that Arizona law says only ballots received by county election officials by 7 p.m. on Election Day are counted. That pretty much makes anything dropped into the mail later than Friday risky at best.

And it’s even worse for rural counties, as all mail has to be processed through postal facilities in Phoenix and Tucson. So a ballot mailed in Flagstaff takes a long-distance trip before getting back to Coconino County election headquarters.

For those still hanging onto their ballots, they can still be dropped at polling places.

Some lawmakers have suggested altering the law to make any ballot legal that is postmarked by that deadline. Purcell doesn’t think that’s a good idea.

“The problem with that is not all of the post offices put a postmark on there,” she said.

Purcell said some early ballots come in with postmarks; others do not.

“So how do I determine whether that was really given to the post office prior to 7 o’clock on Election Day?” she asked.

Those who are actually voting at the polls — versus just dropping off early ballots — will need photo identification.

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