If you think you’re going to bed on election night knowing who won or lost, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has a bit of advice.
Hobbs on October 14 sought to tamp down expectations of instant results – or possibly final tallies within a day or two – even with the automated process of balloting and counting. She detailed all of the things that have to happen after the polls close at 7 p.m. on November 3.
That includes not just the regular tabulation process that occurs at each precinct but also handling what could be a flood of early ballots that were not mailed in but are dropped off at polling stations. They cannot be counted until after the regular voting-day results are in.
Then there’s the fact that state law gives anyone whose early ballot signature does not match what’s on file up to five business days after the election – meaning the following Tuesday – to come in and fix it. A similar deadline exists for those who are handed “provisional” ballots because of some missing information or questions about their voting status.
Then there’s the required hand-count audit to physically compare what voters marked on their ballots with what the machines have tallied.
All that assumes the polls close as scheduled. State law requires them to remain open so that anyone who was in line at 7 p.m. actually gets to cast a ballot.
And then there’s the possibility of mechanical breakdowns or other issues.
“The election doesn’t end on Election Day,” she said.
Hobbs knows something about that.
Two years ago the Associated Press declared on election night that Republican Steve Gaynor had been elected secretary of state, a call the wire service later had to rescind as new counts, particularly of late-received early votes, erased Gaynor’s lead. In the end, it took 10 days to show Hobbs was the victor by close to 20,000 votes out of more than 2.4 million ballots cast.
That race, coupled with a close contest for U.S. Senate between Republican Martha McSally and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, led to some charges of fraud that were never substantiated.
“That contributed to people not trusting the results of that election,” Hobbs said.
This year might only be worse, with even President Trump stoking the fears that election results will not be accurate, with a particular focus on late-counted early ballots changing the election-night results.
That’s one of the reasons that Hobbs is reaching out now to create more realistic expectations of getting final results.
“These things take time,” she said.
How much time?
Legally speaking, counties have 20 days after the election to finalize the tally. And the results are not considered final until the formal statewide canvass which is set for December 3.
The concerns about election integrity also raise questions about possible voter intimidation.
“We’re certainly staying on top of any credible threats that exist,” Hobbs said.
It is illegal under state law to use force or threats to compel someone to vote or refrain from voting. And Hobbs said there are very strict rules for what happens not only at polling places but within the 75-foot perimeter around them in which any form of election activities are prohibited.
Less clear is what can occur outside that line.
“If folks are armed, if they’re in any way indicating intentionally intimidating behavior, it’s not allowed,” Hobbs said.
“The poll workers are trained in terms of responding,” she continued. “If folks witness this, you should report it to the marshal or inspector inside the polling place.”
Lynn Constable, the Yavapai County elections director, said most of these problems are pretty easy to resolve. In fact, Constable said, she’s done it herself.
“I go out and I put on an election vest and I tell people to ‘knock it off,’ ” she said.
“Sometimes they just need to see that authoritative figure,” Constable continued. “If I can’t go and stop it, then I will call on law enforcement to back me up.”
But she said law enforcement at polling places is not the answer, saying the presence of police can “create its own problems.”
That’s not just her assessment.
Hobbs, in advice to county election officials, said, “The continued presence of uniformed law enforcement personnel at a voting location, whether in or outside the 75-foot limit, may have the effect of intimidating voters, Counties will balance this potentially intimidating effect with the need to preserve the peace and respond to emergencies.”
The other potential form of intimidation is taking photographs of those who show up to vote.
Hobbs said that is strictly prohibited within the 75-foot limit. That’s also why, unlike some states, there are no Election Day photos of candidates casting their own ballots.
“Further, much like the open display of firearms, taking photos or videos outside the 75-foot limit may have an intimidating effect on others entering or exiting the voting location,” she is advising county election officials. “In particular, filming voters based on race, ethnicity, religion, or political affiliation is inappropriate.”