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County recorder, lawmakers tackle election reforms 

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Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer speaks inside the Recorder’s Office on Nov. 9, 2022, in Phoenix. Richer is proposing solutions to potentially expedite the vote-counting process after many razor-thin election results in Arizona. (AP Photo/Matt York)

By Shane Brennan

Arizona Capitol Times

Following multiple razor-thin election results in Arizona, proposals from Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer offer solutions to potentially expedite the vote-counting process. Now, the county must work out the details with the Legislature.

Richer, a Republican, released a proposal on Jan. 12, consisting of 28 pages of how he says statewide elections can be improved. Richer said elections are secure in Arizona, and he wants to constantly improve the process statewide.

“We put out a packet of I think about 16 ideas that we think help frame the conversation, or at least give some facts and an understanding of how things work on the ground that might help our state legislators as they think about this, and I’m hopeful that some of those can make it across the finish line,” Richer said.

One of the main concerns the proposal addresses is the speed of vote counting in Arizona. Richer’s proposal attributes the slow pace of vote counting to the large number of early voting ballots that were dropped off on Election Day.

According to data in the proposal, 290,735 early voting ballots were dropped off on Election Day in November 2022, an increase of more than 118,000 from the 2020 election.

Richer said this spike resulted in delayed election results because early votes are not tabulated onsite. Instead, they are sent to county elections headquarters to be verified, audited and processed before they are finally tabulated.

Richer said he looks to states, including Florida and Michigan’s earlier deadlines for early voting as examples of what he envisions.

However, moving up the deadline for early voting could have a more negative effect for more rural areas, according to Democratic Pima County Recorder Gabriella Cázares-Kelly.

“I am really concerned with how harmful that can be in rural and tribal communities,” Cázares-Kelly said. “You know, that is something that would have really devastating effects for the rest of the Arizona counties.”

Cázares-Kelly said it would be difficult to eliminate Election Day drop-offs of early voting ballots because Arizona has had that option for decades, and mail delays and lack of resources outside of community hubs in rural and tribal communities would make voting more difficult. She said people in these communities have to drive hours to the limited numbers of drop boxes in these areas and sometimes do not receive ballots in time to mail them back by Election Day.

Senate, elections, Election Day, Richer, ballots hand-counts, Kavanagh, Maricopa County

Sen. Frank Carroll, R-Sun City West

Early voting is available 27 days before Election Day, and Richer said he proposed moving the start of early voting to 30 days before Election Day.

Senate Bill 1105, introduced by Sen. Frank Carroll, R-Sun City West, would require early ballots to be tabulated on-site instead of at the elections headquarters. Richer said the bill was “problematic” and would be an administrative challenge.

“What is administratively very challenging and would be highly problematic if we had to run separate tabulation systems to allow people with early ballots to just take it out of the envelope and feed it into the tabulator on Election Day concurrent with people who are normal Election Day voters,” Richer said.

Another one of Richer’s proposals that is also gaining steam in the state Senate is requiring disclosures on voter registration information from non-governmental organizations. Richer says this is to avoid confusion for voters who may receive voter registration fliers or information in the mail from a non-governmental organization and think they are not registered to vote.

“A lot of third-party groups will purchase commercially available information regarding residents, and it will start as a very positive thing, often with an attempt to inform citizens, register citizens to vote, but oftentimes their data will be inaccurate, and people will be disgruntled if they think it’s coming from the County Recorder’s Office,” Richer said.

Tom Collins, executive director of Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission, says that part of the proposal needs to be more focused on a specific channel of communication and will be difficult to pass into law.

“If this is going to get some kind of bipartisan support, I would think they would have to really focus on what kind of mailing are they targeting and what makes it either deceptive or otherwise,” Collins said.

A similar bill to Richer’s third-party disclosure proposal, Senate Bill 1066, was introduced by Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, on Jan. 18.

The bill would require any nongovernmental entity that mails “an election-related document” that resembles a document from the County Recorder’s Office or the Secretary of State’s Office to have a bold-lettered disclaimer that reads “NOT FROM A GOVERNMENT AGENCY” on the envelope. The introduced version of the bill does not mention disclaimers for emails and other electronic channels of communication.

Kavanagh introduced another elections bill on Jan. 30, that would require election officials to count ballots by machine tabulators and by hand and compare the results. Richer said machine tabulation is faster, cheaper, and more accurate.

“We appreciate Senator Kavanagh teeing this up such that we can do a clear demonstration of the merits of having machine counts as we of course have long had in Arizona,” Richer said. “But they are always supplemented by hand count audits of the machine count. We think that is the only appropriate methodology for now and we should continue doing so.”

Richer said he is looking forward to working with both sides of the Legislature on elections reform.

“I appreciate members like Kavanagh and Carroll and (Ken) Bennett and so we will continue working with them and with any Republicans or Democrats who want to think about this in a sensible manner,” Richer said.


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