As this year’s routine ballot-counting process went on, some politicians began spinning wild conspiracy theories or trying to turn the process into yet another partisan issue. This is all dangerous to our democracy, especially if it becomes yet another excuse to chip away at our fundamental right to vote.
The good news is that we can count ballots faster, if we ask our local elections officials what the real hurdles are. And we can do so without burdening voters or throwing out valid ballots.
Why does it take a couple of weeks to finish counting? As a recent post on the Arizona secretary of state’s website explains, it’s largely due to the legally required process of comparing signatures on early ballot envelopes to those on file for each voter, ensuring those early ballots were cast by genuine Arizona voters. This process requires specialized training, necessarily limiting the number of people who can do it and slowing down the count.
Here are 4 things we should do
What can we do about it? For starters, former Maricopa County County Recorder Helen Purcell outlined at least two good ideas in a recent interview:
- Update Maricopa County’s 22-year-old counting machines, which can only count 75,000 votes per day.
- Change the state law that bars counties from starting the count until one week before Election Day.
We can also expand Maricopa County’s program that allows voters to sign up for text and email updates on the status of their ballots. Bringing that program statewide would prompt more voters to contact their county elections office about outstanding issues, so their ballot can be counted sooner.
We should also work to free up more dollars in our county recorders’ limited budgets to invest in full-time staff who could be trained in signature verification. For example, we could save the onerous costs of processing thousands of paper registration forms every two years by switching to a secure, automatic voter registration system.
And 3 things we should not do
On the other hand, most of the ideas coming from politicians are pretty bad. For example, forcing voters who drop off their ballots on Election Day – an estimated 320,000 this year – to wait in line and feed their ballots into counting machines would lead to much longer lines at the polls. That’s the last thing we need.
Imposing an earlier deadline to mail early ballots would also lead to longer lines, and would make us an outlier nationally (currently, only three states don’t count ballots received by Election Day). If anything, we should look to the 12 states – including Ohio, Texas and Utah – that actually count ballots received after Election Day.
Finally, let’s not take a step backwards from the uniform “cure period” for early ballot signature mismatches agreed to by all 15 counties in a recent legal settlement.
Mismatches occur on a very small percentage of ballots, often because a voter has a stroke or other medical condition that alters their handwriting. Providing those voters a short window of time to verify their identity, like we do for voters who don’t have their ID with them on Election Day, is perfectly reasonable.
If we want a faster count in Arizona, let’s listen to the folks who do the counting. It we let partisan political agendas take priority, it will be our fundamental right to vote that suffers.
Joel Edman is the Executive Director of Arizona Advocacy Foundation, a non-partisan organization that seeks to educate Arizona voters about their rights and their democracy. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.