Maricopa County Recorder says eliminating ‘late early ballots’ could improve elections

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer proposes several changes to election laws in a report released Thursday morning, including a suggestion to stop voters from dropping off early ballots on Election Day. The proposals range from administrative to letting independents vote in any political party’s presidential preference election, typically held in March.

The proposals come after a contentious November election when voters and the rest of the country focused on Arizona, especially Maricopa County. One big question many had was why counting all of the ballots took nearly two weeks. Richer and then Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates said late returns of early ballots were the biggest reason why election results took that much time to determine, relative to other US states with early voting.

Solving issues with late early ballots

Richer offers three suggestions to fix late early ballots. The first and cleanest solution, Richer says, is to “eliminate” late early ballots by requiring a drop-off time of 5 pm on the Friday before Election Day. However, early ballots sent through the mail would still be accepted after the cutoff time, and any voter who missed the deadline could drop off their early ballot at the country recorder’s office or special drop-off location. Residents could also opt to vote in person on Election Day. The other two proposals keep the current drop-off time of 7 pm on Election Day.

The second proposal keeps things as they are but won’t require a signature on the ballot envelope. However, it won’t allow someone to drop off ballots for family or other household members. The third proposal is to allow election workers to pick up the ballots throughout Election Day instead of being restricted to picking them up at or after 9 pm

Late early ballots have increased in number since 2014. In 2022, about 19% of the total ballots cast were early ballots that were dropped off on Election Day.(Courtesy of the Maricopa County Recorder)

Expand Election Day

Current laws require that any on-site ballot counting only occurs on Election Day. Richer suggests expanding Election Day into four days, from Saturday to Tuesday. This would be accomplished, he argues, by removing the Emergency Voting period — carried out by the Board of Supervisors — as, by law, is only available to voters “experiencing an emergency.” The change would also allow the on-site counting machines to run on more than one day. This is because Richer says the machines are allowed only to run for the first time on Election Day.

“This is a perilous framework,” he says. “Election Day is by far the busiest day of voting, and it should not be the first day any equipment is used. It is better to identify any problems on less-trafficked voting days than on Election Day. Instead, counties should be allowed to begin on-site tabulation before Election Day.”

You can read the rest of the proposals below or on the Maricopa County Recorder website.

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