Voting in the Covid Era
by Lesley Aine McKeown
In the challenging past few weeks Arizona has rallied to the call, but as the year continues, concern over the coming election and how it will be conducted is foremost in mind for many voters and candidates.
Cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in three counties by the March 17 Presidential Preference Election, and keeping our voting centers safe for voters and poll workers was a major concern, presenting many challenges. Thankfully over 80% of Arizonans vote by mail, but voting in person was the only option for many, including college students and Native American voters, of which only 18% have mail delivery at home. This raises concerns about the coming elections August 4 and November 3 if the pandemic does not abate or returns in the fall. We need to address this now to ensure that every Arizonan has a safe and secure way to vote, and vote-by-mail is the solution proposed by many.
In 2000 Oregon became the first state to implement automatic voter registration and vote-by-mail for all. Now six US states have adopted or are in the process of adopting all-mail elections. Oregon law allows the assistance of a friend or family member. Homeless people may provide the address of a park or shelter on their voter registration, and if that proves impossible they may use the County Clerk's office address to pick up their ballots. For 20 years Oregon has shown that voting by mail is not only convenient, but secure as well, with a voter fraud rate of less than 0.02%.
Does vote-by-mail favor one party over another?
A study just released on April 15 shows that despite claims by the President that if vote-by-mail were implemented in all states, "You'd never have a Republican elected in this country again,” there is absolutely no evidence that the system favors either political party.
The Stanford University Democracy and Polarization Lab studied the issue by reviewing data from three vote-by-mail states between 1996 and 2018. Researchers found the method did not appear to "affect either party's share of turnout" or "increase either party's vote share."
Vote-by-mail, voter fraud and ballot security
We often hear allegations of voter fraud and questions about the integrity of our electoral systems, but the facts are clear. Several studies conducted in the past four years all conclude that genuine voter fraud is extremely rare. Since 2009 there have been a total of 20 cases of voter fraud in Arizona leading to a conviction. Despite this, in February Arizona Republicans were advancing legislation that would give the Attorney General control over reports of suspected voter fraud and allow police in polling places, raising concerns about voter intimidation.
In Yavapai County 75% of the ballots cast in March were mailed in. How would switching to all-mail voting affect the upcoming election? Not much, says Cochise County Elections Director Lisa Marra: “The state’s robust early-voting system shows that it’s already well prepared to make the switch. It’s not much of a leap for us.”
As with other Arizona counties, Yavapai County elections are ruled by federal and state laws. Officials begin counting early ballots 14 days before an election. Early-ballot counts are conducted by Recorder's Office staff, then transferred to the inspector in charge of elections at the Central Counting Place (yes, that's its official name). Yavapai has not used electronic ballot scanners in voter centers since 2014. Instead, voted ballots are cast in sealed ballot boxes. On election day the voted ballots are transported under strict security to the CCP, where the computer running the election-management system is securely kept. Ballots are counted using electronic tabulation machines, overseen by officials appointed by the Board of Supervisors.
In addition, the Hand Count Board and the supervising Inspector conduct a hand-audit and compare the result to the machine count to ensure an accurate ballot count. These officials receive forensic training to help them match signatures.
If you are interested seeing how our county election system works, the county offers “Follow Your Ballot Tours” at the CCP. This tour gives you the 30,000-foot view of how a ballot moves through the system, from creation to tabulation. You can request a tour by writing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, all states but Oregon still offer in-person voting if you choose. This remains on offer in two locations in Yavapai County, the Recorder's Offices in Prescott and Cottonwood.
Voting in the coming election
County elections officials were hoping to switch to all-mail voting for the August 4 primary election by April 15. If they haven't received the go-ahead by May 1, it's unlikely this will happen due to ballot printing and other deadlines. So officials are proceeding with plans to open vote centers as usual for the August primary.
Arizona voters face a choice: vote in person or by mail. Vote-by-mail is safe, secure and easy.
The first step is to verify that you are registered to vote. Registering online is the easiest way to sign up for the Permanent Early Voting List (PEVL). The Secretary of State's office has a new website, my.arizona.vote.com, where you can check your registration and apply to be added to the PEVL. But you may also download the PEVL form, print it and mail it to Yavapai County Voter Registration, 1015 Fair Street, Room #228, Prescott AZ 86305‐1807.
Arizona's open-primary law allows any voter who is registered as independent or unaffiliated to cast a ballot for one of the officially recognized political parties. Each independent voter on the PEVL will receive a postcard in the mail asking them to choose which party ballot they wish to receive for the primary. The corresponding primary ballot will then be sent by mail to the voter approximately 27 days prior to the election. Read the 2019 Elections Procedure Manual.
If you do not receive your ballot by July 12, call the Yavapai County Elections Office (928-771-3250). Independent voters who go to the polls on Election Day will be given the option to choose a party ballot at that time.
The deadline to register to vote in the August primary election is July 6.
The last day to request an early mail-in ballot is July 24.
You must mail your early ballot by July 29.
Remember you may always vote in person at the County Recorder's Office in Prescott or Cottonwood between July 8 and July 31.
You may drop your ballot in any official ballot box from July 8 to August 4 at 7pm.
See a list of official ballot-box locations here.
Lesley Aine McKeown is Communications Director for the Yavapai County Democratic Party.