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Arizona Voting: Mistaken Party Affiliation Could Make Some Provisional Ballots Count

(Photo by Jude Joffe-Block - KJZZ)
Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell testified before the House Elections Committee on March 28.

Disgruntled voters called for a revote and for election officials to resign at a rowdy hearing at the Capitol Monday, but there was also some new information from Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell in her presentation to House Elections Committee members and the public.

Purcell revealed that of the voters who turned out at the polls on March 22, approximately 24,000 - or 23 percent - voted provisional ballots. Some 75 percent of those provisional ballots were because the voter was listed as no party, since only voters registered with Republican, Democrat or Green parties were eligible to vote in the presidential preference election.

In recent days, a number of anecdotal stories have emerged about voters who long identified with a party, but found out on March 22 they were listed as no party and were given a provisional ballot. Some of these cases may have been because of errors when voters changed their address with MVD or online and were mistakenly stripped of their party affiliation.

In Monday's hearing, Purcell told House Elections Committee members that she would be checking to see if it appeared like some of the voters behind those provisional ballots should have been listed with a party and if so, their vote would count.

That prompted one representative to point out that counting those ballots would be unfair to one of her constituents who had noticed before the election that she had been mistakenly removed from her party and was told she could not vote because the voter registration deadline had already passed.

At that point, House Elections Committee Chair Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita said “Do you see how messed up this is?”

In an email sent Tuesday Maricopa County Elections Spokeswoman Elizabeth Bartholomew confirmed that only a handful of voters fell into the category of having their vote counted because it was determined they were actually affiliated with a party.

Governor Doug Ducey has called for independents to be allowed to vote in the next presidential preference election. The issue of independents being allowed to vote in this race was a point of debate long before Tuesday’s voting debacle.

Purcell said she “downsized” the scale of this past election because of funding issues, including that the state’s reimbursement of the election costs to the county had never passed out of the legislature.

This session that reimbursement bill is tied to another proposal backed by Secretary of State Michele Reagan’s office that would de-fund future presidential preference elections and make them the responsibility of the parties. Reagan has said she did not think taxpayers should have to pay for an election that independent voters, who make up more than one third of the voters in the state, cannot vote in.

But given Ducey’s endorsement for opening up the presidential preference election to independents, the option of leaving it as a state-run election, but changing the law so independents can participate, could get renewed traction. An amendment this session that a Democratic representative introduced to do just that failed on party lines, but that was before the idea had Ducey’s endorsement. Reagan also said on Monday that she would support such an initiative.

Looking ahead one of the big question is if state legislators will take any action before the session ends. There is not only the Independents voting issue, but also Attorney General Mark Brnovich has said he wants to see new legislation to prevent reporting results before everyone is finished voting.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The audio portion of this segment said 24,000 ballots cast on March 22 were provisional ballots, which is true, but the segment incorrectly said that was 29 percent of the ballots cast at the polls. In fact, the rate is 23 percent. KJZZ learned of the error after the Maricopa County Recorder's Office confirmed about 108,100 total votes were cast at the polls on March 22. The Recorder's presentation on Monday included a column that appeared to suggest the total number of votes cast at the polls was 83,489. In fact 83,489 is the number of non-provisional ballots cast.

Jude Joffe-Block was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2010 to 2017.