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August 30 Primary Will Be First With New 'Ballot Harvesting' Law

(Photo by Jude Joffe-Block - KJZZ)
The Arizona Republican Party's poll observer training in Phoenix on Aug. 27 attracted about 60 volunteers.

The August 30 primary is the first election where a new state law to prevent so-called “ballot harvesting” is in effect.

The new law makes it a felony to collect and turn in someone else’s vote by mail ballot, but makes exceptions for family members, caregivers and roommates.

Maricopa County Recorder's Office spokeswoman Elizabeth Bartholomew has said her office does not have a way to enforce the law.

Over the weekend the Arizona Republican Party held a training in Phoenix for about 60 volunteer poll observers, and the new law was a major focus.

The law is the reason why Republican Nina Marlow volunteered to observe the polls.

“What set me to do it was our county recorder saying she wasn’t going to uphold the law in terms of ballot harvesting,” Marlow said before the training began. “I’m concerned about that because I’ve had people coming to my door asking for my ballot.”

Marlow said that happened in past election years.

The training Marlow attended was led by lawyers for the Republican party and was closed to the public.

The law was backed by Republican lawmakers in the state legislature as a way to maintain the integrity of the election and prevent tampering with vote by mail ballots. Democrats and voting rights groups oppose the law, and have called it a partisan effort to try and suppress Democratic votes.  

Since vote-by-mail ballots have to be mailed back ahead of the election or dropped off at the polls on election days, it used to be a common practice for some campaigns to pick up ballots from voters' homes and turn them in.

Arizona Advocacy Network and Foundation Executive Director Samantha Pstross opposed the ballot harvesting law when it was being debated in the legislature, due to fears it would create barriers to voter participation and would lead to confusion.

Pstross is skeptical of how Republican poll observers will spot violators of the new law, and says she worries it will turn into voter intimidation.

“What do you  look for? How do you know ?” Pstross wondered. “If someone claims to be the family member, how do you verify that? There are no guidelines.”  

Pstross said she worries someone who hasn’t heard about the new law could inadvertently violate it on Tuesday in an effort to help someone else vote.

She said her group is reminding people they cannot collect ballots for others unless they fall under one of the exceptions, such as being a caregiver or family member.

“It is a felony, even if we don’t agree with it, we need to follow the law,” Pstross said.

The Arizona Advocacy Network has trained volunteers to be at the polls to report any incidents of voter intimidation or other problems. They will be telling voters to use the hotline 1-866-OUR-VOTE to report issues or get assistance.

Meanwhile the new law is facing a challenge in federal court. Opponents want it to be blocked for the November election.

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