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AZ voters likely to face a long ballot in November. How election officials are preparing for them

Arizona voters are likely to face a long ballot this fall — long enough that it could well include a second page — and that has election officials concerned about a host of potential issues. Among them are wrong turnout numbers, higher costs and more ballots being rejected.

Jen Fifield of Votebeat has written about this, and how election officials are trying to plan to deal with potentially twice the amount of ballot paper in November. She joins The Show to talk about what she found.

Full conversation

MARK BRODIE: Jen, good morning.

JEN FIFIELD: Good morning.

BRODIE: So what are some of those, I mean, I mentioned some of the concerns that election officials have like, what are the, the biggies for them? What are they most concerned about?

FIFIELD: You know, just handling this amount of paper. If you picture we already have 2 million ballots in Maricopa County, we're having 4 million pieces of paper now. So organizing them, making sure that everything stays straight. Like you said, the turnout is a big thing how to calculate turnout. Usually when you cast a ballot, that's one page and one voter, right? So now what do we do? What do we do when we're dealing with maybe one page, maybe someone doesn't turn in that second page. They get tired, which could happen. Or maybe two pages coming in from each voter.

BRODIE: Is there a way or is there a plan to ID be able to identify a voter with both pages of the ballot?

FIFIELD: There is. So ballots are secret. So you're not able to know who cast a ballot. But what they're dealing with here is trying to keep track of the ballots and not have trouble also at the polls, tabulating them when it's taking longer, mistakes are taking longer to correct too for people that make a mistake on that one page. They're gonna have to redo that whole first page. If they're making the mistake on the second page. So there's just a whole bunch of things that could come up.

BRODIE: One of the other things you wrote about was the idea of potential paper jams if you're putting twice the amount of ballot paper through the tabulating machines. How big of a concern is that?

FIFIELD:  Well, they saw in Harris County, which is Houston, Texas, that some voters when they used a two page ballot were trying to insert both ballots at once into the machine. They had more maintenance issues. You're running out of supplies, more, you have to order more paper obviously and more or in ink. So really, it's, it's just one of my sources said it's like conducting two elections in one on the same day.

BRODIE: And obviously I mentioned the higher cost if you're buying twice as much paper, that's probably going to be twice as expensive to, to do, right.

FIFIELD: Right. Well, you have to think about, oh, most of our ballots here are sent by mail. So you're automatically almost doubling your printing costs. And then also you may be paying more for postage as well, the heavier you get in that envelope. So it's definitely that, you might have to buy more voting boosts or people are taking longer to fill out their ballots, you might have to buy extra tabulators, the things that count our our ballots that just in case some break during the day. 

So as we saw in 2022 just, just one slight thing, the paper we used really made a difference as to how smoothly our election day went. And I think that's why they're taking such precaution coming up to this election to make sure that everything goes smoothly as we make this change.

BRODIE: Right. One other potential issue I want to ask you about and that is for voters who go to vote centers, these places that are not precinct, you go and they print out your ballot on the spot, is there a concern that the lines could be longer there if voters are waiting for two pages to be printed instead of just one?

FIFIELD: Yes, that's definitely a concern. Maricopa County had a mock election last week where they tested this out and we saw even during early voting, you're having to print those pages and then keep them straight. So they're printing all these, you know, the line gets long, the printer is just spitting out ballot after ballot. You're having to keep these two pages together together and straight to the correct voter. So I think that's going to be one potential bottleneck if they don't figure out, you know, maybe add more printers or more poll workers to that area. That's one thing that we saw.

BRODIE: So you mentioned the mock election that Maricopa county officials had recently. What do they say they learned from that?

FIFIELD: They said that they're still evaluating it. But like I said, they saw that bottleneck when they're printing the ballots, they saw how long it was taking, they were timing people. They had temporary workers pretty much just fake filling out a ballot and timed how long it took them from start to finish and how many people they could get through in a certain time frame. So we'll see what the results of that are. But I think they really did learn that this is, this is taking more time. 

BRODIE: What other kinds of things are election officials around the state doing to try to prepare for some of these issues?

FIFIELD: Well, a lot of them are calling around to other states, other states like Florida, Texas, California have these long ballots that go on to multiple pages. I mean, in Florida it can get up to like eight pages. Sometimes they use shorter ballots there. So they're used to it. That's kind of a down downside for us is we're not used to it. So all the things they're very used to doing, we now have to figure out how they've been doing them for such a long time. 

BRODIE: And we should mention that this, you know, the, the length of the ballot is not yet determined because we don't yet know all of the, for example, ballot measures that will be on the ballot, those that qualify citizens initiatives and also what the legislature might refer themselves.

FIFIELD: Right. So we're not talking about the primary ballot here. That's in July, our primary election. We're talking about the November one, and those ballot initiatives, the ballot referrals, the citizens initiatives that are coming, those won't be decided until July or if there's court battles about them, maybe even August. So election officials are trying to prepare now. They know they have to, you know, buy everything now and get all of their poll workers ready for this if it does happen.

BRODIE: Right. All right. That is Jen Fifield of Votebeat. Jen, good as always to talk to you. Thank you.

FIFIELD: Thank you so much.

KJZZ's The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ's programming is the audio record.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.