Deal struck in GOP lawsuit means Pima County won’t change way it counts ballots

PHOENIX — A deal struck today will require election officials in all 15 counties to let voters verify the validity of late-filed early ballots in cases where the signatures on the envelopes do not match official records, so that their ballots can be counted.

The agreement requires counties to follow until Nov. 14 the same procedures they already use before Election Day to rectify problems with the early ballots.

In essence, that means the procedures already being followed by Maricopa, Pima, Coconino and Apache counties now will be implemented by the other 11 counties, at least this year.

That agreement resolves the lawsuit filed by four county Republican parties claiming that having different procedures in different counties violates equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution, as some early ballots were being counted while others cast in different counties were not.

“We need to ensure that all voters are on the same playing field,” said Brett Johnson, who represents the plaintiffs.

At issue is what happens with early ballots.

Voters are required to sign the outside of the envelope. When county officials get each envelope they check to ensure that the signatures match what they have on file.

If they do not, the practice of all 15 counties has been to try to contact the voter to determine if the signature is valid and whether there is a reason for the disparity, like an ailment that affects the person’s ability to hold a pen.

But only in Maricopa, Pima, Coconino and Apache counties have officials continued the verification practice beyond 7 p.m. Election Day when the polls close; the other counties stop those checks at that time.

What caused consternation of Republicans is that the votes coming from those four counties have been running in favor of Democrats this year. In fact, the vote tallies have changed since Election Day to the point where Democrat Kysten Sinema now leads Republican Martha McSally in the race for U.S. Senate and Democrat Kathy Hoffman is now outpolling Frank Riggs for state schools chief.

Requiring the recorders from the other counties — most of which have Republican majorities — to continue to reach out to voters might result in additional Republican votes.

Nothing in today’s deal governs what procedures county officials must follow in 2020. 

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