Legal Maneuvers Cause Confusion As Early Voting Starts In Arizona

[Photo from Cronkite News video]

Will voters with high-risk health problems be required to venture out to a polling booth to cast a ballot in the Nov. 3 election or can they utilize something like the FaceTime social media app to vote from the safety of their home or hospital bed?

And will votes cast by citizens who register to vote between Oct. 6 and Oct. 23 be counted as a federal judge ordered earlier this week, or must the long-standing Oct. 5 voter registration deadline be enforced after all?

Those are just some of the questions which remain unanswered Wednesday as thousands of Arizona voters who opted to receive early ballots will begin receiving them in their mailboxes, as early voting officially begins Oct. 7.

The question of voting by video, or “virtual voting” involves an option championed by Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Maricopa County Recorded Adrian Fontes to allow voters at high-risk of COVID19 to utilize options such as the FaceTime social media app to cast their votes.

Read more by Terri Jo Neff >>

Judge Randall Warner of the Maricopa County Superior Court ruled Oct. 5 that Maricopa County’s special elections boards can assist citizens on a case-by-case basis to conduct not-in-person voting. Such boards, which are comprised of two members, have been utilized in the past to assist voters in nursing homes and hospitals who cannot engage in face-to-face voting.

Warner’s ruling extends access to the special elections boards to voters who believe their health will be endangered by in-person voting due to disabilities or other serious medical issues.

“This is a win for accessibility,” Fontes said after Warner’s ruling. “We will continue to provide this option to the most vulnerable population of Maricopa County voters when necessary, ensuring compliance with all applicable law.”

Before Warner’s ruling, Hobbs sent instructions to the 15 county recorders and elections departments providing guidance on implementing virtual voting. Her efforts raised the ire of Gov. Doug Ducey and Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who argued Hobbs overstepped her constitutional and statutory authority by establishing election rules without input from them.

Hobbs commented after Warner’s ruling that the decision means an at-risk voter does not have to choose “between voting and protecting their health.” The attorney general announced Tuesday night that his office is not appealing Warner’s ruling, but wants such votes set aside until after Election Day to ensure the virtual voting option is not abused.

“It is necessary to determine who utilized the virtual voting procedures,” Brnovich said. “Further, in the event the virtual voting procedures are abused, preserving the ballots prevents unlawful ballots from being counted.”

But while Hobbs was happy with the Maricopa County court ruling, she wasn’t as thrilled with a decision by a federal judge who extended Arizona’s voter registration deadline by three weeks.

The request for an extension was made by two civic organizations which have been stymied in promoting voter registration due to social-distancing limitations. One of the legal arguments in support of the extension even harked back 160 years to Abraham Lincoln, who was quoted as saying “Elections belong to the people.”

Earlier this week Hobbs told U.S. District Court Judge Steven Logan that extending the voter registration past Oct. 5 due to COVID-19 issues would be problematic for her office and the various county recorders.  However, Logan dismissed the hardship claims and ordered the registration deadline be extended through Oct. 27.

The question now is whether that order will be appealed, leaving the validity of newly registered voters in doubt, possibly even up to Election Day. Brnovich’s office as well as the Republican National Committee have suggested they intend to intervene in the federal case, but Hobbs already announced she does not plan to challenge Logan’s ruling.

Questions about local voting practices should be forwarded to the County Recorder where you are registered to vote.