AZ county officials: Early ballots may signal high election turnout

PHOENIX – Some Arizona county elections officials said they expect high voter turnout this November after receiving a surge of early ballots this week.

Maricopa County – the state’s largest county – already has received about half a million early ballots, a spokeswoman said Wednesday. Officials have mailed out a record 1.5 million early ballots for the Nov. 8 election.

Elizabeth Bartholomew, a spokeswoman for the Recorder’s Office, said the amount of early voters is higher than usual.

“We have a contested presidential seat, and we haven’t had that since 2008,” Bartholomew said. “Early voting wasn’t as prominent back in 2008 as it is now.”

Experts are viewing Arizona as a battleground state for the first time in 20 years.

Three high-profile Democrats – first lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Chelsea Clinton – visited the state earlier this month to campaign for presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. And Donald Trump Jr. will visit Arizona State University on Thursday to promote his father, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Another potential motivation to vote early? Many voters may want to avoid lines on Election Day.

During the March presidential preference election, Maricopa County had drastically reduced the number of polling places. Some voters had to wait up to five hours to cast their ballot, and the snafu attracted national headlines.

Bartholomew said for this election, the county has opened more early voting locations – 25, compared to a dozen during the last general election. The office has hired about 50 temporary staff members to process the ballots and check signatures.

Yavapai County Recorder Leslie Hoffman said her office also had a lot of preparation to do before early voting began, but they love that people want to get out early.

Phoenix resident Natalina Masad said she will be out of town on Election Day, but she wanted to make sure her vote was in early and counted. Masad believes this election has definitely
brought out more early voters.

“There’s a lot of controversy regarding it and surrounding it,” Masad said. “I think people are more empowered or excited to say, ‘you know, I voted and I contributed.’”

Hoffman also said the increased excitement over this election has motivated a lot of people who may not have been steady voters in the past to come out and vote. Her office has processed more than 27,000 early ballots, and they continue to receive ballots.

Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez said that in Arizona, a lot of people are on the permanent early voting list.

“They like the comfort of ease, not going to a traditional polling location on Election Day,” Rodriguez said. “Others, they said they are concerned with the surge, and they’ve read the papers, how many new voters we’ve had, how many people are more interested in this particular election.”

Goodyear resident Robin Gehring said she’s concerned about the machines used to process the votes. She believes many people are nervous about how their votes are going to be counted.

“I don’t think they’re honest. I actually went down to get a paper ballot instead of using my mail-in ballot,” she said.

Hoffman said the process of submitting the ballots is very secure.

“Every process and every step, everything that’s audited, is put into sealed containers to transport even across the hall,” Hoffman said.

The last day to request an early voter ballot by mail is Friday, and the last day to vote in person is Nov. 4.