What’s the matter with Arizona?

I developed a healthy respect for attorney John A. “Jack” Clifford many years ago when we represented adverse parties in an intellectual property dispute. Jack is of counsel with Merchant & Gould. P.C. He sends us this first-hand report under the heading WHAT IS WRONG WITH MARICOPA COUNTY? PLENTY AND IT’S COMPLICATED. The AP’s latest story on the doings in Arizona is here. Jack writes:

I hope you are well. I write from Maricopa County, Arizona, where I have lived, worked and voted since 2014. I write as an individual and not on behalf of any client or my law firm.

First, Maricopa county is huge. The entire state of Arizona has only 10 or 11 counties, compared to a similar-sized Minnesota with 87 counties. You can drive an hour at 70 miles an hour in about any direction to get to the county line, or so it seems. For reasons that are not clear (I think convenience is the excuse), any registered voter can cast an in-person vote anywhere in the county. That sounds great until you realize that because of local school boards, water boards, and other local issues on the ballot this time not all voters have the same ballot.

My school district is only one of about 10 in the Phoenix metro area. More rural areas have their own, too. With school bond referenda in each district, we had something like 64 different ballots in use in the 2020 election in Maricopa county. I have not seen the number for 2022, but you get the idea. The authorities deal with this by printing ballots on site after a voter identifies himself. The plan is to print the right ballot for that voter and send him off to fill in the bubbles as they wish.

The ballots are intended to have registration marks on them to allow the scanner to tell which form is being scanned, and tallied accordingly. I don’t know if you run a printer at your home, but I can tell you I have lots of hiccups and frustration from my little print shop on my desk. Did the polling place use the right paper, the right ink, or give the voter a pen that bleeds through and can be seen from on the other side? What level of QC is going on there? Some voters reported that the felt tip pen they were given bled through. What else could go wrong? I used a ballpoint pen myself.

Anyway, trouble ensued again this year. I think we made the system too complicated to run smoothly. Of course, we made things worse by reducing the number of polling places after a year when we had small turnout and a bunch of bureaucrats saw a chance to save money. Add a layer of CoVid-excused changes and we are certainly now off to the turtle races this year. I suspect the IT guys told them, sure this should work. We got this. What is your experience with a technology fix to make your life easier?

When some ballots refused to go through the scanners, some voters were told just to go to a different polling place and try again. Once they got to the new place they were told that since they had checked in and received a ballot at the prior location they would not be given another ballot. Makes sense, but not if your first ballot was trashed. Which brings me to “drawer 3.”

Apparently some of the unscannable ballots were placed into a “secure lock box” where the authorities essentially said we intend to scan these somewhere else at a time to be determined. Since the ballot would not scan where it was filled in, who believes it will scan downtown? Hand tally anyone?

Don’t forget that our Secretary of State, Katie Hobbs, has ultimate supervisory responsibility for running a “free and fair” election, but is herself running for governor and is locked in a very tight battle with none other than Kari Lake. Apparently, the appearance of impropriety is the standard they use there. Plus, the SOS’s office has been closed for two years due to Covid, and the team was working from home via Zoom. Seems unlikely to me all those printers and scanners were checked out via Zoom.

I made a great screenshot of the vote tallies from the SOS’s office this [i.e., yesterday] morning. Katie’s picture is in the upper left corner as SOS, and her picture is also lower down on the same page next to her vote tally. At least it is not the exact same image. Does not seem kosher to me somehow. The optics are bad.

She did not recuse herself or step down. Maybe she needs the paycheck. She campaigned saying she was an Uber driver and needed the money to support her family. OK.

Are these new problems? Not really, they all happened in 2020, but were mostly swept under the rug as anyone who “saw something and then said something” was tied to the whipping post.

So here we are. My wife and I are on the “permanent mail in ballot list” and get our ballots about a month before each election in the mail. That is allowed here and is very common. I receive ballots for our kids at my house even through they have moved away. What could go wrong there?

Anyway, my wife and I then have to figure out when and where to return our ballots. Do we chance the US Mail? Do we take it to a random unsecured drop box?

You can return them anywhere in the county. If you turn them in too early, you risk a media source reporting “heavy early ballots coming in from Republican areas.” We turned them in at city hall, in a room where early in-person voting was taking place. We put them in the box the poll worker told us to. I hope it was not “drawer 3.” About three days later I received a text that said my ballot had been “signature verified and scanned.” Hopefully that means what it says.

Stay tuned. The “big guys” running things say they expect to have 95 percent of the ballots counted by the close of business on Friday. Will they honestly report what they show, or age them over the weekend?

Late last night Jack updated his report:

The county has about 17,000 “drawer 3” ballots to deal with as of about 7:00 p.m. Thursday. They are now lowering expectations to say that “maybe sometime next week” they will have only a few ballots left to count in Maricopa county. If you watch the online webcam of the counting, it appears to be proceeding in very slow motion.

I also want to clarify that if one votes in person in his hometown the ballot you are given is likely preprinted on suitable paper. The on-demand printed ballots are usually for those voting far from home but still in the county, or for those voting in a polling place that runs out of preprinted ballots.

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