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Include Me Out: Arizona Seeks to Reduce Provisional Ballots by Cleaning Up Permanent Early Voting Lists

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Sam.Goldwyn.jpg

[Image courtesy of PBS]

Movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn (pictured above, he's the G in MGM) was famous for a number of sayings/malapropisms during his decades in the business. One of his most enduring is the phrase "include me out" - a request to withdraw from the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America in 1933 after a labor dispute. The phrase has lived on through the years, and now it seems especially appropriate to quote Mr. Goldwyn in light of Arizona's efforts after the 2012 election.

You might have missed it with the focus on the impact of Hurricane Sandy and long lines in Florida and elsewhere - but Arizona had a staggeringly high number of provisional ballots in 2012 that led to long delays in counting and mounting frustration in communities already raw from the state's long-running immigration battles.

In the aftermath, it appears that the large numbers of provisional ballots was not a consequence of voters' names missing from the rolls but instead the large number of them who were enrolled on the state's Permanent Early Voting List (PEVL). Like many states that have embraced early voting, Arizona allows voters to join the PEVL as soon as the time of registration. Analysis of the provisional ballot data in Arizona suggests that voters did so in huge numbers in 2012 - meaning that if they showed up to vote in person on Election Day, they were required to cast a provisional ballot.

Now, some of Arizona's largest counties are asking the state for permission to address the problem - either by removing inactive voters from the PEVL or by making sure voters on the list really want to be there. According to AZCentral.com:

Arizona's largest counties plan to ask lawmakers for authority to purge some inactive voters from the permanent early-voting list in an effort to decrease the number of provisional ballots cast in future elections.

Nearly half of Arizona voters who cast provisional ballots at the polls in the 2012 general election were asked to do so because they previously had signed up for permanent early voting, meaning ballots already had been sent to them in the mail, according to The Arizona Republic's analysis of statewide election data.

In Maricopa County, the state's largest, more than 59,000 voters who signed up for early voting nonetheless showed up at the polls to cast ballots on Election Day, according to county elections data.

Some county elections officials hope to see statutory changes that would allow them to evaluate whether certain voters on the permanent early-voting list should remain there.

State law allows voters to ask in writing to be removed from the permanent early-voting list. County elections officials, however, cannot remove voters from the list without voters' consent, even if they do not use their early ballots.

The issue is among several that could be addressed when county elections officials from across the state, the Arizona secretary of state and the Arizona Association of Counties suggest amendments to some aspects of the state's election laws. The Arizona Legislature's session begins [Monday].

"We really think that if there's a way to address that specific area -- where we saw that a lot of individuals ended up having to cast provisionals -- that it could cut down pretty significantly the number of provisional ballots that would have to be cast after it becomes effective," said Nicole Stickler, executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties, which has facilitated meetings on the topic among county recorders.

About 15,000 Pima County voters requested early ballots yet showed up at the polls on Election Day in 2012. About 40,000 Pima County voters on the permanent early-voting list were sent early ballots but did not vote at all, said Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez.

Some elections officials believe the probability is low of inactive voters removing themselves from the early-voting list. These officials believe there needs to be a process allowing them to contact voters on the early-voting list who have not been voting or have not used their early ballot, ask them if they would like to stay on the list, and remove them from the list if they do not respond.

"They proved to us they want to go to the polls," Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell said.

Election officials also want to clarify - both on the Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) website and in instructions given to voter registration groups - that joining the PEVL means that a voter will receive a ballot in the mail.

Finally, they want to cut down on the number of "traditional" provisional ballots by allowing voters to update their records automatically when they change an address at the state Motor Vehicle Division (MVD).

All of these efforts - which, in essence, allow Arizona voters to ask the state to "include me out" of the PEVL or an outdated voting address - are aimed at reducing provisional ballots on Election Day and the prospect of more frustration and scrutiny that follows.

3 Comments


  • I don't think it makes much sense nowadays to require voters who are mailed ballots to vote provisionally if they vote at the polls instead. As long as a voter has not returned their vote by mail ballot, they should be able to vote a regular ballot on Election Day. Electronic poll books connected to a jurisdiction's main registration database could easily tell poll workers if a voter has returned a ballot or not. Or even without e-poll books, supplemental lists of voters that have returned their ballots can still be delivered to the poll locations on Election Day. Even if a few voters somehow manage to slip through the cracks, they will be caught and prosecuted almost immediately. This minor risk would certainly be worth reducing the number of provisional voters by tens to hundreds of thousands.

  • Very true...good points. And thank you for the reply.

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