Quicker AZ election results? GOP measure asks voters to swap voting convenience for speed

To get election results quicker, a proposal from Arizona Senate Republicans would ask voters to give up some of the conveniences of early voting.

Notably, voters who are used to swinging by a polling place on election day to drop off their ballot would no longer be able to drop and go. Instead, they would have to stand in line and produce ID to ensure their vote is counted.

Among the other proposed changes is a provision requiring voters who mail in their ballots to ensure the ballot is at county election offices by 7 p.m. on the Friday before election day. That's four days earlier than is currently required.

Emergency voting would be available over the weekend and the Monday before election day, although at a central county location that might require a long drive for voters, especially those in rural counties.

The Senate Elections Committee on Thursday voted along party lines to put proposed changes to Arizona's election administration in front of voters on this fall's ballot. If approved, any changes would take effect in 2026.

Arizona Republicans say they want Florida-style election results

Thursday's hearing raised many questions about provisions of House Concurrent Resolution 2056.

Democrats said the late-arriving proposal is not ready to go to voters, especially when anything approved at the ballot is difficult to amend if problems were to arise down the road. Even one Republican on the panel admitted the measure needs work.

"It's a work in progress and for now I'll vote 'yes,'" said Sen. Ken Bennett, a Prescott Republican and a former Arizona secretary of state.

Proponents of the measure say they want to get vote results out quicker, noting Arizona is infamous for drawn-out ballot counting for days, and sometimes weeks, after an election.

“Florida manages to do this,” Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, said of a quick turn on election results. The goal, she said, is “timely reporting. Not three weeks. Five days.”

Critics often draw comparisons to Florida, where some results are known on election night. But Florida is now a solidly red state with many lopsided races, where the winning candidate can often be easy to determine even before all the ballots are counted. In Arizona, close races in recent years have proved the truism that "every vote counts."

Also slowing Arizona's returns is the popularity of early ballots that get dropped off at the polls on election day. These ballots don't get counted on election night, and often aren't processed until a day or two later. Election workers must check the voter signature on a ballot envelope against the voter register and potentially troubleshoot any issues with those signatures.

That's one of the speed bumps lawmakers hope to eliminate by ending the drop-and-go process. By requiring voters who return early ballots on election day to show ID in person, election officials could eliminate the time-consuming process of checking ballot envelopes against the voter register.

The early cutoff for mail-in ballots — 7 p.m. on the Friday before election day — would boost the chances those ballots get the signature check and processing completed before election night.

Election officials raise concerns on cost, space, staffing

The measure also would require each voting location to count the ballots on site, rather than sending them to a central location. That raised concerns from Secretary of State Adrian Fontes as well as county election officials about the cost of equipping thousands of voting locations with tabulators.

Eight of Arizona's 15 counties rely on a central processing center, Fontes said, so a switch to on-site tabulators would increase costs markedly.

An amendment to the ballot referral would direct $11 million from the Arizona Clean Elections Commission to pay for the new equipment.

But Jen Marson, executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties, said $11 million would fall far short of the need. She is working to provide an estimate of what such a move would cost.

Marson said the proposal is riddled with problems for elections officials, from administration to costs to finding enough space at voting locations to handle tabulators and the extra staff needed to run them.

"This has been our go-to-the-mat issues for years," she said of county election officials. To see it surfacing late in the legislative session, and with little notice, makes it hard to iron out kinks in the process.

She asked the senators if they could clarify another part of the measure, which would ban the use of any funding from a foreign government or a foreign "nongovernmental source" for election administration.

Marson said counties rely on churches to provide polling places and questioned if the provision would bar such practices if a church had foreign donors. Others questioned how that provision would affect support for overseas voters.

A 2022 law barred the use of private funding for election administration, but did not specifically address foreign sources.

Gabriella Cázares-Kelly, the vice president of the Arizona County Recorders Association, said 13 of the state's 15 county recorders oppose HCR2056. In addition to cost concerns, she said the measure blurs the line between county recorders — who are responsible for voter registration and early voting — and county election directors, who run election day operations.

Rogers said elections officials are not reading the measure correctly, and noted that voters across the state are demanding election reforms. Sen. Anna Hernandez, D-Phoenix, said the issue hasn't resonated with her voters.

Tom Prezelski, a Democratic former state lawmaker who represents an advocacy group called Arizona Rural Action, called the changes counterproductive.

“The striker seems to address the complaints about long lines and delays in tabulation by making those lines longer and crazier and there are more delays," he said. "Striker" is shorthand for a strike-everything amendment that guts the provisions in an existing bill and replaces them with unrelated topics.

Rogers rejected suggestions the measure would sacrifice accuracy for quicker results.

“We have become a society that has elevated convenience and comfort at the expense of faith and trust in the vote," she said.

Reach the reporter at maryjo.pitzl@arizonarepublic.com or at 602-228-7566 and follow her on Threads as well as on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter @maryjpitzl.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona GOP senators propose ballot measure for quicker election results