Want faster election results? We can do that without a misguided ballot measure

Arizonans need to decide what we want most from our elections and the counting of votes: convenience and accuracy or speed.

Because we can’t have it all.

Nitpickers may demand fast lines at all polling places. But that’s tough in an era when increased costs, limited staffing and the overwhelming popularity of voting by mail have meant fewer polling locations.

Especially as we face an upcoming general election where the ballot could stretch three pages for Maricopa County voters, thanks to a host of potential initiatives — both citizen-driven and those referred by state lawmakers — and retention votes for some four dozen judges.

And not when a number of voters show up on Election Day to drop off their early ballots — gumming up the verification and tabulation process.

Early ballots would be turned in earlier

Against this backdrop, there’s a movement to curb the convenience Arizona voters now enjoy.

The centerpiece of a ballot initiative being sought by Republican legislators would restrict how we turn in early ballots.

  • It’d require ballots to arrive at county election offices by 7 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day. That’s four days earlier than the current stipulation.

  • It’d require voters who drop off early ballots on Election Day to stand in line and produce ID for their vote to be counted.

Doing so would quicken the counting of ballots. Right now, dropped-off ballots must go through a signature-verification process before they can be tabulated.

Officials say that means those ballots don’t get counted until a day or two after Election Day.

Other parts of measure would add time, money

The obvious tradeoff of tighter restrictions is the loss of convenience for those who dawdle on mailing in the ballots. Or those who drop off ballots of spouses or family members in addition to their own.

The GOP proposal, unfortunately, seeks a great deal more. Some provisions would simply add time and money burdens on county election offices rather than improve anything.

For instance, the measure calls for each voting location to count the ballots on site, rather than sending them to a central location. For more than half of Arizona’s 15 counties that rely on a central location, that would mean a sizable increase in equipment costs and staffing.

That 13 of the 15 county recorders oppose the proposal is telling.

Tone down the drama: About Arizona election threats

Arizonans, of course, can do their part and avoid dropping off ballots on Election Day and the weekend before.

How much faster results would be — namely, a higher percentage of results within the first 24 hours; Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer throws out 95% as an aspiration — is an open question.

Although if Maricopa County is an indication, it’d definitely help. In 2022, so-called “late early ballots” accounted nearly 20% of the total cast in the election, up from between 8% and 12% in preceding elections.

You could just turn in your ballot earlier

Nothing, of course, assures that faster, higher-percentage results means definitive answers on winners and losers right away.

Not when Arizona is now a purple state, with more tight races than ever before.

And given new standards for automatic recounts that state lawmakers passed — this following President Joe Biden’s narrow win over Donald Trump in 2020 — those recounts will get triggered more frequently.

But significantly reducing late early ballots should go a long way toward ameliorating the problem.

Will those voters voluntarily stop the practice that’s contributing mightily to slower results?

Or will they give life to the movement aimed at stripping them of that right?

Reach Abe Kwok at akwok@azcentral.com. On X, formerly Twitter: @abekwok.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona can speed election results without a misplaced ballot measure