Yes, an Arizona voter received two mail ballots. That’s not a sign of wrongdoing or fraud.

An election worker makes calls to voters to cure their signatures so their ballots will count at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center in Phoenix on Nov. 13, 2022. Maricopa County is home to more than half the state’s voters. Most Arizona voters cast ballots by mail.
An election worker makes calls to voters to cure their signatures so their ballots will count at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center in Phoenix on Nov. 13, 2022. Maricopa County is home to more than half the state’s voters. Most Arizona voters cast ballots by mail.

After an Arizona voter posted a photo showing she had received two mail ballots from Maricopa County, a local elections official debunked any inference that something sinister occurred.

"Maricopa county at its finest … My first time ever voting in a presidential preference election and I received not one but two mail-in ballots. Thank you @stephen_richer," Aubrey Savela posted on X, formerly Twitter.

Savela is a field representative for Turning Point Action, a conservative group founded by Charlie Kirk.

Richer, Maricopa County's recorder and a Republican, responded on X  that there was a reason Savela received two ballots. And more important, he said, only one will be counted.

"You changed your voter registration on the last day of voter registration (Feb. 20) from your Chandler address to your new Tempe address," Richer wrote. "Because early ballots must go out on Feb. 21, your Chandler ballot was already set to go out, and so it did. Then we sent out a new ballot to your Tempe address when we processed your voter registration modification."

Feb. 20 was the last day to register to vote in time for the March 19 primary.

Richer said Savela’s photo of her two ballots offered a clue that she had two different addresses because the lengths of the blacked-out redacted address lines were not the same on both envelopes.

Also, Richer wrote, one of the ballot’s code numbers ends in "01" — which reflected Savela’s old address — and the other ends in "02," for the new address.

"As soon as the ‘02’ one goes out, the ‘01’ packet is dead," Richer wrote. "Meaning even if you sent it back, it wouldn't proceed to signature verification, and it wouldn't be opened. That's how we prevent people from voting twice. So just use the one with your new address ending in ‘02’ -— that's the only one that will work."

Richer often debunks voting misinformation and has faced death threats because of it. Alabama resident Brian Jerry Ogstad was arrested Feb. 28, accused of sending threatening messages to Maricopa election workers in 2022, including one that said, "You will all be executed for your crimes."

Tammy Patrick, chief executive officer for programs at the Election Center at the National Association of Election Officials and a former Maricopa County elections official, said Savela’s post lacks understanding and important context.

"This is yet another example of standard operating procedures being taken out of context, misconstrued and misrepresented in order to support a false narrative regarding the legitimacy of our elections and the integrity of our election officials," Patrick said.

Election offices have systems in place to prevent double mail-in voting

It is not uncommon for voters who update their registration close to an election to receive two ballots, each with unique codes ensuring that only one will be counted, JP Martin, spokesperson for Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, told PolitiFact.

"Our voting systems are designed with robust safeguards against double voting," Martin said.

Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, is home to more than half the state’s voters. The majority of Arizona voters cast mail ballots, as they have for decades. That’s why any misinformation about voting by mail is particularly harmful to democracy in the battleground state.

Voters can do their part by updating their voter registration in a timely fashion, said Jenny Guzman, program director of Common Cause Arizona.

Nationwide, election officials take similar steps to prevent double voting.

Jurisdictions that send mail ballots have developed policies and systems to handle voters changing addresses at the last minute before ballots are mailed, said Barbara Smith Warner, executive director of the National Vote At Home Institute, an organization advocating for mail ballot access.

"It's not unusual for such voters to have already been mailed a ballot, and for the elections official to mail them a second ballot that reflects the races/contests appropriate for their new residence," Smith Warner said.

Ballot return envelopes are coded, and the election management system is programmed to alert the election official that a voter has been mailed two ballots. Election officials have systems to ensure that if the voter returns both ballots, only one is counted.

Voter registration management systems are increasingly sophisticated, making it rare for such a mistake to be made, Smith Warner said. However, post-election audits typically review these cases to ensure that proper procedures and state laws were followed, she said.

Many states are members of the Electronic Registration Information Center, a consortium that shares voter registration lists. The center identifies voters with duplicate registrations in the same state or voters who have moved to another state. This helps prevent double voting.

We found anecdotal examples in the news of voters receiving two mail ballots because of an error.

In 2020, election officials in Allegheny County in Pennsylvania erroneously sent some residents multiple mail-in ballots ahead of the state’s June primary election. The county said a glitch in the state’s computerized voter registry system led it to accidentally print duplicate labels for mail-in and absentee ballots.

"Even if a person receives multiple ballots, only one return ballot can be counted. This is because the bar code on the label that is being used for tracking is exactly the same," a statement from the county said. "When voted ballots are returned to the office, they are scanned. If another ballot was returned from that same voter, it would show as a duplicate vote when scanned and would be rejected by the system. Staff would mark the ballot as rejected. Those ballots are kept but are not sent to the warehouse to be counted or opened."

Of course, another way that double voting can occur is if a voter casts a mail ballot in two states in the same election. But that’s a crime. Four voters in The Villages, a largely conservative retirement community in central Florida, were arrested for voting more than once in the 2020 election.

RELATEDAsk PolitiFact: What steps do election officials take to prevent fraud?

Our sources

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: PolitiFact: Photo from Arizona voter falsely claimed as proof of fraud