InDepth: History of rejected Arizona ballots creates further election uncertainty

Yellow “Vote Here” signs are stacked on large metal shelving units within a warehouse at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center in downtown Phoenix on Sept. 25, 2020. /Photo by Brandon Quester | AZCIR

By Sam Kmack | Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting 

Less than a month away from the November election, Arizona’s voter registration deadline has changed twice in two weeks, putting into question whether the latest update will reach voters in time, and leaving the possibility that large numbers of ballots could be rejected. 

Arizonans now have until midnight October 15 to register to vote.

While this may be one of the most confusing, contentious elections in recent memory, problems with voter registration aren’t new, and have caused thousands of ballots to be thrown out in previous elections. 

Nearly 14,000 ballots in Arizona’s 2016 presidential election were rejected by county officials because voters weren’t registered in the state or didn’t register by the state’s deadline. They represent 44% of the more than 31,000 ballots thrown out that year, according to an AZCIR analysis of rejected ballots.

With national attention now focused on Arizona as a key battleground in the presidential race, the state’s history of rejected ballots highlight gaps in voter education and inefficient election policy, which have contributed to Arizona ranking in the bottom third of states for election administration performance in each presidential election since 2008, according to MIT’s Election Performance Index. 

The ballots rejected in 2016 represent about 1.2% of the 2.6 million total ballots cast by Arizonans in the latest presidential election, AZCIR’s analysis shows. That rate is down from 1.9% in 2012, in what experts here said is the result of updates to election administration and investments in voter education.

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