Are You Really Precluded from Voting a New Ballot if your Presidential Candidate Drops Out?

Early voting for the Presidential Preference Election (PPE) in Arizona began on February 19, 2020, but it seems as if Democratic candidates are suspending their campaigns by the day.  Some election officials have recently announced that you cannot cast a new ballot if your preferred candidate recently dropped out, indicating that your only remedy might be to request a replacement ballot if you marked (but never mailed) your original ballot.  While that may be true as a matter of county policy, there is nothing in Arizona law that precludes a second bite at the apple.

The Arizona Election Procedures Manual stipulates that “an early ballot must be issued even if the voter previously requested or received a ballot-by-mail, but only the first ballot received and verified by the County Recorder shall be counted.”  Thus, whether you can legally vote a new ballot hinges on whether the original ballot can be intercepted before it has been “received and verified” by your County Recorder.

Here’s how the process generally works.  Early ballots, whether cast by mail or in-person at an on-site early voting location, are returned to the applicable County Recorder’s office.  The recorder’s staff must compare the signature on the ballot envelope to verify the voter’s identity, and if satisfied, the ballot is transmitted to different election officials to open the sealed envelope and send the ballot through the tabulation equipment.  Although the process differs somewhat between counties, an early ballot is generally “received” when the bar code on the ballot envelope is scanned into the system, while the ballot is “verified” once the recorder staff member checks the envelope signature against the voter registration system.  These processes occur nearly simultaneously in many counties, but “receipt” and “verification” are two separate concepts.  Thus, from a legal perspective, a voter would need the recorder’s staff to intercept the original early ballot envelope before the verification process is complete.

By choosing “receipt and verification” as the point of no return, the Manual rejected an approach where merely “mailing” your ballot foreclosed a second chance.  Since there can be a gap between a ballot has been “received” and when it has been “verified” by a County Recorder, the Manual intentionally left breathing space for an early ballot to be set aside. So while a County Recorder might have a perfectly legitimate policy of not allowing a do-over, it’s just that: a policy.

If you could convince a County Recorder to give you a second chance, how would you go about?   The first step is to visit your County Recorder’s website to confirm whether your early ballot has already been verified.  If your ballot is shown as “accepted” or words to that effect, it is too late to change anything. Your original vote for Elizabeth Warren or Mike Bloomberg will remain lost to history.  If your ballot is shown as “rejected,” for example because your signature did not match or you returned the wrong ballot, you might have another chance to vote. Contact your County Recorder.  But if the ballot is merely shown as “received,” or does not show as being received yet, you would need to act quickly.

It is unlikely the County Recorder has a viable mechanism or the personnel resources to physically locate your particular ballot envelope in the many boxes and postal trays waiting for verification.  (This is likely the reason why election officials have a policy of not allowing do-overs.)   However, your County Recorder might have a way to electronically “void” your original ballot.  If a ballot has been voided, the system will flag and effectively reject that early ballot when the recorder’s staff eventually attempts to scan the envelope or verify the signature.  That would require the ballot envelope to be set aside and remain unverified, effectively opening the door for you to vote a new early ballot.

To sum up, state law requires your County Recorder to issue you a new early ballot if you request one.  But whether your County Recorder has the technological capability, staff resources, and time to intercept and void your previous early ballot is an entirely different question.  You cannot simply hope your new ballot will be verified before the previous ballot; likely, the new ballot will go to the back of the line.  Thus, assuming the county website indicates you still have a chance, you likely need to make some effort to see that your earlier ballot gets flagged by the recorder’s office.  There is no formula how to accomplish this, so be courteous and understand that election officials are VERY busy at this time of year.

It may prove infeasible for a County Recorder to give you a second chance to vote for President.  That is entirely justifiable.  Just be skeptical of any response that cites Arizona law as the reason for not doing so.

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