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Why would your ballot not be counted?
Yavapai County rejects less than one-half percent of mail-in ballots

Yavapai County Recorder Leslie Hoffman watches as Juliana Brown and Lynn Constabile count early ballots at the Yavapai County Administration Building for the 2016 Presidential election Tuesday, Nov. 1, in Prescott. The Elections Department sent out over 105,000 early ballots.
Photo by Les Stukenberg.

Yavapai County Recorder Leslie Hoffman watches as Juliana Brown and Lynn Constabile count early ballots at the Yavapai County Administration Building for the 2016 Presidential election Tuesday, Nov. 1, in Prescott. The Elections Department sent out over 105,000 early ballots.

Yavapai County Recorder Leslie Hoffman said she wishes she could qualify every single vote that comes through her office.

General Election, Yavapai County - by the numbers

Total Rejected Ballots, 1,185 - 1.02%

Early Ballots (total), 92,629

Signature differences, 301

Not signed, 94

Voted twice, 33 (Once on an early ballot, once at the polls, for example.)

Empty envelopes, 6

Early ballots counted, 92,195 - 99.53%

Early ballots rejected, 434 - 0.47%

Provisional Ballots (total), 1,399

Not registered, 703

Voted early ballot, 27

Registered too late, 4

Incomplete/not signed, 10

ID not provided, 3

Provisional ballots rejected, 751 - 53.68%

Provisional ballots counted, 648 - 46.32%

Write-Ins:

Total ballots with write-in, 7,436

Total qualified write-in votes, 741

16 people x 16 hours, 256 (Man hours to process)

But if an early ballot comes in very close to the 7 p.m. deadline on Election Day and the voter didn’t sign the affidavit envelope or the signature doesn’t match the one on file, there’s not much Hoffman can do in the limited time frame prescribed by law.

Staff in the Recorder’s Office is trained in forensic handwriting analysis every two years. The office has the training and policy in place when a signature on the affidavit envelope doesn’t match the signature on file or it is missing completely, Hoffman said.

Two or three staff members will review the signatures and determine whether it is valid or not. If not, or if there are questions, they contact the voter. Often the office has only an address – no phone number or email. If the early ballot arrived early enough, staff mails a letter that requests the voter to contact the office because of a problem with the affidavit envelope.

If they registered to vote using the online process, the signature is what is on their driver’s license. Often, they signed the license years ago when maybe they were 16, 17 years old. Most people understand, especially if they come into the office and see the signature on file.

Most counties also try but do toss some last-minute ballots

PHOENIX - A fight playing out between the Arizona Democratic Party and Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell highlights a problem for those who wait until the last minute to deposit their early ballots: They may not get counted.

Purcell is discarding the envelopes containing about 1,400 ballots received on Nov. 7 and 8 where her staffers could not immediately match the signature on the outside with the signature on file.

More to the point, she’s not alone: State Elections Director Eric Spencer told Capitol Media Services that’s the same policy followed by officials in 14 of the state’s 15 counties.

Only Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez said she makes a specific effort to try to find out if every early ballot received is legitimate.

Spencer Scharff, the Democrats’ voter protection director, extra effort is required by the official state Election Procedures Manual.

But Elizabeth Bartholomew, aide to Purcell, said there is other verbiage in the manual that states what county recorders must do “if time permits.’’ And even Rodriguez acknowledged the wording in the manual is “vague.’’

It might end up being resolved in federal judge.

- Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services

“At 20, 21, their signatures have changed significantly. Girls have dropped the hearts over the i’s, for instance,” Hoffman said.

One person told her his current signature looks nothing like what was on file, and in 10 years when he becomes a doctor, it won’t look like his current signature, he joked.

Certain handwriting patterns do remain the same through the years, even if the signer switches from right to left to upright writing. Even as a person ages and handwriting becomes shaky or goes above or below the line, staff can recognize it from signatures on file.

Sometimes when people are contacted about a problem, the first thing they say is, “Are you trying to keep me from voting?”

“We try to be as fair as we can. Ninety-nine percent of the time, when the people come in and look at the signature we use to compare with and then at the affidavit envelope, they go, ‘OK, we understand why you called,” Hoffman said.

This year, the affidavit envelope included a line for voters to write their phone numbers. About 60 percent of voters provided numbers. Hoffman also placed a bigger STOP sign on the envelope alerting voters about the need for a signature.

“We got very few envelopes with no signatures on them. We’re very happy about that,” she said.

Yavapai County had the highest voter turnout in the state with 84.4 percent, slightly less than the last open election in 2008, which had 84.8 percent turnout.

Hoffman said the county had a record number of registered voters, record number of early ballots mailed out, and a decrease of staff to handle it all. Fewer workers does not mean a decrease in level of service, only that the department is always working on implementing better procedures and technology, Hoffman said.

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