Ducey endorses an Election Day plan that could help tally votes faster, but at a cost

Gov. Doug Ducey gives a briefing on wildfire safety at the state Capitol as members of the Wildland Fire Crew stand behind him on March 31, 2022, in Phoenix, Ariz.
Gov. Doug Ducey gives a briefing on wildfire safety at the state Capitol as members of the Wildland Fire Crew stand behind him on March 31, 2022, in Phoenix, Ariz.

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Gov. Doug Ducey, addressing one of the biggest complaints about last month's election, said he thinks it's possible to know the winner in close races on election night or the next day.

The governor said the major change in Arizona elections isn't the procedure, which he trusts, but rather that Arizona has become a swing state.

"Things have changed," he said, after participating in the statewide canvass of the Nov. 8 votes. "Our elections have become much more competitive."

He embraced a process that would allow voters who prefer to drop off their mail-in ballots at the polls on Election Day to personally feed their ballot into a tabulation machine. That way, their vote would be counted as soon as the polls close, as is the case with ballots cast by voters who go to the polls.

That idea was introduced into state law earlier this year, but as an option for county elections officials to follow. None of the 15 counties did so, citing concerns over the cost and logistics of setting up parallel processes for same-day voters and early voters who drop off on Election Day.

Already, Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, has said he intends to amend the law to make the procedure mandatory.

Ducey said such a procedure would get out results quicker, making it more obvious who has won even in close contests.

Technically, election results aren't final until the statewide canvass is completed, but political candidates and the media tend to call races even before all the votes are counted once a trend is clear. In close races, it takes time for a candidate or an issue to amass enough votes to show a definitive winning trend.

That has always been the case, Ducey said, noting not just his wins, but those of other candidates as well, in 2014 and 2018. But this year, with close races for the U.S. Senate, governor and attorney general, people have seized upon the wait time ― up to one week in the governor's race ― as a need to speed up the counting.

The delay also has fueled suspicions and conspiracy theories that elections officials are altering the vote, although there has been no such evidence.

The faster-count plan is not as simple as Ducey and lawmakers have proposed.

For example, only seven of the 15 counties have tabulation machines on site at vote centers, said Allie Bones, assistant secretary of state and soon to be chief of staff for Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs.

That means for more than half of Arizona counties, there would be no machine for voters who drop off a mail-in ballot on Election Day to feed their ballot into, Bones said.

In those eight counties, ballots are transported to a central tabulation site to be counted. These ballots, dubbed "late earlies" because they were sent out as early ballots but come in on deadline, have to go through the time-consuming process of verifying the voter's signature before counting the votes. That delays vote counting.

Bones said it would be up to incoming secretary of state Adrian Fontes to work with the counties to make this idea work. Fontes, a former Maricopa County recorder, has been skeptical of the plan, citing its cost.

She said Hobbs is supportive of the idea, “as long as we are not taking away people’s opportunity (to vote).”

Ducey said expanding the existing legislation would take careful review and research, but said it's possible.

“I do think the issue right now is not as much accuracy as it is urgency," he said of Arizona election returns. "We want be careful with that because we’ve always tried in Arizona to make it easy to vote and hard, if not impossible, to cheat.

"I want to rebuild trust in our election system, but I would like us to have the winner decided the day of the election or the day following in a highly competitive race, or as close as we can get.”

Reach the reporter at maryjo.pitzl@arizonarepublic.com and follow her on Twitter @maryjpitzl.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: How to count Arizona votes faster? Gov. Doug Ducey weighs in with plan