Todd Carney: Arizona should look to Florida’s voting reforms

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In this Nov. 6, 2020, photo, Arizona elections officials continue to count ballots inside the Maricopa County Recorder's Office in Phoenix. Matt York / AP

Until this month, Pennsylvania owned the dubious distinction among states of most embarrassing election management. But given its own lethargy in counting votes in its primary, Arizona has now edged out the Keystone State. While Pennsylvania had problems counting the last portion of votes the evening after its primary, it took Arizona two days to count the last 20% of the vote.

As RealClearPolitics has noted before, Pennsylvania could solve its voting-administration issues by adopting Florida’s voting reforms – but Pennsylvania is hamstrung by a divided government. Arizona does not face this problem, however. For at least the next four months, Arizona will have a Republican state legislature and governor. Arizona’s governor and state legislature should enact Florida-like voting reforms before the November elections to avoid further embarrassment.

Like Pennsylvania, Arizona’s status as a swing state is fairly new. Arizona was long a Republican stronghold going back to the days of Sen. Barry Goldwater. But it got increasingly competitive over the last two decades until 2020, when it became a full-blown swing state. As a result, 2020 was Arizona’s first presidential cycle under the national spotlight.

Like Pennsylvania, Arizona increased its use of mail-in ballots to accommodate COVID precautions during the 2020 election. Arizona’s close election results and the mail-in voting procedures created many concerns about election policies.

Unlike Pennsylvania, Arizona passed some legislation to protect election integrity after the 2020 election, but these reforms focused more on concerns about voter fraud than on election administration.

Pennsylvania does not allow for the counting of ballots that come in before Election Day, but Arizona does – which explains its initial flurry of votes that came in after polls closed. That Arizona can count votes before Election Day is a serious indictment of its current election system.

Arizona clearly needs to make changes. To start, it would make sense to limit mail-in voting by eliminating drop boxes and telling people that they must either mail their ballots or bring them to a county office. Arizona had mail-in voting long before COVID, but eliminating drop boxes next time could ensure that people use mail-in voting only when truly needed.

Long-term, Arizona should consider abolishing no-excuse absentee voting. Some believe that this move would disenfranchise voters, but a well-structured early-voting program could help those who say they have difficulty voting on Election Day for various reasons. An ideal system would allow early voting three weeks before Election Day and end it two weeks before. This would ensure time for people to vote, but not so early in the process that they can’t make a fully informed decision.

Moreover, the Arizona state legislature, secretary of state, and governor should conduct a review of how each county performed in counting ballots. If the county had issues counting ballots due to low staffing or inferior technology, the state should make additional resources available for future elections. Over time, however, this increased funding should come with expectations of better performance.

These recommendations may seem ambitious, but state governments across the nation acted quickly in 2020 to make voting accessible. Given how its primary went in August, it makes no sense for Arizona to do things the same way in November. Control of the U.S. Senate could hinge on Arizona’s results – so the Grand Canyon State needs to get its act together on elections.

Todd Carney is a lawyer and frequent contributor to RealClearPolitics. He earned his juris doctorate from Harvard Law School.

Republished with the permission of The Center Square.