Today, Priorities USA and Voto Latino announced a settlement agreement with Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs in a legal challenge to the state’s deadline for returning absentee ballots. Current Arizona law states that in order for an absentee ballot to be counted, it must be delivered to the office of the county recorder, officer in charge of elections, or any polling place no later than 7 p.m. on Election Day. However, the legal challenge argued that many voters incorrectly believe that ballots are timely as long as they are postmarked by Election Day. Furthermore, conditioning the validity of ballots solely on a “received by” date, rather than the postmark date results in qualified voters submitting mail ballots on or before Election Day being denied the right to vote based entirely on arbitrary factors beyond their control. Lastly, the law in its current form created unconstitutional barriers to voting for Latino, Hispanic, and Native American voters.
As a result of these factors, and the global pandemic impacting elections across the country, the settlement agreement outlines specific measures the state of Arizona has agreed to implement to ensure that the law does not further disenfranchise marginalized communities. Through the settlement, the Secretary of State has agreed to the following terms:
- An expansion in existing voter outreach and education efforts in English and in Spanish, Navajo, Apache and other languages. The outreach and education will appear across multiple platforms including the Secretary of State’s website, social media pages, and future mailings from the Secretary to Arizona voters. This includes efforts to encourage County Recorders to increase their voter education efforts and outreach about the Election Day Receipt Deadline.
- A page will be added to the Secretary of State’s website dedicated to the vote by mail process that will include prominently information about the Election Day receipt deadline and general information about ballot drop-off options and links to county websites listing drop box locations and other drop-off options.
- The Secretary will allocate funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, subject to legislative appropriation, or other available funding sources to expand early voting opportunities in Hispanic and Latino, Native American, and rural communities in Arizona. This will include funding for:
- Mobile early voting units.
- Temporary staff hires who will be appropriately trained to staff early voting locations and mobile early voting units in rural communities with limited mail access, and who have language capabilities to match the communities in which they will be working.
- An increased number of ballot drop-boxes for mail ballots in rural, Hispanic and Latino, and tribal communities.
- An increased number of non-mobile early voting locations. The Secretary has also agreed to provide informal guidance to each county including a recommendation that each county consider the optimal number of drop-boxes, mobile early voting units, and early voting locations needed based on the county’s geography, population, and best practices.
- The next Elections Procedures Manual will include a provision directing counties to consult the informal guidance provided by the Secretary on the allocation of drop-boxes, mobile early voting units, or other ballot drop-off locations outside of the county elections’ office and polling locations or vote centers.
- The Secretary has also agreed to conduct a feasibility study on the implementation of a postmark deadline after the official canvass of the General Election to consider; the number of voters disenfranchised by the deadline over the past three general election cycles; the cost of intelligent mail barcode readers; any administrative burdens placed on election officials and logistical challenges in connection with a postmark deadline; the various ways that other states have successfully implemented postmark deadlines; and whether such factors support seeking a legislative change to Arizona’s Election Day Receipt Deadline.
“This victory will ensure that communities across Arizona are included in the democratic process,” said Guy Cecil, Chairman of Priorities USA. “I want to thank Secretary Hobbs for hearing our concerns and understanding the importance of ensuring that we alleviate barriers to the ballot box while keeping voters safe as we face a global health crisis.”
“This is a big win for voting rights and accessibility,” said María Teresa Kumar, president and CEO of Voto Latino. “The right to cast a vote safely, even during a global health crisis, will not be infringed. Right at this very moment, Voto Latino is experiencing huge spikes in registration and engagements, precisely because people are seeing what’s happening in our country, they’re looking for things they can do to bring about change, and one of the best tools we have is our vote. It is in times of unrest when we see the biggest participation.”