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Dems file lawsuit to let Az voters correct unsigned early ballots

Local and national Democratic Party organizations are suing Arizona election officials to block them from automatically throwing out early ballots that haven't been signed by voters.

The Arizona Democratic Party, Democratic National Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee filed a lawsuit in federal court on Wednesday against Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and the county recorders of all 15 counties in Arizona. They're asking a judge to require election officials to give any voter who sends in a ballot without signing the envelope five days to correct the problem rather than simply rejecting their ballots.

"Today we're fighting to ensure that every Arizonan's vote is counted by challenging this overbearing rule that is disenfranchising voters," DNC Chairman Tom Perez said in a press release from the Arizona Democratic Party.

Arizonans who vote by mail receive ballots and envelopes they must use to send them back. In order to verify that the ballot was actually sent by the right person, voters must sign the envelopes. Election officials compare those signatures to the ones they have on file to ensure the voters' identities.

Prior to 2018, election officials could reach out to voters whose signatures didn't match if they received the ballots prior to Election Day. But they didn't do the same for any ballot that arrived on Election Day, which includes the early ballots that many voters simply drop off at their polling places on Election Day. Instead, they threw out those ballots.

Shortly before the 2018 general election, Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes announced a new policy in which his office would contact those voters, even for ballots received on Election Day, to ensure that legitimate votes weren't being rejected. A judge subsequently ordered that all county recorders use that policy as well. The legislature enacted a law the following year requiring counties to give voters five days to "cure" their ballots if the signatures were deemed to be mismatches.

But that policy doesn't apply to people who don't sign their ballots at all. According to the lawsuit, Maricopa County rejected 1,856 unsigned ballots in the 2018 general election, out of about 1.9 million early ballots cast. Pinal County rejected 131 unsigned ballots during the last general election, the lawsuit said. The suit did not include figures for the other 13 counties.

"Given that Democratic voters represent nearly a third of registered voters in Arizona, that millions of Arizonans vote by mail ballot, and that thousands of Arizonans have inadvertently failed to sign mail ballot envelopes in recent elections, it is virtually certain that at least some (Arizona Democratic Party) members will mail a ballot without a signature in 2020," the lawsuit asserts.

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The lawsuit alleges that the current policy of rejecting unsigned ballots violates voters' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

The Secretary of State's Office and Maricopa County Recorder's Office did not comment on the lawsuit.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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