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Monday musings: Analysis

Herstam: The end of lengthy vote-counting in Arizona?

The last several election nights have been very frustrating. Why? Because tons of votes couldn't be counted and we had to wait days to know the outcome of close races.

But there's good news for 2020 – we'll probably know the results on election night, just like the good old days! All thanks to the excellent reform measures by Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes and the Board of Supervisors, who are cooperating nicely on election matters.

Three major improvements have occurred. First, Fontes says the number of election department staffers has more than doubled, from 21 in 2018 to 47 today.

Second, a new law allows county election departments to count early ballots earlier.

"With new staff and a week more of early tabulation, we may have all early votes, except those delivered on the day of the election, tabulated before Election Day," he said. "That means a much larger proportion of the total votes will be reported at 8 p.m. on election night than ever before."

The third reform is a new polling location check-in system, SiteBook, created in-house at Fontes' direction.

"It's unique in the nation, created by (election) administrators, not vendors," he said. The new system will be faster and dramatically reduce the number of provisional ballots that slowed vote tabulation in the past. The system is also designed for same-day and automatic voter registration, if the Arizona Legislature – or voters – decide to enact those pro-voting policies.

The current Democratic presidential preference election process and the August party primary election will be good opportunities to test the ballot tabulation reforms.

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According to Garrett Archer, an election data whiz and journalist at ABC15, provisional ballots trend Democratic, whereas early ballots delivered on Election Day tend to split evenly between the two parties. With far fewer provisional ballots this year, the ballots counted in the days following the election should not be as impactful on the final outcome of races.

Maricopa County is the key to knowing statewide winners on election night because about 65 percent of the state's vote comes from the largest county. The ability to count early ballots before Election Day should speed tabulation for the other 14 counties, as well.

Here's the bottom line: by the final Maricopa vote "dump" on election night (between midnight and 1 am), Archer believes about 94 percent of Maricopa County and 90 percent of statewide results will be known. Most importantly, trends will be clearly established, making it easier to determine winners in most of the races. Yes!

The entire nation will be staying up late to see if Trump holds onto Arizona, perhaps deciding the presidential race. They'll be watching to see which party wins our critical U.S. Senate seat, possibly deciding control of the chamber.

And the nation won't have to wait days for the answers. Thank you, Adrian Fontes.

He expects a whopping turnout in both Maricopa County and statewide, with more than 3 million votes – close to 80 percent of those eligible – cast for the first time in Arizona history.

Which Arizona party is traditionally helped most by huge turnouts? The Democratic Party.

It's 245 days until the November 3 general election. Can't wait!

Sanders vs. Trump – the battle of two angry men

After tomorrow's Super Tuesday primaries, the struggle for the Democratic presidential nomination may be about over. Despite Joe Biden's strong performance in South Carolina on Saturday and Bloomberg's continued financial juggernaut, it's looking more likely that Bernie Sanders will be the winner. Limited polling shows he's ahead in Arizona's March 17 primary, as well.

So, America could be left to endure an epic battle between two angry men.

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It's the angry impeached and corrupt president, who utilizes the Department of Justice to attack his political opposition, versus the angry democratic socialist, who attacks a rigged economic system that favors the wealthy at the expense of middle- and low-income households.

It's two screaming presidential candidates that will leave already exhausted voters completely drained in November, if not sooner.

How can Sanders evict Trump from the White House? Bernie's 2020 coalition of support depends on galvanizing voters under age 35. He's counting on them to overcome any loss of swing voters who may be uncomfortable voting for someone so far outside the mainstream.

Can Bernie's passion deliver that gigantic youth turnout? A new study says no.

According to the research, "For Sanders to do as well as a moderate Democrat against Trump in November by stimulating youth turnout, his nomination would need to boost turnout of young, left-leaning voters enormously…These 'Bernie or bust' voters that come off the sidelines for Sanders are almost entirely limited to one group: Democrats and Independents under age 35. These voters are about 11 percentage points more likely to say they would vote for Democrats if Sanders is nominated – and almost all of them say they would not vote at all or vote third-party if he's not on the ballot."

The research concludes that it's doubtful a massive Sanders-driven youth turnout would materialize. It would need to be much larger than the boost generated among black voters by Barack Obama's presence on the 2008 ballot.

However, keep in mind that political scientists are conducting their research and utilizing turnout models in this upside-down world of 2020. Nothing is normal anymore. Candidates can self-destruct at any moment. Events can change our political landscape overnight.

Both angry men will have plenty of money to make their cases. Do we maintain the chaotic and dangerous status quo or jump off the socialistic cliff with Bernie?

Like most voters, I don't like how my presidential options are shaping up. But I'll take socialist passion (moderated by a more moderate Congress) over authoritarian corruption any day.

Hang on tight!

Brnovich's brazen power play

Attorney General Mark Brnovich is aggressively attempting to expand his legal power and political influence via his lawsuit challenging recent tuition increases by the Arizona Board of Regents. And the newly packed conservative state Supreme Court will provide him a stage on which to perform.

But Brnovich, who supposedly provides legal representation to state boards and agencies, is taking his legal and political roadshow a step further.

The voter-approved Citizens Clean Elections Commission wishes to file an amicus brief telling the Supreme Court its view on the matter. Commission Executive Director Tom Collins appropriately requested to utilize an outside attorney to craft the brief due to the obvious conflict of interest at the AG's office.

Brnovich's office denied the request for outside counsel, clearly in an attempt to keep the Commission from weighing in on the matter and perhaps hurting Brnovich's chances of a Supreme Court victory against ABOR.

In a Feb. 27 report to his board, Collins notes that it's the first time an attorney general has denied the Commission its right to separate legal representation in a potential conflict situation. "This has never occurred in the Commission's history to my knowledge," the report states. Now it's left for individual commission members to sign onto additional amicus briefs if they so choose.

Brnovich is exercising naked legal and political power over the non-partisan Clean Elections Commission to protect his own case against ABOR. It's an unprecedented action by the AG who wants to be Arizona's next governor.

His brazen style paints an image for voters of the kind of governor he would be.

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It's not a pretty picture.

This column was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

Chris Herstam has four decades of experience at the Arizona state capitol. He has been an elected lawmaker, a gubernatorial chief of staff, a lobbyist, director of the Department of Insurance and president of the Arizona Board of Regents. Find him on Twitter at @chrisherstam.

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Voters line up for the March 2016 presidential preference election in Arizona.


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