Arizona officials scramble to provide alternative solutions to in-person voting for preference election

Contradicting statements cloud whether more Arizonans may be able drop-off their ballots Tuesday amidst 'social-distancing' movement

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes announced a plan to send ballots by mail starting Friday to every eligible voter in the county for the Democratic presidential preference election. 

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs responded within hours in a statement to The Arizona Republic that Fontes does not have the legal authority to deliver ballots to voters who did not request them in advance.

Hobbs added that the last-minute change of plans could jeopardize the "legitimacy of this election" and cause voter confusion, although she considered it to be an "appropriate contingency plan" given the ongoing health emergency. 

After a press conference Friday afternoon, legislators and state leaders called out Fontes on breaking state rules. Attorney General Mark Brnovich tweeted that he was filing a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction against Fontes for violating Arizona law. 

The restraining order and injunction were signed by a Superior Court judge Friday evening. The signed order temporarily stops Fontes from issuing the ballots.

At a press conference Friday, Fontes said a quarter million votes have already been counted and a majority of the election is already happening under his proposal.

There will be 151 polling locations, down from the originally slated 229.

Earlier Friday morning, Hobbs had released a combined statement with three other states holding elections Tuesday that they were working with their respective health officials to ensure the safety of both poll workers and voters.

According to the original statement from Fontes, the unprecedented move was an attempt to "protect voters' health" in regards to COVID-19, and the Board of Supervisors is doing all they can to keep ballot centers open. 

His statement noted that while some might claim there is "no authority to mail ballots to all voters under the law, ... there is no prohibition either."

Under the plan announced by Fontes, all polling locations will become ballot centers where people can drop-off the completed ballot without going inside to minimize social contact. 

The statement from the recorder’s office said that the decision to do so is following the recommendation for social-distancing from the state’s health officials. 

"We are in uncharted territory with COVID-19," Fontes said. "My first concern is to protect the health of the voters and staff who work in the polling places while maintaining the integrity of the election."

In the statement, Fontes said that there is a lack of cleaning supplies to meet directions for protecting public health and preventing community spread. 

The presidential preference election is different than a typical primary since only one party is voting Tuesday and there is only one race on the ballot. 

Voters were instructed not to mail back these ballots. Instead, all ballots must be turned in by 7 p.m. on Election Day, according to the recorder’s office. Under his plan, ballot centers will be open over the weekend and on Monday for Arizonans to drop off their ballot.

Editor's Note: This story was updated to include the legal action by Attorney General Mark Brnovich and official polling numbers. 


Reach the reporter at pjhanse1@asu.edu and follow @piperjhansen on Twitter. 

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