PHOENIX — We are officially in the thick of election season here in Arizona, as officials started to count 2020 ballots on Oct. 20.
According to the Arizona Secretary of State's Office, 13 Arizona counties have accepted 133,671 early ballots out of the 602,233 that were sent as of Monday.
The Maricopa County Recorder's Office said Monday that it hit 600,000 ballots that were signature verified.
The Pima County Recorder's Office has recorded 137,919 ballots in its ballot turnover receipts as of Monday.
The unofficial results in the election will not be released until 8 p.m. on Election Day. Those results will not be made official until they are canvassed.
But what exactly does the process of counting ballots look like, and who does it?
The 12 News Plan Your Vote team is breaking that down for you.
Who is counting my ballot?
According to the Arizona Elections Procedures Manual provided by the Secretary of State's office, each county can begin tabulating early ballots 14 days before Election Day.
Since Election Day falls on Nov. 3, two weeks before then is Oct. 20.
All early and provisional ballots are processed by the county recorder before being transferred to the officer in charge of elections, who will then tabulate them at the central counting place.
Ballots that are cast on Election Day and are not processed or tabulated at the voting location are also taken to the central counting place for processing and tabulation.
Operations at the central counting place are conducted under the direction of the Board of Supervisors or the officer in charge of elections.
The central counting place may have 11 or more types of boards, which can also be combined at the discretion of the officer in charge of elections.
The Board of Supervisors or officer in charge of elections can appoint boards to tally results after the polls have closed.
More than one board may be appointed for each type of board:
- Receiving Board
- Inspection Board
- Central Counting Place Board
- Ballot Duplication Board
- Electronic Vote Adjudication Board
- Accuracy Certification Board
- Write-in Tally Board
- Provisional Ballot Board
- Special Election Board
- Audit Board
- Snag Board
The counties can also begin the signature verification process immediately.
Which leads us to our next question...
How are the signatures on my ballot verified?
According to the Arizona Secretary of State's Office, a county recorder or other officer in charge of elections will compare your signature on the affidavit with your signature in your registration record.
In addition to the voter registration form, the county recorder could also consult other signatures from other official election documents in your registration record, like signature rosters or early ballot/PEVL request forms.
That will help election officials determine whether the signature on the early ballot affidavit was made by the same person who is registered to vote.
If the official is satisfied that the signatures were made by the same person, they will put a distinguishing mark on the unopened affidavit envelope to show the signature is sufficient. They will also safely keep the early ballot and affidavit until they are transferred to the officer in charge of elections for further processing and tabulation.
However, if the official is not satisfied that the signatures were made by the same person, they will attempt to contact the voter by mail, phone, text message and/or email and allow them to correct or confirm the signature.
Voters must be allowed to correct or confirm an inconsistent signature until 5:00 p.m. on the fifth business day after the election, or Nov. 10.
If the early ballot affidavit is not signed, the county recorder cannot count it and must attempt to contact the voter and tell them that the affidavit was not signed.
They must also explain to the voter how they can cure the missing signature or cast a replacement ballot before 7 p.m. on Election Day.
How are the ballots processed and tabulated?
Early ballots must be verified using the signature verification process as was described above.
If the county recorder or other officer in charge of elections determines that the ballot should be rejected, they should indicate which ballot has been rejected, note the voter's ID number and the reason for rejection on the report or audit and set aside the unopened affidavit.
If they determine that the voter was sent the wrong ballot and there's enough time to get them a new ballot and receive the correct ballot back from the voter, the county recorder should make reasonable efforts to contact them and issue a correct ballot.
If it is too late to mail the correct ballot but is still possible to link the correct ballot to the specific voter, the incorrect ballot should be sent to the Ballot Duplication Board and any offices the issue could have voted for should be duplicated onto the correct ballot.
Once the Early Ballot Board receives the early ballots that have been batched and signature-verified by the county recorder or other officer in charge of elections, they should verify that the affidavit envelope reflects the current election code and verify that the voter on the envelope appears on the batch report list from the county recorder.
The vote is then counted if the county recorder determined that the affidavit is sufficient and the registrant is a qualified elector of the voting precinct. If the county recorder does not do either of those things, then the vote will not be counted.
If the early ballot is counted, then the Early Ballot Board should verify that all affidavit envelopes are in the batch being processed, enter the total on the early ballot report, open each accepted affidavit envelope, remove the ballot and ensure that it is for the current election, place the ballot in the proper stack and count the ballot, place the empty affidavit envelope in its proper stack and repeat the process until all valid ballots are opened and stacked accordingly.
After that, then the board will fill out the ballot transmittal slip and send ballots to tabulation.
The Early Ballot Board will "close out" each batch after calculating the total of affidavit envelopes received, ballots sent to the Ballot Duplication Board, rejected ballots and ballots sent to the central counting place.
They then must verify and audit those numbers against each applicable item, put the paperwork in the official envelope or official envelope container, keep a copy of the early ballot report or log and seal the official envelope or official envelope container.
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You can find more information on the election process in the Secretary of State's Arizona Elections Procedures Manual.