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VERIFY: What's the best way for my child away in college to cast an Arizona ballot?

Phoenix mom's triplets are voting for the first time this year. But concerns about Postal Service have her wondering whether early ballot can be returned on time.

PHOENIX — Stephanie Papadopoulos’ 18-year-old triplets are sharing a milestone this year. 

“The first time you vote, it’s a right of passage and it’s a very important civic obligation,” the Phoenix mom said.

With all the questions surrounding on-time ballot delivery by the U.S. Postal Service, Stephanie is most concerned about daughter Susie, who’s away at college in Omaha, Nebraska.

Susie is registered on the permanent early voter list, so her first ballot will be delivered to her Phoenix home sometime after Oct. 7.

“What’s the timeline?” Stephanie asked. “I’ve got to mail a ballot to Omaha, Nebraska, and make sure she gets it back in time to be counted.”

We took Stephanie’s question to Reynaldo Valenzuela, Maricopa County’s co-elections director. Valenzuela has worked on county elections for almost 30 years.

We verified the right ways - and one very wrong way - to cast an early ballot from a long distance. 

The first way is to send the mail-in ballot on a round-trip from Phoenix to Nebraska and back to Phoenix.

“She could take that package in its entirety and mail it on to her daughter,” Valenzuela said.

Stephanie and her daughter would have to keep an eye on the calendar and count on the U.S. Postal Service:

  • Susie’s mail-in ballot should arrive at her Phoenix address sometime around Oct. 12.
  • Stephanie can then mail it to Susie in Omaha. It could take up to five days - this is where they have to trust the Post Office - so let’s say it arrives Oct. 17. 
  • The recommended deadline for putting a filled-out ballot in the mail in Phoenix is Oct. 27 - seven days before the election. 

“(Stephanie) would almost have to mail it immediately to make sure (Susie) mails it by the recommended seven-day return ahead of the election,” Valenzuela said.

So it’s doable, but you’re probably thinking FedEx is faster (but expensive).

The other way for Susie to vote is to have her mail-in ballot sent directly to her Nebraska address, not her family’s Phoenix home. 

Here’s how to do that, whether you’re a student away at school or a snowbird avoiding the heat:

  • This can only be done over the phone, by calling the county elections department at (602) 506 1511.

“It is a safety feature that requires them to call in to a staff member,” Valenzuela said.

  • You will have to verify your identity. 
  • The existing ballot will be voided and a new one sent out.

Valenzuela said he and other elections officials had contacted the manager in charge of the Phoenix post office that sorts early ballots. Valenzuela said he was told there were no changes to the equipment.

"The mail that’s been processed for a year now plus is at the same equipment or, at the very least, at the same speed which we’ve... recognized in the past," he said. "No equipment’s been taken down, no equipment’s been shelved."

Finally, here’s what you don’t want to do with an early ballot for someone who’s out of state: Do not fill it out and sign it for them. That would be illegal.

“It’s committing crimes on top of crimes,” Valenzuela said.