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Here's why Arizona voters should wait before casting early ballot for primary

Voters will get mail-in ballots this weekend. But a lot will happen in the Democratic presidential campaign between now and the March 17 primary.

PHOENIX — Early ballots go out Wednesday in Arizona for a Democratic presidential primary that's still four weeks away, on March 17

In a typical election, 70 to 75 percent of the voters in Maricopa County - the must-win county for any statewide candidate - cast their mail-in ballots before Election Day. 

Here are at least seven reasons voters should hold on their ballots, perhaps up until March 17:

First seven reasons:  Voters will receive a ballot that lists 18 Democratic candidates. At least seven of them have dropped out of the race since the ballot order was set in December. Some of the remaining 11 will likely abandon their campaigns after a brutal stretch of March primaries.

If you're the kind of voter who doesn't want to waste a vote on a candidate who's not in the race March 17, hold on to that ballot. 

Credit: Secretary of State Katie Hobbs /Facebook
Arizona voters will receive a primary ballot that lists 18 Democratic candidates. At least seven of them have dropped out since the ballot order was set in December.

Brutal March primary calendar: For all the attention paid to the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, they account for just a smidge of the almost 4,000 delegates up for grabs, a total of 155 delegates, just 4 percent of the total available. Those delegates will ultimately pick the presidential nominee at the Democratic convention in the summer.

"Super Tuesday," on March 3, will award one-third of the delegates available - 1,344. There are more than a dozen primaries on that day, including California and Texas. Super Tuesday is usually followed by "drop out Wednesday," when campaigns abandon all hope.

By the time Arizona is done voting on March 17, more than 60 percent of the delegates will have been awarded.

But wait ... there's a debate: Two days before the March 17 presidential preference election, CNN will host a live debate at 6 p.m. March 15 in Phoenix. (The location and ticket availability haven't been announced.)

The Phoenix debate could carry the highest stakes of any of Democratic debate to date: a smaller field of candidates, with perhaps just a few having the party's presidential nomination within reach. 

"One of the things we're seeing in the election of late is a lot of late-deciding voters," Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez said during a Phoenix visit Monday.

"We saw in New Hampshire ... the debates made a difference."

So what to do? If you've waited till March 15 to fill out a mail-in ballot, you'll have to drop it off at a polling place on March 17. 

The suggested deadline for putting early ballots in the mail is March 11. 

The wild card: Here's where the debate becomes a wild card for the people running our elections: 

Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo told me on last weekend's "Sunday Square Off" that if large numbers of voters do show up with early ballots, it could be the kind of Election Day surprise that scrambles the best-laid plans for a smooth vote.

Are elections officials ready? This will be the first Maricopa County election in almost 70 years run by the five-member County Board. 

When it took over responsibility for Election Day under an agreement with the county recorder's office, the County Board set itself up with a gold-plated plan: millions of dollars for new equipment and elections staffing.  

Gallardo says there will be line monitors at polls to direct voters to the right place. 

One of the contributors to the 2016 presidential primary fiasco was a large number of people who clogged lines at the polls but either weren't registered or eligible to vote. 

Gallardo has another piece of advice for voters: Double check your polling place before heading out. The location could be different from where you cast a ballot in 2018 or 2016. 

"Sunday Square Off" airs at 8 a.m. Sundays on 12 News, after NBC's "Meet the Press," with moderator Chuck Todd. 

You can find past "Square Off" segments online at 12news.com/YouTube.