Fact Finders: How secure is my vote-by-mail ballot?

KOLD FACT FINDERS: Mail-in ballots

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A spike in COVID-19 cases has more people considering voting by mail.

However, some government officials have expressed concerns that more mail voting will lead to widespread voter fraud.

The KOLD Fact Finders turned to Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez to learn how safe and reliable it is to vote-by-mail.

“Mailing ballots is not new to the state of Arizona. We’ve been doing it since 1992,” said Rodriguez.

In fact, she said about almost 80 percent of Pima County residents already vote-by-mail.

Rodriguez said her office’s IT staff works alongside the Pima County government’s IT staff to make sure security measures are in place and tested.

“We have hired professionals to come in to see if they can break our system. We have all of the latest technology to make sure our database is secure,” Rodriguez said.

She said the signature checking process has expanded over the years.

“We are trained by a forensic expert, a handwriting expert,” Rodriguez said. “We are locked down. We even have checks and balances for if somebody is requesting the same ballot coming from an e-mail address. It sends us red alerts. We know what to look for.”

She said it is important to put a daytime phone number on your ballot (there’s a place for it) because if there are any problems, staff will contact you.

“We will ask the voter pertinent information to make sure we are talking to the actual voter, to make sure the signature is there,” Rodriguez said.

If you receive you ballot by mail, but you do not feel comfortable mailing it back, you can drop it off at an early voting site.

“We are going to be doing drive up, drop of your ballot at these locations,” Rodriguez said.

If you do choose to mail in your ballot, just put it in the pre-paid envelope.

Rodriguez hopes this year, residents will do more than share their political opinions on social media.

“Putting your opinion on Facebook and if you don’t vote, what good did it do?” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said her office is available to answer any voting questions residents may have.

“Somebody is going to get elected, folks. Somebody is going to make decisions, you might as well have a choice on who that person will be,” Rodriguez said.

How are ballots tracked and verified?

According to the Pima County Recorder’s Office, when staff receives the mail, the ballots are only processed when at least two people with different party affiliations are present to observe the process. When ballots are not being processed, they are kept in a restricted access location with multiple locking devices to secure that location. The locking devices include a computer tracked electronic locking mechanism as well as mechanical locking devices.

The Recorder’s Office staff will remove the yellow envelope and examine the sealed white ballot by mail affidavit for signs of tampering. If there is no indication of a problem, the signature on the affidavit will be compared with the signature on their voter registration form. A computer inventory is generated for each ballot processed and accepted by the signature verification operator.

Once the ballots are processed, two staff members (with different party affiliations) will verify the computer generated inventory with the actual sealed ballot by mail affidavit envelopes containing the ballots to ensure all are present.

The ballots (still sealed in the affidavit envelopes) will then be transferred to the Pima County Elections Department. The staff of that department will then re-check the inventory. The Elections Department staff is responsible for removing your ballot from the sealed white ballot by mail affidavit envelope and then processing the ballot for tabulation.

At all times when the ballots by mail are present in the Recorder’s Office, staff will only work on or handle the sealed ballot affidavits containing the ballots when employees with different political party affiliations are present. Political party observers may also be present to watch the process.

Lists of all voters who requested a ballot by mail and a separate listing of the voters who returned their ballot by mail are provided to the major political parties on a daily basis. The parties then use this information to monitor the ballot processing and tabulation by the Elections Department as an audit over the process.

At any time a problem is detected in processing a ballot by mail while it is in the possession of the Recorder’s Office, the voter is notified by phone (if a number is available) and/or by mail. If any ballot is to be disqualified, the voter is notified and provided an opportunity to correct the problem or receive another ballot. Voters can also track the status of their ballot by mail through the Recorder’s Office processing by clicking here.

Rodriguez said if you are temporarily away from your residence, it is important to know the post office will not forward your ballot to your temporary location. If you know you are gong to be away from home and have requested a ballot by mail or you are on a Permanent Early Voting List, you should contact their office at 520-724-4330. Her office will mail your ballot directly to the temporary address. The United States Postal Service will not forward a ballot to a different address even if that is only temporarily being used as an address.

How can I track my vote-by-mail ballot?

For those voters who have already requested a vote-by-mail ballot, they can track the status of their ballot online by clicking here.

This will tell you:

1. When your vote-by-mail ballot request was received

2. The date your vote-by-mail ballot was mailed

3. The date your vote-by-mail ballot was received at the Recorder’s office and if it has been referred for signature verification

4. If there is a problem with your vote-by-mail ballot, it will ask you to contact the office. It is important you contact them if you receive this message. Otherwise, it will give you the date your vote-by-mail ballot was turned over to Department of Elections for tabulation.

How do I request a vote-by-mail ballot?

To request your ballot by mail online, click here. You can also request one by phone by calling the Pima County Recorder’s Office at 520-724-4330. To request one by mail, click here to print out a PDF form.

How do I return my ballot by mail?

Place your voted ballot in the postage paid envelope provided to you, seal and sign the envelope, then return it to the Pima County Recorder’s Office by mail at Pima County Recorder, P.O. Box 3145, Tucson AZ 85702-3145. You can also deliver in person to 240 N Stone Avenue or drop it off at any Pima County polling place on election day.

Who may request a ballot by mail?

You must be registered to vote at least 29 days before the election day. You must be 18-years-old on or before the day of the election. You must reside within the jurisdiction to qualify to vote for that election. To check to see if you are eligible for any elections at this time, click here.

In-person early voting at the downtown recorders’ office, east side office and recorder’s ballot processing center is available Wednesday, July 8 through Friday, July 31st.

All registered voters who are registered in the Democratic party, the Republican Party, the Green Party and the Libertarian party, and are on the Permanent Early Voting List (PEVL) will automatically receive a ballot by mail for this election.

All registered voters who are on the PEVL and are not registered to one of the above parties need to contact the Pima County Recorder’s Office by clicking here, or calling 520-724-4330.

Are ballots by mail really counted or are they only counted in close elections?

Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez said all valid ballots by mail that are returned prior to the deadline are processed and counted. In fact, in Pima County and many other counties in Arizona, the majority of votes case in all elections are by early voters. Ballots by mail that are returned in advance of Election Day are processed and counted prior to Election Day. By law, the results may not be released prior to 8 p.m. on election night. The results from those ballots by mail are released with the first election results just after 8 o.m. on election night. Those ballots are returned on election day or just prior to it, will be processed and counted as soon as possible after Election Day. In many elections, the political parties have observers present whenever ballots are being processed to ensure the legal requirements are met. The closeness of the race does not determine whether or not a ballot by mail is processed. By law, all valid ballots by mail are tabulated even when the results of the election are a landslide victory.

Why is there a deadline for requesting a ballot by mail?

The deadline is designed to make certain you receive your ballot in time to mark the ballot and mail it back to the Recorder’s office prior to Election Day. The number of ballot by mail requests that are received on the last day determines how quickly they are mailed out. For city and town elections when the volume is low, the requests received on Friday afternoon are generally mailed on that same day. In large elections such as Presidential Elections, it is common to receive several thousand requests on the last day. These large volumes will then be mailed the following Monday.

I mailed by ballot by mail but I have changed my mind. Can I receive another ballot or go to the polling place to vote on Election Day?

No. A ballot by mail is an official ballot. Under Arizona law, once you have voted, you may not vote a second time in the same election. If your ballot has been returned or processed, you have already voted in the election and cannot vote again.

To request a ballot by mail in Pima County, click here.

To check your registration information, click here.

To update your voter registration information, click here.

To learn more about early and emergency voting sites, click here.

To view the primary election schedule, click here.

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