Activist Groups Call Foul On Election Practices in Arizona

PHOTO: A sign points voters in the direction of a polling place in Maricopa County, Arizona in 2010.
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A series of missteps by Arizona election officials have some advocacy groups wondering whether the acts are actually intentional attempts to deter would-be voters.

Last week, election officials in Maricopa County listed the wrong election date on voter-registration cards written in Spanish, but the correct date on the English version. They erroneously named Nov. 8, two days after the actual Nov. 6 election date, as the last day to cast ballots.

The Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell also told voters last week that their early ballots could not be delivered to the post office or the county by anyone other than the person named on the ballot.

A local CBS station reports that Purcell said, "Being in custody of someone else's ballot without their permission is a Class 5 Felony."

While it is indeed a felony to vote in someone else's name, it is certainly not illegal for a person to ask someone to drop a sealed, perfectly viable ballot in the mailbox or at the county office.

It is also not illegal for volunteer groups such as Promise Arizona in Action to pick up and deliver early ballots.

Purcell issued a statement on Tuesday denying that she told the reporter it was a felony.

"First of all, I never said that it is illegal, much less a Class 5 felony, to collect, possess and deliver ballots of voters. Indeed, this office has worked cooperatively with a host of organizations, of all parties and persuasions, to assist voters get their ballots to the polls."

On Tuesday of this week, bookmarks printed and distributed by the County Recorder's office also had the correct election date on the English-language side, but the wrong date (Nov. 8 again) on the Spanish-language side.

Purcell also addressed the erroneous date in her Tuesday statement: "Concerning the regrettable error on the Spanish-language Voter ID and bookmark: I wish I could say we never made a mistake in this office. But we do. However, the suggestion that this office would be a party to a dark conspiracy to depress voter turnout among any constituency or ethnic group is contrary to the history, the commitment and ideals of this office, my staff and my life's work," she wrote.

"That's three strikes for Purcell, and she knows it," said Rudy Lopez, national political director for the Campaign for Community Change in a statement. "Purcell has made it hard not to suspect an obvious attempt at the County Recorder's office to suppress Latino voters."

The Democratic-leaning activist group has accused Republican election officials of suppressing the Hispanic vote in Arizona.

Controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a vocal proponent of tough immigration policies, and Republican Rep. Jeff Flake are both fighting tough campaigns.

"With Arpaio and Flake in close election bids, no other conclusion can be drawn but that these officials have decided to throw their ethical and legal obligations aside and suppress the vote in a last ditch effort to save their candidates," Lopez said.

A spokesperson for the Flake campaign declined to comment and the Arpaio campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

A case was also filed against Purcell in late 2011 alleging that she improperly rejected signatures on a petition to recall the Fountain Hills vice mayor.

Tea Party-backed groups such as True the Vote, which says it upholds election integrity by watching polls and looking for voter fraud, have spawned offshoots, including Verify the Vote in Arizona.

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