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Late with your early ballot? Here are tips for making sure your vote is counted

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PHOENIX – Like 60 percent of Arizona voters, Jeff McMahon, a Democrat from Tempe, is on Arizona’s permanent early voting list. Unlike a large percentage of early voters, McMahon is vigilant about walking his early ballot to the post office at least a couple of weeks before Election Day.

“I have never missed an election in my life,” he said. “I know that some of the people I’m voting for and some of the issues I am voting on are decided by not a lot of people, so it matters that I get counted.”

The Secretary of State’s Office named Thursday, Oct. 30, the “deadline” for mailing in early ballot so they will arrive in time. As of Wednesday, however, about 36 percent of Maricopa County early ballots and 44 percent of Pima County early ballots had arrived at election offices.

The deadline is unofficial and was set as a guideline based on the time it takes a ballot to reach a county recorder’s office.

Matt Roberts, communication director for the Secretary of State’s Office, said if you didn’t get your ballot in the mail by Thursday, don’t.

“Don’t put it in the mail because it may or may not get here on time,” Roberts said. “If it arrives on Wednesday it won’t count.”

“But now is not the time to crumple up your early ballot,” Roberts added. “Walk it to the recorder’s office or walk it to a polling place.”

When a ballot is mailed early, it is counted early. Late-arriving early ballots are those delivered by mail to recorders’ offices Monday or later, delivered by voters to recorders’ offices before 7 p.m. on Election Day or are given to the workers at polling places on Election Day. Anything arriving at the recorder’s office after 7 p.m. on Election Day won’t be counted.

Roberts said counties receive many late-arriving early ballots as well provisional ballots, which are cast by those who fail to bring identification to polling places or show up at the wrong polling places, among other reasons.

State law gives counties 10 calendar days to process those ballots, which in past years has left many races undecided long after election day.

“Part of the frustration that is felt by citizens and the media is created by those who are not following the system,” Roberts said.

Chris Roads, chief deputy recorder for Pima County, said provisional ballots are the biggest reason election results are delayed.

“We can verify an early ballot in about 30 seconds, but a provisional ballot takes about five minutes,” Roads said. “There is more paperwork involved for the poll worker and for our office. It slows down the system quite a bit.”

Roads said that in the last election the largest number of provisional ballots cast in Pima County came from voters who had requested an early ballot but then showed up to the polls without that ballot in hand.

“In 2012 we processed 28,000 early ballots. Of those, 17,000 had requested an early ballot,” he said.

Daniel Ruiz, director of public affairs for Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, said he doesn’t want that to discourage those who’ve missed the mailing deadline from showing up at the polls.

“If you have the early ballot with you, bring it in the sealed envelope and all you will have to do is drop it off with the poll worker,” Ruiz said. “Just make sure it is in the sealed envelope.”

Arizona voters are allowed to drop off early ballots at any polling place on election day.

Roberts said there are many reasons a voter might miss the deadline.

“It is not always as simple as people forgetting to send it,” he said. “Some of them haven’t made their mind up, some are just out living their lives. But now within a week or two of the election they start worrying who they are voting for.”

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