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N4T Investigators: Ballot Bounce

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TUCSON (KVOA) - The News 4 Tucson Investigators analyzed federal election data and found more than a thousand ballots were rejected in Pima County in the 2018 General Election.

What happens if your ballot is rejected? Do you ever find out? We took those questions to Arizona election officials while investigating Arizona's mail-in ballot rejection rates.

More than 8,000 Arizonan's mail-in ballots were rejected in the 2018 General Election.

While digging into federal election data the News 4 Tucson Investigators found Cochise and Santa Cruz counties had some of the biggest rejection percentages. Pima County had the second-largest number of rejected ballots.

1,216 Pima County voter's mail-in ballots were labeled rejected. That's only around 0.4% but what if it was your vote? What if it is your vote in the upcoming election?   

The News 4 Tucson Investigators asked F. Ann Rodriguez, the Pima County Recorder what a rejected ballot is.

“I don’t like your word rejected," Rodriguez said.

She said some ballots have issues. They’re not all rejected.  

“We reach out to the voter. If they don’t, you know, include the ballot affidavit, we will send them a second ballot...," Rodriquez said. "As we get closer to election day it will be too late to send them another ballot so, we call the voter...”  

She said they'll tell the voter they can still vote in- person at an early voting site or on a provisional ballot at their assigned polling location.   

Nearly 400 Santa Cruz County voters mail-in ballots were rejected. That’s about 3.8%. The national average was less than 1%.

2.2% of Cochise County voters mail-in ballots were rejected.  

“That 2.2.% ...almost all of that is just undeliverable mail," David Stevens, the Cochise County Recorder said.

He said they started using a new system. It coded some ballots as rejected then undeliverable, instead of just undeliverable.    

“The post office tried to deliver it and it was unable to deliver it and they sent it back to me," Stevens said.

The News 4 Tucson Investigators asked him what gets a ballot rejected.

“They’re received too late, mismatched signature, no signature at all," Stevens said.

Don’t use red pens, sharpies or pencils on your ballot.

Use a black or blue pen and make sure your signature matches your state ID.

Most Arizona counties’ rejection rates were less than 1%. Greenlee County's was 4.5%, Santa Cruz County's was 3.8%, Gila County's was 3.2% and Apache County's was 3%.

Bowen Udall, Apache County’s Deputy Recorder said a large portion of their rejected ballots were also returned as undeliverable.  

“When the ballot comes back undeliverable, we have to log it in the system and we have to reject the ballot because we can’t have a live ballot floating around," Udall said.

If someone didn’t get their ballot or wants to change their vote then the first ballot must be rejected before a second is sent.  

If the post office can’t deliver a ballot, Udall said it’s usually because voters forgot to update their address.   

“...Even if they have a forwarding address, it comes back as undeliverable," Udall said.

We asked the Pima County Recorder if a person is alerted if their ballot is rejected.

“You’re alerted if you forgot a step," Rodriguez said.

That’s if  they can figure out who you are. 

“...If they just have the yellow envelope with the ballot and no return address, we don’t know who it is," Rodriguez said.

Want to find out if there are issues with your ballot? 

  • Include your phone number so your recorder can reach out if there's a problem.
  • Track the progress of your ballot online. 
  • Call your recorder’s office to update your address if needed.

The Cochise County Recorder said after we brought the issue to their attention, they have begun working on updating their numbers with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

The Pima County Recorders Office suggests you mail-in your ballot by October 27th at the latest. Learn more about voting in Pima County here.

If you have a story you’d like for us to investigate email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 955-4444.

Alexis Berdine

Alexis Berdine is an Investigative Multi-Media Journalist at KVOA.

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