In an email exchange with The Arizona Sun Times this week, a Maricopa County Recorder’s office spokesperson may have unwittingly admitted that the county mishandled thousands of ballots from the 2020 general election that one watchdog groups says were accepted after the legal deadline.
Megan Gilbertson, the communications director for the Maricopa County Elections Department (MCED) – a department of the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office – said that the department processed ballots by scanning them into the tabulating machines at MCED before transferring their custody the next day to Runbeck Election Services, which verifies their legitimacy with signature verification.
She stated, “Due to the large volumes of early ballots received Election Day, we are scanning in early ballots received by 7 p.m. on Election Day well into the next morning, which is why a transfer of custody document would have a date after Election Day.”
In an earlier email, Gilbertson noted that “early ballot envelope signatures that are cured would also be tracked and scanned after Election Day until the curing deadline. None of these ballots would be marked as rejected, as they were all received by the Elections Department prior to 7 p.m. on Election Day.”
Gilbertson added that although the receipts are dated after Election Day, the ballots weren’t late because they were either cured ballots (Arizona law provides five days after an election to cure ballots) or took extra time to transport to Runbeck, their third-party private vendor, due to scanning them first at MCED.
Maricopa County elections officials contracted with Runbeck Election Services, a Phoenix-based business founded in 1972 by Chuck Runbeck. According to the company’s website, the firm specializes in “customized election solutions, reaching more than 70 million voters” and touts its services “are conducted from our state-of-the-art, secure facility – designed specifically for the production of election-related materials.”
The county contracted with Runbeck Election Services to provide signature verification for the ballot affidavits contained on the ballot envelopes.
The ballot receipts, the county spokesperson said, are drawn up when MCED drops the ballots off with Runbeck for verification – not when they come in from the United States Postal Service (USPS).
She wrote, “We have bipartisan staff that pick up envelopes from USPS. That staff delivers these envelopes, each with a unique intelligent barcode, to the Elections Department. The envelopes picked up from the post office are then delivered to Runbeck along with the early ballot affidavits dropped off at voting locations on Election Day.”
The Sun Times asked Gilbertson to confirm her statement that ballots go directly from USPS to MCED first, then to Runbeck.
“Yes,” she answered.
The Sun Times shared the information from Gilbertson with an Arizona election lawyer, who said that under the state’s elections law, tabulating an unverified ballot is a crime.
The attorney pointed to three separate provisions of Arizona state law.
First, 16-550(A) of the Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS) states that the first action by elections officials upon the receipt of a ballot is to verify its authenticity by comparing the signature on the affidavit (on the envelope) to the corresponding signature in the county record.
A. On receipt of the envelope containing the early ballot and the ballot affidavit, the county recorder or other officer in charge of elections shall compare the signatures thereon with the signature of the elector on the elector’s registration record. If the signature is inconsistent with the elector’s signature on the elector’s registration record, the county recorder or other officer in charge of elections shall make reasonable efforts to contact the voter, advise the voter of the inconsistent signature and allow the voter to correct or the county to confirm the inconsistent signature.
Second is ARS 16-1009, which classifies the offense for public officer(s) who do not follow the procedures in the way the law describes.
A public officer upon whom a duty is imposed by this title, who knowingly fails or refuses to perform that duty in the manner prescribed by law, is guilty of a class 3 misdemeanor.
Third is ARS 16-1010, which further classifies an election official’s failure to follow lawful procedure with regards to elections.
A person charged with performance of any duty under any law relating to elections who knowingly refuses to perform such duty, or who, in his official capacity, knowingly acts in violation of any provision of such law, is guilty of a class 6 felony unless a different punishment for such act or omission is prescribed by law.
Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward told The Sun Times, “I don’t trust a word that comes out of the Maricopa County Election’s Department nor from the County Recorder and his staff. They’ve got a history of incompetence, law breaking, and obfuscation related to election integrity and this is just another instance. … it looks like they’ve got something to hide.”
– – –