Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s re-election campaign launched a robocall yesterday warning that county officials don’t want voters to give their early ballot to anyone who offers to deliver it to the recorder’s office.
But that warning, the elections officials say, is not accurate.
Arpaio’s campaign manager, Chad Willems, said he got the idea for the robocall after the local CBS affiliate KPHO ran a story Thursday that attributed Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell with saying that it’s a felony for anyone to possess a ballot that doesn’t belong to them.
“It sort of made it sound, to me, like if you carry a ballot for someone, that’s a felony,” Willems said.
The robocall went to Republican and independent voters who had requested early ballots, but who had not yet mailed them back. Willems declined to say how many people received the call.
Questioned after KPHO ran the story, Purcell said the TV station got her message wrong. Her point was that it is illegal for someone posing as a county official to collect ballots from voters, she said, adding she had heard two reports of that happening.
Hispanic political groups note that under Arizona law, the approach they’ve been using to increase voter turnout is legal.
Groups such as Promise Arizona in Action and Citizens for a Better Arizona have deployed a strategy where volunteers go door-to-door in heavily Hispanic areas, urging eligible voters to register and sign up for the early voting list. The volunteers return when they know ballots have been mailed to voters, offer to collect the ballots and turn them into the recorder’s office.
Leaders from the groups say the strategy has helped boost voter participation in Maricopa County by tens of thousands, most of whom are first-time voters.
The leaders and their attorneys maintain the strategy is perfectly legal, and Purcell agrees, as long as they do not pretend to be county officials, and as long as they actually deliver the ballots.
But the leaders say the doubt cast on the strategy could mean some voters will be dissuaded from participating in this year’s election. Although volunteers continue to offer to help people cast their early ballot by taking it to the county recorder’s office, activists fear some people now think it’s a crime to do so.
Willems said he spoke with Purcell today and that she told him to remove the part of the script that mentioned county officials wanting voters not to give their ballot to anyone who asks to deliver it. But Willems said the robocall campaign is now finished.
KPHO’s story also said that Purcell said “if anyone comes to your door wanting to pick up your ballot, call police,” but Purcell said she never said that.
Leona Wood, an assistant news director at KPHO, said she has full confidence in her reporter’s story and that any claims of misinformation spring from taking isolated bits of the story out of context.