PHOENIX – In the face of a pandemic, Arizonans should not have to choose between their right to vote and their health, and that is true for the most vulnerable among us. As part of a comprehensive voter safety initiative, the Secretary of State has issued guidance and shared internal processes to ensure communities most affected by the pandemic are able to exercise their fundamental right to vote.
COVID-19 has made registering to vote extremely difficult for tribal communities because in-person voter registration efforts, both by election officials and civic engagement organizations, have been significantly curtailed. Additionally, online registration is often not available to these Arizonans due to lack of internet access and/or lack of an Arizona driver's license or state identification card, which is necessary to register online through ServiceArizona.
"In response to these valid concerns, my office developed a process for staff to provide limited assistance to eligible Arizonans in initiating the submission of a paper voter registration form by the registration deadline if the voter cannot register through ServiceArizona and cannot otherwise submit a complete voter registration form on their own by the deadline," Secretary Katie Hobbs said.
"After determining an individual is eligible to register and has no other way to do so, our staff will assist with filling out a paper form at the individual's direction over the phone, signing on the assister line on the form, and submitting the form to the County Recorder on the voter's behalf to ensure an initial submission by the applicable deadline."
The Secretary of State's Office would mail the voter a copy of the form, with instructions to sign and return the signed copy to the County Recorder in order to complete their registration and become an active registered voter.
Arizona law, A.R.S. § 16-134(B), expressly contemplates that counties may receive incomplete forms and specifies that if the missing information is provided by 7 p.m. on Election Day, the voter is deemed to have been registered on the date the registration was first received.
"My office has a plan in place to follow up with any Arizonan who initiates a voter registration application through this process to ensure they receive the information they need to complete their registration," Hobbs added.
The Secretary of State's Office also provided nonbinding guidance for county election officials with recommendations on assisting voters in long term care and similar facilities when visitation restrictions due to COVID-19 prohibit entering the facilities.
"The recommendations include, as a last resort, using video conferencing technology to allow Special Election Boards to assist voters when entry into the facility is prohibited and the voter needs assistance marking their ballot but cannot enlist the help of someone in the facility," Hobbs said.
Special Election Boards are not a new feature of Arizona elections. Arizona law, A.R.S. § 16-579, has long authorized counties to appoint and deploy Special Election Boards to assist voters who are unable to go to the polls due to illness or physical disability.
"What is new is that we are facing an unprecedented global pandemic, in which Arizona has been an epicenter of infection. Therefore, these facilities, for good reason, have imposed strict visitation restrictions and for some of these voters who are elderly, ill, or living with a disability, assistance from a Special Election Board using videoconferencing technology is the only way they will be able to vote."
Hobbs added that the Governor's position that this is unlawful is not only wrong, and surprising given his staff's involvement in the development of the guidance, but will result in the disenfranchisement of some of the most vulnerable Arizonans.
"I am fulfilling my obligations under the law and am doing everything I can within the contours of our constitution and laws to protect and promote the right to vote, especially for those most vulnerable among us and those most gravely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. I will continue to do so despite these baseless attacks premised on misinformation and political opportunism," Hobbs said.