Thousands of early ballots hit the mail Thursday in Pima County.
With more than 80 percent of voters expected to mail in their ballots this election, early voting is now an important element that’s changing the way politicians campaign. It’s also become a contentious issue between Republicans and Democrats.
Early voting has increasingly become a major part of election season in Arizona, with a record number of voters casting early ballots in the August primary. It’s changing the way candidates run, as many voters mail in their ballots weeks before the Election Day.
While the option to skip waiting in line at the polls makes voting more convenient, not everyone agrees that convenience is advantageous to the election process.
“I’m not sold on early ballots," said Carolyn Cox, chairman of the Pima County Republican Party.
She said early voting disrupts an opportunity for voters to feel a sense of community at the polls on Election Day.
“I think that it was really kind of a nice community event that everybody went to Election Day, to the polling place. It was sort of a patriotic thing to do, now it becomes another thing that doesn’t mean a whole lot," she said.
Cox said she sees a number of problems with the majority of voters mailing in their ballots. In her view, there’s too many opportunities for people to misplace their ballots, or to forget to mail them in by the deadline. She is also concerned that if officials have a large number of mail-in ballots arriving at the last minute, it could cause delays on election night.
“When people wait until the very last minute to turn in their ballots, it causes problems because then you have all these ballots stacking up, and you see, somebody has to check all those signatures," she said. "When they all come in on Election Day, it simply means that those ballots are not going to be counted by election night and it just drags that process out.”
Don Jorgensen, chair of the Pima County Democratic Party, is critical of the negatives Republicans such as Cox see in the increasing number of early voters.
“Republicans really like it when they can intimidate voters at the ballot and we know that that’s happened, there at the churches with religious signs or the Second Amendment extremists with the guns," he said. "That’s not a sense of community, that’s intimidation. We’ve seen reports of that often.”
He said mail-in ballots are a way for more people to participate in the voting process.
“...it benefits the working class, it benefits folks who are less mobile, whether elderly or disabled for one reason or another. So it increases access to people voting," he said.
There’s one result of the public shift toward early ballots that Democrats and Republicans agree on: it’s changing the way campaigns are run for all politicians.
Jorgensen said, when people can decide on a candidate weeks before Election Day, candidates have far less time to appeal for votes.
“Typically, you would look toward gearing everything up to the finale, November 4th this year," he said "Well, ballots now drop October 9th, so what that means Election Day isn’t a month from now, election period starts a week from now," he said.
While Jorgensen doesn’t necessarily see this as a problem, Cox said it causes more stress on candidates.
“Just because it shortens the time that you have to campaign, so it becomes much more intensive and it cuts down on the opportunity for the candidates to go and meet their constituents, just because you don’t have the time to do that," she said.
Even if candidates may find it difficult to reach as many voters as in past elections, early voting is not going away anytime soon. It’s cost-effective for local governments and popular with voters.
Jorgensen said there’s another little-known benefit for those who vote early, they’ll stop receiving the dreaded robocall.
“Once they submit that ballot and send it in, pretty quickly they’ll stop getting calls," he said. "Because the campaigns keep track of, not how someone voted, but just whether the ballot came in. Therefore, once we know you’ve already voted, we stop calling.”
According to the Pima County Recorder’s Office more than 300,000 voters will receive early ballots this month.
The general election is Nov. 4.