Arizona activists defend ballot deliveries

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX (AP) -- A coalition of Arizona advocacy groups defended its practice Wednesday of dropping off early ballots for voters.

The grassroots organizations are facing an outcry in the wake of surveillance video posted last week that shows a volunteer hand-delivering numerous ballots to a Maricopa County elections office a day before the Aug. 26 primary.

"It's a non-story. Nothing that they did was illegal," said Tony Navarrete, a spokesman for immigration advocacy group Promise Arizona.

The video has been viewed more than 360,000 times on YouTube.

A.J. LaFaro, the Republican Party's chairman for Maricopa County, said he witnessed the man, who is a canvasser for Citizens for a Better Arizona, dropping off a box full of ballots.

Lafaro said "ballot harvesting" raises issues about the security of those ballots before they're counted, even though signatures on ballot envelopes are checked by election workers.

"From the time those ballots are mailed to the time they're turned back in, lots of things can happen," LaFaro said.

Ramiro Luna, Citizens for a Better Arizona field director, said canvassers knock on doors and encourage voters to participate. But they are trained not to touch a ballot or mark it in any way, he said.

"The ballot is something we keep as sacred," he said. "All we are doing is providing a service to make sure the ballot is counted and is turned in on time."

LaFaro acknowledged the Republican Party has been doing the same thing when it sends get-out-the-vote volunteers to canvass neighborhoods.

"On occasion we offer to take their ballot and deliver it for them," LaFaro said. "If it's not illegal, we're going to make that offer."

But he argued it was on a much smaller scale compared to Democratic-leaning groups.

"We don't comprehend, nor do we subscribe to what we see out there on the progressive-socialist side," LaFaro said. "That gentleman bringing in several hundred ballots, what function does that serve? We still cannot comprehend why they do it."

Maricopa County Elections spokesman Daniel Ruiz said there is no law covering how a ballot gets to the poll. What counts is whether the ballot is signed and the signature can be verified. However, voters who don't plan on mailing a ballot or dropping it off in person should make sure to give it to someone they trust, Ruiz added.

The collection of ballots by groups like Citizens for a Better Arizona has become an issue in the Arizona secretary of state's race. The practice would have been banned under a major 2013 election law rewrite that the Legislature repealed this year.

"I see no reason why any individual, whether it's a candidate themselves, a campaign operative, a party individual, myself, you, anybody, should be in possession of an extraordinary number of ballots," Republican candidate Michele Reagan said at an Oct. 7 debate. "It creates a system where there is an opportunity for fraud, and that is not acceptable."

Democrat Terry Goddard agreed that banning mass collections should be considered, within limits.

"I agree that what Sen. Reagan occasionally calls harvesting is wrong and whatever that means should be abolished," Goddard said, while warning that not all collections should be banned. "Let's look carefully before we jump, because the thing at stake is your right and my right to vote, and it seems to me that under every circumstance we ought to protect that right."

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Associated Press writer Bob Christie contributed to this report.

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