Ken Bennett

Ken Bennett, Arizona Secretary of the State

Tribune file

A cooling-off period for new voter registrations that sometimes follows November elections has not occurred in Arizona, and the state’s top elections officer said the convenience of signing up online is a big reason.

The latest registration figures in Arizona show an increase of 63,307 since last year’s election, with most of those coming online, Secretary of State Ken Bennett said.

“We’re very pleased. given the economic challenges and all that, and sometimes there is a little bit of a dip after a general election,” Bennett said. “It was good to see that more people are choosing to participate in the process.”

Elections officials have touted such programs as online registration and early mail-in ballots as effective ways to increase voter turnout. Last year, about 850,000 early ballots were issued in Maricopa County, and Bennett said that 7 of 10 registered voters statewide are using the program.

Concerns of the potential for fraud have been raised, particularly regarding voting by mail, but Bennett said proper safeguards are in place. Each mail-in ballot requires a signature, which is checked against the signature in the voter’s file — which does not happen at a polling place.

“We have to be careful about using the word ‘ease’ about registration and voting, so we don’t ever communicate that those things are not being checked, because they are,” Bennett said. “I would use ‘convenience,’ especially with the online system. It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one to use.”

However, Bennett said he does not favor an all-mail election, which Oregon has used since 1998. He said a combination of voting by mail and at polling places is the most cost-effective.

Also, while early mail-in ballots in Arizona are sent only to those requesting them, an all-mail election requires ballots delivered to all registered voters, whether they intend to vote or not.

“That would leave a lot of ballots floating around,” Bennett said.

Oro Valley and Sahuarita conduct all-mail voting for their municipal elections, and Tucson — which holds partisan city council and mayoral elections — plans to do so this year. The Legislature hoped to stop Tucson’s mail election, but the amendment that would have done so was in SB 1331, which Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed last week.

“There are potential flaws with mail-in only ballots,” state Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Vail, told the Arizona Daily Star, citing 85 Sahuarita ballots that were misplaced by the U.S. Postal Service in April.

Pima County recorder F. Ann Rodriguez told the Star that 1.6 million mail-in ballots have been issued by the county over the last 10 years.

“(So) this is a very rare occurrence,” Rodriguez said.

In Oregon, 15 million people cast ballots by mail from 2000-10, and thousands of fraud complaints have resulted in nine prosecutions, Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown wrote in a guest column for The Oregonian last year.

“Most complaints are well-intentioned, but unfounded,” Brown wrote.

Another notable development in the recent Arizona registration numbers was a rise in independents. There were 48,023 new voters who did not designate a party preference, putting the statewide total at 1,030,500.

Independents now outnumber Democrats (1,007,124 registered) and are gaining on Republicans (1,142,045).

“The independents continue to grow fast, while the parties have been pretty stable,” Bennett said. “The way the pace is going, it looks like they will catch Republicans in a couple of years.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6301 or dzeiger@evtrib.com

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