Voter Initiative Short on Valid Signatures

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The “Top Two Primary” initiative designed to change how Arizona’s primary elections are conducted might not make it to the ballot after the Maricopa County Elections Department found a high percentage of petition signatures are invalid. County Elections Director Karen Osborne explains what her department found during the signature verification process.

Ted Simons: A voter initiative to change the way primary elections are conducted does not have enough valid petition 2 signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The so-called top two primary initiatives needed nearly 260,000 valid signatures to make it to the ballot. Organizers turned in almost 100,000 more than they needed, but in Maricopa County, more than 1 in 3 signatures could not be validated. Here to tell us more about that and the signature verification process is Maricopa county elections director Karen Osborne. It's good to see you, thanks for joining us.
Karen Osborne: Happy to be here.
Ted Simons: As far as this issue is concerned, this particular initiative, what were you finding in these petition signatures and petitions as a whole?

Karen Osborne: In the petition as a whole, we found that there were 4,314 signatures that were not valid. And about 3,000 of those, 3,200, were people who were simply not registered in Maricopa County. We make every effort in the world to find those people on the file. We go through two and three checks to try to find them, but they simply were not registered here.

Ted Simons: And in terms of registration information, they disappeared? They couldn't be found?

Karen Osborne: They were -- perhaps they were canceled because they moved. They could have been in the -- in any of the situations where they thought they were registered but they weren't. People in a situation where you're in a parking lot, they call it like-me signatures. They say are you registered to vote, yes, I am, and they are not registered to vote. There are 3,200 people that we made every single effort to go back and look and look and look. Common names, we went through those names time and time again to try to find them and match up that signature.

Ted Simons: Is that often the thing that invalidates most petitions, is that a biggie usually?

Karen Osborne: It does, and that's throughout the state. That is the biggest category that any of us have.

Ted Simons: Okay. What other irregularities with the signatures not matching, addresses, dates, these sorts of things? What were you finding out there?

Karen Osborne: We found duplicates; there were 82 duplicates, people signing more than once. We found signatures, addresses that were not any place in Maricopa County. We found -- that's the normal. There were 147 people I believe that signed the petition and then registered after. So you have to be registered before you sign the petition.

Ted Simons: Indeed and I know it's a big concern to the group that's pushing the proposal. We're going to have them on in a second but as far as the numbers are concerned, again, out of the ordinary, unusual, do you see initiative petitions all the time? Was this standing out for some reason?

Karen Osborne: This petition was very similar to the ones we have had this year. But when you have the more neighbor to neighbor circulation of petitions as in Glendale on their tax issue, that one we got done testing not very long ago and it was only 20% invalid. So I think it's more the atmosphere of the circulation. But it is not just that Maricopa has one rate and Pima has another. Coconino has a rate that's 10% behind Pima. So it just depends on what the atmosphere of the circulation was, because we all checked the same thing. We checked the signature, where you registered in that county on that day.

Ted Simons: And critics will look at this and say because there was so much more in Maricopa County than other counties, something must be different here. Has the verification process changed, has it evolved, are there new computers, are there stricter guidelines?

Karen Osborne: No, the method for checking signatures remains the same. It has always been a little higher here than in some of the other counties. But it is the same process. We use the same computer system. We use the same standards and methods; we look at the signatures the same way. This is -- most of the signatures this time on some of the other petitions had a higher invalidity rate than this one ended up having but we are just one of the 15 counties.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask because it sounds like a lot more. You said often Maricopa County has more invalid signatures than other counties. It is always 10%, 11% more invalid as it was this time?

Karen Osborne: It has been on this generation of issues that have come up. We were 10% more invalid than Pima on several of the statewide petitions that have come up.

Ted Simons: Last question, there's some groups out there who are coming together and saying we found criminals doing this, felons doing this, all sorts of folks. How much access does the public have to these petitions so that they can go over them themselves in certain ways and find out, get their own results? If they can do that, what are you doing? [ Laughter ]

Karen Osborne: Well, we can always use their help. No, the people that are talking about who circulated the petitions, we don't even get the back of the petitions. That doesn't come to the county level because you don't have to be registered to circulate a petition. You don't even have to live in Arizona but you have to register with the secretary of state and be able to be able to be served process. That is one thing that has changed over the years and it is -- the people who do the circulation can come to our office during the time they're circulating, use our computers and check to see are these people registered? In some cases, they go to the political parties and look at their files, but our file is dynamic. It's minute by minute and we always think that's best.

Ted Simons: And the bottom line is nothing has changed, it's not more strict than in past validation processes and its basically -- nothing is all that different this time around, just the numbers are bigger in Maricopa County by 10, 11%.

Karen Osborne: It is what it is.

Ted Simons: It's good to have you here.

Karen Osborne: Thank you, thank you.

Karen Osborne:Director, County Elections;

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