How all-mail elections impact homeless and disabled voters


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Maricopa County is considering a switch to all-mail voting. Republic political reporter Rebekah L. Sanders speaks with Elections Director Reynaldo “Rey” Valenzuela about what voters can expect. Rebekah L. Sanders/azcentral.com

Tempe’s upcoming election will be an all mail-in election, but some worry that as cities and school districts increasingly move to postal voting, homeless people and those with certain disabilities could be disenfranchised.  

All Maricopa County school districts opted to have voters cast ballots by mail last fall. Cities including Tempe, Fountain Hills, Queen Creek and Surprise are pursuing mail-in ballots this year. 

Renaldo Fowler of the Arizona Center for Disability Law, along with the Arizona Clean Elections Commission, are among those working to ensure voting by mail doesn’t leave some people out.

They’ve been working to educate Arizona’s homeless population on how they can still vote without a home address. And to educate voters with visual impairments and other disabilities that special ballots can be requested, such as large print or braille.

“We are a voting block that needs to be addressed,” said George Garcia, executive director at the Southwest Institute for Families and Children, a nonprofit focused on empowering people with disabilities. 

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, an advocate of mail-in elections, sees it as “opening up the ballot box” by giving voters more time to make decisions and more options in where to drop off their ballots. He said it’s also more secure. 

Fontes is working with groups such as Garcia’s to ensure at-risk voters aren’t left out.

“Ballot by mail is not a silver bullet,” Fontes said, adding that it is “important to realize the only thing that is constant in American elections is change.”   

Voters with no permanent address

Fowler’s office in Phoenix is decked with posters and pamphlets about voting. The items are tools Fowler uses to educate voters without a permanent residence.They are posted in homeless shelters throughout Arizona.

It’s part of a campaign to help homeless people understand they can still vote without an address. 

Fowler also hands out rubber bracelets, similar to the popular Livestrong ones, to remind and offer support to homeless people who want to vote. 

“I still vote, my vote counts,” encircles the grey bracelet along with the phone number for the Arizona Clean Elections Commission’s voter hotline. 

The commission can help them figure out where to vote and take complaints which are later investigated. 

A voter without a permanent address has five options for voting in a mail-in election:

  1. Use the address of the homeless shelter they regularly visit.
  2. Use a temporary housing location such as a halfway house address.
  3. The county courthouse in which the person resides.
  4. Use a general delivery address at a post office in the area the voter is registered. 
  5. Use ballot centers that are set up on election day where people can vote in person. In Tempe, two ballot centers will open a few days ahead of the election. 

But even keeping this information current can be difficult for people on the move. Fowler suggests they use a public computer at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office or at most public libraries. 

Fontes said his office often works with cities to ensure voters know how they can vote. His office is one of the addresses some homeless voters are using.

Voters with disabilities

Visually impaired voters who request Braille or large-print ballots at the polls can request the same accommodations through the mail. 

Garcia advises voters to speak up. “If it affected your chance to vote, it likely affected someone else’s,” he said. 

To obtain a special ballot, voters can contact their local city or school district and even the county recorder who can get them in touch with who they need to speak with.  

One of Garcia’s other concerns is ensuring mail-in ballots are not overly complicated for voters with intellectual and developmental disabilities. And to be on watch for fraud. 

Many rely on caregivers to help them fill out their ballots and Garcia fears that conflicts could arise if the caregivers and voters having ideological differences. At the polls, workers are trained to watch for this and intervene if necessary. 

“That is a problem that is going to show up with mail-in elections,” Garcia said.  

 Fontes understands the concern.   

“We rely on folks to follow the law,” Fontes said, adding that he encourages voters who fall into that category to fill out their ballots at the ballot center, the recorders office or to call recorder’s office if problems arise.

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