Arizona officials push early ballots for disabled voters

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona is home to over 2,200 assisted living facilities and nearly 150 skilled nursing facilities, whose residents may be locked down or have difficulty casting a ballot as the coronavirus pandemic rages.

Elections officials on Thursday urged relatives and caregivers to help people who need long term care to sign up for an early mail ballot. The deadline to do so is Friday.

Earlier this month, Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes won a court battle to help disabled voters cast their ballot through video conferencing with a special election board, which is comprised of one member of each party. Gov. Doug Ducey and Attorney General Mark Brnovich, both Republicans, argued Fontes didn’t have the authority and that video voting violates state law.

A state court judge partially sided with Fontes, saying that if a disabled person is at too high a risk to meet with the special election board in person, then the state should make meaningful modifications to help that person vote.

“The issue is not the legal impediment to in-person contact, it is the health risk. Federal law does not allow Arizona to impose on a disabled voter the choice between voting and protecting their health,” Judge Randall H. Warner wrote.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

At a news conference Thursday, Fontes said the county has already received 144 requests for assistance through special elections boards.

Neither the county nor state track how many eligible voters live in long-term care facilities.

Long-term care facilities like nursing homes were hit hard by the pandemic, and many have taken extra measures to keep residents safe, such as not allowing visitors.

Dana Kennedy, AARP Arizona state director, said she’s worked closely with elections officials to makes sure voters who are particularly vulnerable during the pandemic have access to ballots.

“It’s so important that we get the message out. If you are in a long-term care facility you have every right to vote,” she said.

Maricopa County, the second-largest voting jurisdiction in the nation, is seeing massive early voter turnout, with over 700,000 ballots cast so far.