If you haven’t voted yet, the most important thing to remember is 7 p.m. Tuesday. Your ballot has to be in the hands of an election official by that moment or it won’t count — whether you are casting a mail-in ballot or voting on Election Day.
And many people have been waiting as they continue to study the candidates for president in what is shaping up as an extremely close election nationwide.
Voter registration in Maricopa County has surged to an all-time high of 1.55 million people. More than 569,000 people requested early ballots by mail or by visiting an early polling site. County officials estimate about 300,000 of those early ballots had been returned by Friday.
Yvonne Reed, the county elections department spokeswoman, said that despite the huge number of early ballots, the return rate actually has been lower than in previous elections.
"Personally, I think there are still people who have not made up their minds," Reed said. "I think they know for every other office who they are going to vote for. But I don’t think they’ve made up their minds for the presidency yet."
Election officials can no longer mail out early ballots, and Friday was the last day for anyone to vote early at one of 10 sites around the county.
A long trail of voters Friday stretched outside the county’s Southeast Regional Complex in Mesa as vehicles kept arriving well into the afternoon, some plastered with bumper stickers. Lines moved slowly this year because of a strong turnout to vote early in person and it took time to match voters with the proper ballots from their precincts.
But several voters at the Mesa site said they didn’t care.
"I didn’t want to take a chance on it being mailed," said Charles Green, who said he’s a registered independent but had bumper stickers on his car supporting Democratic nominee John Kerry.
Some people turned out Friday because they realized they couldn’t vote next week and it was too late to get an early ballot. Donna Klein of Gilbert said she plans to be out of town on Election Day. But Klein didn’t want to miss her chance even though she was still thinking about her choice for president.
"I’ve voted since I was 18, since I’ve been able to," said Klein, a secretary. "I’m going to decide who I vote for when I walk in here."
Scottsdale resident Holly Miller missed the deadline to request a mail-in ballot for Tuesday’s election, but she was one of about 100 voters Friday who cast an early ballot at Scottsdale City Hall. Miller’s fellow voters ranged from young women sporting jogging suits to older men complaining about aching legs. Some were entering a voting booth for the first time, while others remembered first voting in the ’60s.
As Tuesday draws closer, the number of people taking advantage of early voting in Scottsdale has steadily increased, said poll worker Sonja Olsen. On Thursday, 249 voters cast a ballot at City Hall, nearly five times the 25 voters poll workers saw when early voting began Sept. 30.
For the 200,000 or so voters who might still have early ballots, County Recorder Helen Purcell says it’s best to wait until Tuesday and drop off the completed ballots at a polling site rather than mailing them. Otherwise, it might not be delivered to election officials until after the deadline on Tuesday.
An early ballot can be delivered Tuesday to any of the county’s 1,058 polling sites; it doesn’t have to be your own precinct.
"People say they drive by three or four polling places on their way to work but then don’t have time to get to their own precinct," said county elections director Karen Osborne. "Don’t drive by. Stop and drop off the ballot."
A voter delivering an early ballot Tuesday can skip ahead of people waiting to vote in person, Osborne said. They can even have someone else deliver their early ballots, Osborne said, as long as the ballot is sealed in the correct envelope that came with the ballot and the voter has signed the envelope. Early ballots without the proper envelope and signature aren’t counted, Osborne said.
Polls open at 6 a.m. Tuesday for those holding early ballots, and for the nearly 1 million other eligible people in Maricopa County who haven’t voted yet.
Voters don’t need any identification to cast a ballot, but they must have registered by Oct. 4. Voters should go to the polling precinct for where they live, even if they moved after Oct. 4 and haven’t updated their voter registration.
To find your polling place, use a map locator at
www.recorder.maricopa.gov/elections or call (602) 506-1511.