Arizona mail-in ballot printers kick into high gear as election nears

Phoenix's Runbeck Election Services expects to produce 31 million ballots for this year's general election

An Arizona business built around mail-in ballots is shifting into high gear as the 2020 election draws closer.

More state residents than ever have signed up to receive one of the ballots because of COVID-19, which has now claimed more than 1 million lives worldwide, including some 205,000 in the U.S.

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That has created a deluge in demand for Runbeck Election Services, the Phoenix-based company that provides ballot envelopes, paper and printing in the state’s biggest counties, according to AZ Central.

While elections once comprised just a few months of work every other year for such companies, the growing share of voters casting ballots by mail in Arizona has forced Runbeck to step up its services.

Legislators removed a requirement that voters needed a specific reason for casting an absentee ballot almost 30 years ago, then discarded the term "absentee voting" entirely just a few years later.

Voting by mail is now called "early voting" and was touted by members of both major parties.

In 2007, the Legislature devised the Permanent Early Voting List, which allowed voters to automatically receive a mail-in ballot for every election without having to request it each time.

Maricopa County, one of the state's largest counties, struck a deal to work with Runbeck Election Services at that point, and other counties followed suit.

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“We had reached the point where we were mailing out about 15,000 or 16,000 early ballots in 2008 and we just couldn’t do it in-house anymore,” Coconino County Recorder Patty Hansen told AZ Central.

The job required long hours, a large amount of staffing, and the ability to produce hundreds of varieties of ballots.

In addition, election officials in some parts of the country who were worried about security began to rethink touch-screen voting machines.

As many turned back to paper ballots, demand grew quickly for Runbeck Election Services.

In this Sept. 3, 2020, file photo, a worker prepares tabulators at the Wake County Board of Elections in Raleigh, N.C. The coronavirus pandemic is forcing millions of American voters worried about their health to vote by mail for the first time. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

In this Sept. 3, 2020, file photo, a worker prepares tabulators at the Wake County Board of Elections in Raleigh, N.C. The coronavirus pandemic is forcing millions of American voters worried about their health to vote by mail for the first time. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Since then, the company has moved to a larger facility and expanded, adding 200 seasonal workers to its full-time staff of 180. They service counties from California to Colorado, using printers that roll out as many as 2 million ballots per day.

Though envelopes are stuffed by machines, there are security measures meant to stop fraud and errors.

Barcodes allow officials to match the envelopes they send to the envelopes they receive, and machines weigh each envelope once sealed.

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There have been problems before.

In 2014, a scanner glitch that lasted a little less than 60 seconds meant about 1,000 ballots headed for voters in Maricopa County were stuffed into the wrong envelopes.

Runbeck Election Services is reportedly expecting to handle 31 million ballots for this year's general election.

Those ballots are under heightened scrutiny amidst an increasingly partisan political divide and major problems at the U.S. Postal Service.

A Monday Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 66% of voters think the winner of the general election will be announced after Election Day, while 20% said they expect the results on the night of Nov. 3.

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By September, Runbeck Election Services had prepared as many ballots in the last few weeks as it had in all of 2016 and the number of voters requesting mail-in ballots continues to increase.