Arizona Saw Record Turnout This Year. Here’s How We Can Top That.

three people leaning into private voting booths

By Jessica Swarner

November 13, 2020

After Arizona’s deadline was pushed back 10 days, an additional 35,000 people registered to vote. 

Arizona saw record turnout for the 2020 general election, surpassing 2016’s total by nearly 740,000 votes.

An estimated 3.4 million Arizonans out of 4.28 million registered voters cast ballots for a turnout of 79.61%. 

Maricopa County alone saw an even higher turnout, hitting 80% for the first time since the 1980s.

But with all the work that was done this election to get more voters to cast ballots—like extending the voter registration deadline and increasing the number of polling centers and drop-off boxes—voting rights advocates say more can be done to get more Arizonans voting. 

Here’s the two things they say would make the biggest impact:

Automatic registration

One of those methods is automatic voter registration. This process makes registering to vote the default but leaves the option for people to opt-out. Voters’ records are also more easily kept updated because states’ motor vehicle departments can electronically share information with voter registration databases. 

Twenty states, including Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico, have automatic registration in place.

Arizonans have unsuccessfully tried to enact it in the past. A Democratic-proposed bill in 2017 never got a vote thanks to a Republican committee chairperson refusing to schedule it for a hearing. And neither of two initiatives that would have approved automatic registration this election made it onto the ballot. 

Opponents argue the practice would create privacy problems as agencies share personal information, put a lot of pressure on states with little funding, and potentially result in noncitizens registering to vote, or people having duplicate entries.

But progressive organizations like Our Voice, Our Vote still hope to one day make automatic voter registration a reality in Arizona.

“We need to focus on updating the system that will allow people easier access to participate in the democratic process,” the group’s political director Francisca Gil told The Copper Courier. 

Same-day registration

Another way to get more people voting is allowing same-day voter registration. This means that if someone shows up to the polls on Election Day and isn’t in the system or does not have their information updated, they can make the changes needed and vote that day rather than being turned away. 

Twenty-one states, including Colorado, Nevada, and Utah, allow same-day registration. 

One of the Arizona ballot initiatives that would have approved automatic voter registration this year also included same-day voter registration, but it didn’t make it onto the ballot. 

Gil said it’s easy for people — especially those working multiple jobs and taking care of kids — to forget to register or update their information by the deadline each election. Same-day registration would remove some of that pressure. 

“We need to break down the barriers in order for everyone that is eligible to vote,” she said. “We need to make it easy. We should not make it hard for Arizonans to participate.” 

Since Arizona doesn’t have same-day registration, voting advocates worked to give people as much time as possible to do so before the state’s deadline. For the 2020 election, Arizona’ voter registration deadline was originally Oct. 5. 

A judge extended it to Oct. 23 after progessive groups, including the Arizona Coalition for Change, argued registration efforts were hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The end date fell on Oct. 15 after Republicans appealed the ruling. 

During the 10-day extension, an additional 35,000 Arizonans registered to vote.

For comparison, President-elect Joe Biden came out ahead of President Donald Trump in the state by about 11,000 votes.


  • Jessica Swarner

    Jessica Swarner is the community editor for The Copper Courier. She is an ASU alumna and previously worked at KTAR News 92.3 FM in Phoenix.

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