Sen. Justine Wadsack posted a completed Tucson ballot online, but it wasn't hers

Tucson-area Republican state Sen. Justine Wadsack tweeted a photo of what she claims is her filled-out ballot this week. But the pictured ballot includes a proposition she’s not eligible to vote on, and is for a different precinct. Pima County officials confirmed that Wadsack was sent the correct ballot.

Wadsack publicly doubled and tripled down on her claims that the ballot in the photo was hers, but the evidence in the photo itself, and a review of records by government officials, show that it was in fact a ballot sent to another voter.

Revealing the contents of a voted ballot that belongs to someone else can be a crime in Arizona.

What the Devil won’t tell you column: Wadsack’s ballot pics give her a ‘glass houses problem’

Following what’s become a common get-out-the-vote practice, Wadsack posted a photo of a ballot Monday, urging voters to mail their early votes back by Tuesday.

“Do YOU know where your BALLOT is?,” she wrote. “Here’s my ballot to use as a guide when filling it out.”

Wadsack posted a photo of a ballot, with bubbles filled in for the Republican mayor and Tucson City Council candidates and a “no” vote on Prop. 413, which would raise the salaries of city leaders.

Behind that ballot, the photo included a portion of a ballot envelope, showing the name “Wadsack” and the 85747 ZIP code that corresponds to the address at which she’s registered to vote on the Southeast Side.

The ballot pictured also included Prop. 496, a bond election being held in the Tucson Unified School District. The ballot did not indicate a “yes” or “no” choice in the photo.

The house near South Houghton and East Valencia roads that Wadsack uses for her voter registration is miles from the home she owns with her husband in the Sam Hughes neighborhood, close to the University of Arizona. 

That registration made Wadsack eligible to run in Legislative District 17 last year — her Midtown property is not in that district. When her candidacy was challenged over her residency, Wadsack testified in court that she was renting a room in the house just off Houghton, away from her husband. Her voter registration is still at that address.

That Southeast Side house is not in TUSD; the school district lines do not correspond with the city limits. Rather, Wadsack’s voter registration indicates that she resides in the Vail School District and the city. A ballot sent to her would not include the TUSD bond question, but would include the city items.

A ballot sent to someone registered to vote in Sam Hughes would include the school funding proposition, along with the races before city voters.

The discrepancy in Wadsack’s post caught the eye of this reporter.

“You’re not registered to vote in TUSD. (You ran from 85747.) Whose ballot are you showing to the public?,” I asked her on Twitter, a social media site that now has an X for a logo.

Wadsack — a rightwing Trump-supporting Republican who spent Wednesday night at Mar-a-Lago for a screening of the latest movie by Dinesh D’Souza —  responded with a list of reasons she believes entitle her to vote that ballot:

-Elections are not run by zip code.
-This is a CITY wide election, and 85747 is in Tucson, so I get to vote on CITY candidates and ballot measures.
-This isn’t a TUSD School Board election. This is about MY taxes going to TUSD, so I get to have a say.
-Elections are run by either CITY (Wards, Props) or STATE (County, CD, LD, School Board, Props).
-I live in the CITY of Tucson, registered for STATE elections under CD6 & LD17.
-There are even TUSD schools in LD17, the district I represent.

“And yes, it’s MY ballot,” she concluded. Wadsack drew a red circle and arrow to highlight her last name and ZIP code in the photo.

“#MyDemocratHatersAreGettingDesperateForContent,” she said.

When I noted that “Prop 496 should not appear on ballots sent to people not eligible to vote on it,” she tweeted that “I pay CITY taxes, so I have say on how my taxes are spent.”

“To tax me, but not allow me to vote is called ‘Taxation Without Representation’. You know nothing about elections, attack me like an uneducated bully, and instead of apologizing, you double down in your stupidity. #Dumb,” the state senator tweeted.

Reminded that the city does not pay for TUSD (districts are funded mostly by property taxes they impose), Wadsack — who as a lawmaker voted on an Arizona state budget that included money for schools — tweeted:

So are you saying the Recorder screwed up the ballots?

Should this City election be called out as fraudulent?
Why don’t you call for an investigation?

I do not control what is on my ballot.

Informed that the Sentinel was indeed investigating the situation, the GOP lawmaker wrote:

That is my ballot.
Full stop!
So, enough already.
You start by accusing me of wrong doing, and then won’t accept my answer. That’s called badgering.

Go investigate the Recorder.
I didn’t print the ballot!

‘This could get ugly’

The Sentinel sent questions to multiple Pima County officials, setting off a flurry of behind-the-scenes activity.

The county has sent out incorrect ballots to some precincts in a handful of past elections, with some mistakes requiring replacement ballots to be mailed to voters. As the Sentinel reported, in 2018 more than 500 voters on the South Side were sent ballots that did not include TUSD races in which they were eligible to vote. In 2014, voters in Green Valley’s Continental School District were sent misprinted early ballots.

With election denial and accusations of “fraud” a frequent theme among Trumpist voters over the past few years, election officials across the country are on edge about any errors.

“This could get ugly if we goofed,” county Communication Director Mark Evans wrote Wednesday in an internal memo as officials looked into Wadsack situation.

But the Pima County Recorder’s Office determined that the ballot sent to Wadsack at her registered address was the correct one for her precinct.

“The address for which she is registered should only contain the city of Tucson races and Prop. 413,” spokesman Mike Truelsen told the Sentinel. “A voter who lives at that address would not have received a ballot with a Tucson Unified School District proposition.”

While Wadsack included a ballot envelope with her registered address in the background of the photo, the ballot she posted was for Precinct 78.

Precinct 78 is in Midtown, and includes Sam Hughes.

Wadsack is registered to vote in Precinct 218.

The Recorder’s Office reviewed the photograph, and had staff at Runbeck Election Services — the company that prints the ballots — check the records of which ballot was inserted into the envelope sent to Wadsack.

“We have confirmed that this voter did receive the correct ballot in their packet,” a Runbeck staffer told Pima County Recorder Gabriella Cázares-Kelly on Wednesday.

A barcode on the ballot identifies the “style” that indicates which races and questions are included. 

“If the wrong ballot style tried to insert into the voter’s packet, our machine will stop and not allow that ballot to go through which is why we include the 2D barcode for our (quality control) process at the inserter,” the Runbeck employee wrote.

“We have reviewed the voter’s record within our office and confirmed the assigned ballot style with the Pima County Elections Department and our ballot printing vendor,” Truelsen told the Sentinel.

So whose ballot is it anyway?

While the ballot that was sent to Wadsack at the Southeast Side address she’s registered at included the correct races for Precinct 218, the ballot in the photograph she posted is for Precinct 78. The precinct number is shown in clear text at the top left of the picture.

Her husband, Garret Wadsack, is registered to vote at their Midtown home, which is in Precinct 78. Two of the Republican senator’s grown children are also registered to vote at the Sam Hughes address.

As Tucson conducts all-mail municipal elections (with the option of in-person voting), ballots were sent to every registered voter in the city last month.

While posting a “ballot selfie” has been legal in Arizona since 2015 (under a measure sponsored by former state lawmaker Steve Farley), it remains against the law to take a photo of a ballot at a polling place. It’s also illegal to make public a photo of someone else’s filled-out early ballot.

Under ARS 16-1018, showing “another voter’s ballot to any person after it is prepared for voting in
such a manner as to reveal the contents, except to an authorized person
lawfully assisting the voter,” including online, is a class 2 misdemeanor. The crime — rarely prosecuted, if ever — carries a penalty of up to four months in jail and $750 in fines.

County officials said they asked the Pima County Attorney’s Office about the issue, but there was not yet a response. City Attorney Mike Rankin told the Sentinel he would look into the matter. The election underway is a city contest, despite it being consolidated with various school district elections and conducted by the county.

“Over the next several days we will determine whether this matter should be investigated as a possible violation” of the state law, Rankin told the Sentinel on Thursday.

Continuing her thread on Twitter, Wadsack called for “Journolusts” to “be required to file with the AZ Secretary of State as a PAC, and disclose their funding/source.”

“You are looking for excuses to come after me, and it’s plain as day,” she wrote.

To that, Dan Gibson, a former editor of the Tucson Weekly who is now a spokesman for Tucson Medical Center, wrote “If you’ve decided to be a public official, then also post stuff online, someone asking a follow-up question feels like part of the gig, not nearly an attack. Plus, I guarantee that @DSmith_Tucson would pursue the same line towards any Dem officeholder.”

As a member of the Institute for Nonprofit News with high standards of editorial independence, the Sentinel discloses all sources of funding of more than $5,000 per year, along with most donors who support our nonprofit newsroom’s watchdog reporting at levels below that.

The Arizona Mirror also reported on Wadsack’s post and my questions put to her, and asked an Arizona election attorney about the law.

“If it is her own ballot and she puts it on the internet, as stupid as it is, it’s not a violation,” attorney Tom Ryan told the Mirror. “If I take someone else’s and do that, then it is illegal.”

Ryan said he is unaware of anyone ever being prosecuted for sharing a photo of another person’s ballot

“I think if you post somebody’s else’s (ballot), that (law) should have some teeth,” Ryan told the Mirror, adding that a class 2 misdemeanor, in his opinion, is not a very hefty punishment.

Don’t post ’em if you’ve still got ’em

While Wadsack advised her followers to mail their ballots by Tuesday, county officials said previously that ballots mailed by Wednesday would get to them in time to be counted. From Thursday forward, they should be dropped off in person, in order to be received before the 7 p.m. deadline on Election Day.

Democrats of course seized the opportunity to blast Wadsack over the ballot posting and her responses to being asked about it.

“Voters in Legislative District 17 are tired of being represented by someone with a careless disregard for the truth and accountability,” said Elsa O’Callaghan, executive director of Arizona Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. “This latest display by Sen. Wadsack is a pattern of behavior for her as a legislator. She has demonstrated that she is vastly uninformed about how our elections are administered and how schools are funded.”

State Sen. Priya Sundareshan, a Democrat who represents neighboring LD18 and co-chairs the ADLCC board, said Wadsack “repeatedly called for transparency within our election systems. After posting a ballot online that the Pima County recorder confirmed was not hers, her latest social media stunt proves that she does not apply the same standard of transparency for herself.”

For her part, Wadsack reacted to news reports by claiming that the “AZ Mirror is funded by Soros and there is no media in Arizona that has a fair/balanced reporting standard.”