By Steve Christy
During the February 15th Board of Supervisors meeting, a very controversial matter was successfully passed 4-1. For me, being the lone “no” vote, the subject ended in a very troubling manner. The item that was approved was the installation of a completely new system of voting in Pima County. Instead of the traditional precinct voting process that we have always had, the new system calls for replacing our 240 voting precincts with 100 “Voting Centers”. What this means is that voters can go to any of the 100 Voting Centers throughout Pima County and cast their ballots, as well as drop off vote-by-mail ballots. Should you misplace your vote-by-mail ballot; the Voting Centers will have printers that can create a copy of your ballot for you on the spot. Your voter registration will be verified on modified iPads or “E-Poll Books” containing the Pima County Recorder’s rolls, installed and available at each of the 100 Voting Centers. This rather simplistic scenario sounds good in theory, but if one digs deeper and considers real-world factors, this wholesale change to our voting is not so good – not even close. This new system of Voting Centers, etc. is chocked full of hazards and pitfalls that will undermine, rather than enhance, voter confidence in our electoral process. It has not been thoroughly thought out or analyzed, and does not even have input from the mayors of municipalities within Pima County and other stakeholders in our region.
First, the recently elected, first term County Recorder presented this new system as having a “window of installation” element in its implementation. Since the 2024 election cycle is too significant and too important because it is a Presidential election year, it would be unwise to try to install this new voting system and have it be operational in time for that election, the Recorder recommended. Therefore, she stated, we must approve this new system right away, rushing to install it in time for the 2022 primaries. The 2022 election will be our County Recorder’s first countywide election event – not an insignificant trial by fire. It includes races for the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, the state legislature, various school board races, and a whole slew of primaries starting in late July. The 2022 elections, in my view, are as significant and as complicated as the 2024 elections. In fact, every election is significant and important. So, we are being asked to believe that a completely new and un-tested voting system can be procured, processed, programed, installed, tested, set in place, and secured in less than five months? What about supply-chain issues and the manufacturer’s customer support for equipment installation and maintenance?
Second, the Elections Department, tasked with coordinating the voter process, has serious staffing challenges. The Elections Director retired, the Interim Director is leaving at the end of the month, and other key positions are unfilled. Yet, we are lead again to believe that this new voting system will perform flawlessly without such Elections Department support?
Third, the County Recorder holds the 2021 Vail School District’s budget override election as its flagship example that the new Voting Centers work. Roughly, 75 people voted in that election and even then, the new process had “glitches”. The 2022 election will have more than 620,000 eligible voters – hardly a logical comparison given the huge disparity and sheer magnitude of the number of voters.
And finally, these factors pale in comparison to the main controversies within the Voting Centers system itself. By removing precinct voting, we are eliminating local control and neighborhood oversight and accountability. Voting Centers will mean that voters can drop off their ballots anywhere in Pima County. Never mind the assumption that there is countywide connectivity to the Internet to ensure the E-Poll Books and printers function properly. This cavalier method of voting seems to lack transparency and smack of unaccountability.
You may remember this same Voting Center system was rolled out during the 2016 primary election in Maricopa County. It was a disaster. There was national news coverage of voters lined up for hours on end to vote, and the results took forever to be reported. You may also recall the voters fired the seven-term Maricopa County Recorder later that year.
It looks like the potential for a similar voting fiasco is being created here and now in our Pima County.