Recorder’s Office & Elections Dept. want to enhance voting experience
Voting in Pinal County could see changes in 2020 to simplify and enhance the voter experience.
County Recorder Virginia Ross and Elections Director Michele Forney presented nine ideas to the Board of Supervisors regarding the 2020 Elections and beyond:
- Electronic poll books
- Ballot on-demand printers
- Voter outreach or “food truck voting”
- Secure ballot drop-off areas
- “Opt-in” texting services
- Social media advertising
- Seasonal workers
- Election day vote centers
- Inbound mail ballot processing
Electronic Poll Books
Electronic poll books allow voters to check in at the polls by swiping a government approved I.D. such as a driver’s license. The system would access voter information and, in real-time, update the individual’s voting history. This would ensure the voter is in the correct polling location and, if not, the system would print a map showing the correct polling place. It would also alert poll workers if the person has already submitted an early ballot.
Pinal County is one of four counties in the state that does not use the electronic poll book system.
Elections Director Forney said that this system would require extended training for poll workers.
Ballot On-Demand Printer
The ballot on-demand printers would be able to access any ballot from any precinct and print it immediately, eliminating the need for backup supplies.
Last year, the Recorder’s Office ordered over 77,000 replacement ballots at twenty-six cents apiece for use at the Early Voting sites. Likewise, the Elections Office ordered far more ballots than needed for the polling places. The ballot on-demand printing system would eliminate waste and save the expense of excessive printing.
Voter Outreach or “Food Truck Voting”
This system of voting has been used successfully in Idaho and Colorado. It consists of a fully equipped mobile polling location that would afford voters a chance to register to vote or cast an early ballot. It can also be used as an emergency polling location.
“We’re invited to a lot of fairs and events where we set up voter registration drives,” Ross said. “The ‘food truck’ approach would expand our outreach.”
Secure Ballot Drop-Off
Secure ballot drop-off areas would provide convenient and secure alternatives for voters to deposit their early ballots. Large, sturdy structures, similar to mailboxes, would be placed at various county offices, such as sheriff substations and satellite offices.
“Opt-in” texting services
Both Pima and Maricopa Counties are using peer-to-peer communication services to answer questions about elections and voting. Those who opt-in to the texting service would receive notice when their ballot is mailed to them, when their ballot is received and whether there are any problems with their ballot.
Social Media Advertising
“Because we are squashed between the Phoenix and Tucson markets, people tend to get messages that are targeted for those areas,” said Forney. “Both the Recorder’s and Elections Offices try to reach out through Facebook and Twitter, but the effectiveness is somewhat dependent on our followers and word of mouth.”
Forney added that they reach out to radio stations to target ads, also, but social media allows them to specifically target Pinal County voters.
Currently, the Recorder’s Office uses temporary workers to assist in managing the workload during early voting, but Forney said there are some issues with this process. Workers don’t always show up for work, and they tend to get a different set of workers each election.
Forney cited state statute that allows counties to hire “premium poll workers” to enhance the pool of reliable employees for elections, thus limiting the repetitive training and allowing staff to concentrate on more difficult issues that arise with each election cycle.
Election Day Vote Centers
The Election Day vote centers would be large aggregate voting sites where all registered Pinal County voters could submit their ballots on Election Day. Vote center staff would use an on-demand printer to issue the correct ballot for each voter’s registered precinct.
In 2011, Pinal County had 161,000 voters in 102 precincts using 97 polling locations. Today, the county has 206,000 voters, and some polling places are at their max capacity. The elections director predicted that, after the next redistricting cycle (following the 2020 Census), Pinal County would need as many as 120 precincts.
A decision concerning voter centers will be postponed until after the 2021 redistricting, pending census data and potential legislation concerning mail-in ballots.
Inbound Mail Ballot Processing
Each ballot that comes into the Recorder’s Office must be inspected. The affidavits signed by those vote-by-mail electors are scanned and their signatures are compared to what the Recorder’s Office has on file. This is a time-consuming and labor intensive process.
Ross stated that technology will be available in the near future offering automated signature recognition, on-screen side-by-side comparisons of signatures and date/time stamps for official records.
After the presentation, the supervisors addressed their questions, concerns and preferences. Vice-Chairman Steve Miller inquired as to the number of people who requested ballots by mail and how many actually turned them in.
Out of 206,000 voters, 136,000 received early ballots and, out of those, 86,000 returned their ballots, resulting in a 73 percent return on mail-in ballots.
“It looks like 65 percent of the populace is requesting mail-in ballots,” commented Miller, speculating as to how much longer it would be before the county sees 80 or 90 percent wanting mail-in ballots.
Director Forney responded that she, along with the 15 County Recorders and 14 other Elections Directors are wanting vote-by-mail and are asking their lobbying groups to seek help from the legislature.
Piggybacking on Vice-Chairman Miller’s line of questioning, Supervisor House said he was worried about longer lines at the polls. “We want them to vote,” said House. “We don’t want them to get caught in lines so they don’t vote.”
The supervisors overwhelmingly liked the electronic poll books. Other ideas favored were the food truck voting and opt-in texting.
This was a work session and no votes were taken.