Thursday, November 20, 2008

It’s Time to Look at the Way We Vote


By Linda Brown

More than 112,000 voters in Maricopa County were forced to cast provisional ballots on Election Day. That is 16 percent of those that went to the polls, well more than the margin of victory for several races and ballot measures. We still don’t know how many of those were counted.

Was the turnout 72 percent, or was it higher? We have no way of knowing for sure. A good number of registered voters went to the polls and left without voting at all.

Arizona has been labeled by Mother Jones magazine as one of the worst places to vote in America. Polling places frequently move. It is estimated that nearly 40 percent of polling places in Maricopa County have shifted locations during each of the last two major election cycles.

We have also instituted an ID requirement that confuses poll workers and voters alike. We place tremendous demands on the temporary workers that run our polling places, asking them to be the linchpins in our democracy, but barely giving them what they need to succeed. They receive two hours of training on every aspect of running a polling place, including setting up complicated equipment and making sure it runs properly; understanding and complying with federal, state and local laws; understanding what ID is needed for a regular ballot, when voters must cast a regular provisional ballot, when voters should be given a conditional provisional ballot, and how to properly process each ballot type.

Arizona needs to take steps to make the voting process easier for everyone. It’s time to consider appropriating the best practices from other jurisdictions around the country to avert problems that continue to disenfranchise voters here in Arizona.

Take the ever-shifting polling places. Every two years Arizona’s elections officials scramble to find schools, churches, or other private facilities that are willing to serve as polling places. Many Arizonans moved here from states where polling places never change—they are always located at neighborhood schools. Arizona voters are expected to check elections department mailings before every election to confirm where they should vote. But it’s easy to miss the small type ink-jetted onto the one sample ballot that all voters in a household must share. It’s also easy to miss the polling place notification card, which doesn’t look all that different from junk mail. Even voter registration cards do not include the names and addresses of voters' polling places.

In Arizona, votes cast at the wrong polling places do not count. Other jurisdictions count ballots cast at the wrong precincts, taking care not to count votes for offices outside of the voters’ precincts.

If Arizona voters reach their correct polling places, poll workers sometimes have difficulty finding their names in the voter rolls. Or poll workers may mistakenly send voters to get more ID when they have sufficient ID to vote a regular ballot or a regular provisional ballot. One county in Washington doubled the length of poll worker training, increased poll worker pay, and required them to pass a certification test. They saw poll worker mistakes plummet.

Political parties, candidates and grassroots groups spend a considerable amount of time and money to get voters to the polls. They know well that every vote is precious. Together we should take a look at how we run elections in Arizona. With sensible changes and adequate funding we can ensure that every citizen that makes the effort to vote is successful.
Brown is executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network Foundation, a group that leads efforts for electoral justice and increased civic participation.
Copyright © 2008 by the Arizona Editorial Forum. The Forum is an educational organization that provides the media with the views of state experts on major public issues.


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