(The following is an oped piece written and printed in the Tucson Weekly.)
by Richard Fimbres
Regarding the questions Jonathan Hoffman posed in the April 14 Tucson Weekly about the Tucson City Council's decision to move to a vote-by-mail system—"Why?" and "Why now?"—the answers are simple: the actions of voters, and changes in the laws by the Arizona Legislature.
The Arizona Legislature approved, and the governor signed into law, a measure allowing cities to conduct vote-by-mail elections. The Arizona Legislature also passed a law in 2009 allowing voters to place their names on a Permanent Early Voting List, which is maintained by the county recorder. Those on this list are automatically mailed a ballot in every election.
In Arizona, Prescott Valley, Surprise, Pinetop-Lakeside, Clarkdale, Peoria, Payson, Paradise Valley, Litchfield Park and Globe conduct their elections using a vote-by-mail process. Locally, the towns of Oro Valley and Sahuarita conduct their elections with a vote-by-mail process, since 2002 and 2003 respectively.
Tucson's City Council in 2006 approved an ordinance that allows the council to conduct any city elections through a vote-by-mail process.
Tucson voters have spoken by signing up for the early-voter list and voting early by mail. In 2006, there were approximately 22,000 early voters (vote by mail) within the city limits on this list; in 2009, the number grew to 62,152; as of February 2011, there are 105,792. The current voter registration for the city of Tucson is 228,265.
In the past two Tucson city elections, an average of 85 percent of the voters who cast their ballots used early-vote by mail for the two primary elections, and 63 percent used early-vote by mail for the two general elections.
In Tucson's city charter, the minimum requirement is for one polling place per ward. This has been on the books since 1960. Tucson had increased the number of polling places but has been reducing them because of the rise in the number of early ballots as well as other factors, including:
• The difficulty to contract with facilities fully compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. The facilities must also be capable of accommodating a number of combined precincts, which, in turn, equates to more voters at these sites.
• The challenge to recruit poll workers for Election Day, considering the long hours that are required and the distance the poll workers need to travel to get to their assigned sites.
• The age of the equipment used at polling-place sites. This equipment is approximately 11 years old and at the end of its life cycle.
Conducting polling-place elections is a very manual process. With current budget constraints, staffing levels of permanent employees are lower, resulting in less people to manage this process.
Conducting only one type of election will provide greater control over the entire process by enabling staff to better track and account for all inbound and outbound ballots. Vote by mail ensures that all eligible voters are provided an opportunity to do so by automatically receiving a ballot in the mail. This ensures that the voter is not disenfranchised.
Questions have been brought up about the potential for voter fraud. According to City Clerk Roger Randolph, there have been no reported cases of fraud for vote by mail to his office. The clerks in Sahuarita and Oro Valley have also stated that they have had no reported cases of fraud for vote by mail.
Signature verification will be conducted by the Pima County Recorder's Office. Tabulation of the ballots will be conducted by the Tucson City Clerk's Office. Representatives from the political parties will be present to review and oversee this entire process.
This proposal will allow individuals to still cast their ballot at a voting location if they so choose.
With the 2012 presidential election just around the corner, political parties and candidates will encourage people to vote early or sign up for the permanent early-voter list, and most voters will be on the early-voter list in Tucson, Pima County and probably the state. What the City Council did with our vote on April 5 was not nefarious, but getting prepared for when that time comes that most of the registered voters are on the Permanent Early Voting List.