Voters May See Changes in Pinal County for 2020 Elections -

Voters May See Changes in Pinal County for 2020 Elections

Voters May See Changes in Pinal County for 2020 Elections
Voters May See Changes in Pinal County for 2020 Elections

Voting in Pinal County could see some changes in 2020 to enhance the voter experience and make it easier to place your ballot.

County Recorder Virginia Ross and Elections Director Michele Forney presented nine ideas to the Board of Supervisors regarding the 2020 Elections and beyond.

“We have been asked several times to bring ideas to the Board on what we can do in Pinal County to modernize or add elections technology and enhance the voter experience,” Recorder Ross said. “We just came off a mid-term election and there are always lessons learned to what we can do to lessen voter frustration and get the ballots processed faster.”

The goal of this presentation to the Supervisors was to inform them of the options that are available to the County and some of the ideas that have worked elsewhere.

The nine ideas presented in the work session were:

  • Electronic poll books
  • Ballot on demand printer
  • Voter outreach or “Food Truck Voting”
  • Secure ballot drop off areas
  • Texting services for “opt-in”
  • Social media advertising
  • Additional seasonal workers
  • Election day vote centers
  • Inbound mail ballot processing

Electronic poll books -This electronic system allows voters at the polls to check in by swiping a government approved I.D. such as a driver’s license. The system would then be able to pull up the voter and in real-time update to voting history. This would ensure the voter is in the correct polling location, if not, the system would then print out a map showing the correct polling place. It would also alert poll workers on if the person has already voted 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 the first business at hand would be having to train the poll workers on this new system.

“Right now we train our seven hundred and thirty poll workers in about two hours in a lecture type of situation,” Forney stated. “I would expect we’d have to do a longer training and hands on training.”

She added that it would be important to make sure the poll workers are comfortable with the technology and that troubleshooters would also have to be trained to handle any issue that might arise at a polling location.

Supervisor Anthony Smith brought up a question about those that do not have a driver’s license or government issued I.D., would they be able to vote. Forney said that there would be a back-up poll book there or the person could type their name in into the polling location with a form of identification.

Ballot on Demand Printer -This system would be able to pull up any ballot from any precinct and print it up immediately for the voter. This would mostly be for the Early Voting locations. 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, Elections ordered far more ballots than needed for the polling places. Many of these preprinted ballots were not used and had to be thrown away. The ballot on demand printing system, would reduce this waste of money and paper.

Voter outreach or “Food Truck Voting”-This system of voting has been used successfully in Idaho and Colorado. This would be a mobile polling location that would afford voters a chance to register to vote, cast an early ballot or can be used as an emergency polling location.

The idea is to purchase a vehicle suitable to hold a Ballot on Demand Printer, laptops for staff and other various polling location materials.

“We’re invited to a lot of fairs and events where we would set-up voter registration drives,” Recorder Ross said. “It expands our outreach for voter registration, early voting and as an emergency polling site.”

Secure Ballot Drop Off Areas -These would be large, secured and sturdy mail box type of structures that would be available to offer more options for people to return their early ballot. These would be stationed at various county offices such as Sheriff Substations and satellite offices.

“Again, we are trying to encourage people to bring in your ballots, not wait until election day, have more access to get those ballots back to us,” said Recorder Ross. “A lot of people come to our office and drop off their ballot, not all people want to use the post office. We don’t want them to wait until the last minute either.”

Texting services for “opt-in”- Both Pima and Maricopa Counties are using peer-to-peer communication services to help voters by answering their questions about elections and voting. This would also inform those that opt-in in to the texting service of issues such as when their ballot was mailed, if their ballot was received and if there are any problems with their ballot. The idea of the texting service is to reduce the amount of calls that come into the office.

Social Media Advertising-While focused on Social Media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram; this effort would encompass traditional forms of media as well.

“Just because we are squashed between the Phoenix and Tucson markets, people tend to get these messages that are targeted for those areas,” Director Forney said. “Both the Recorder and Elections try to reach out through Facebook and Twitter, but that is somewhat dependent on our followers and word of mouth.”

Forney added that they reached out to radio stations to target ads, but the Social Media would allow them to target specifically Pinal County voters. She feels if they are able to reach the voters through these ads, they would know it’s the official message from the office and not out of Phoenix or Tucson markets.

Seasonal Workers -These would be temporary workers to assist in various election duties. 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. Some workers are not always showing up for work and you may 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 relied-upon workers that could be counted on to work for the Elections Department every election. Thus limiting the repetitive training and allowing staff to concentrate on more difficult issues that arise with each election cycle.

Election Day Voter Centers -These would be large aggregate voting sites for voters to come and place their ballot on Election Day. It would be open to all registered voters from all precincts throughout Pinal County.

Right now Pinal County has Precinct Assigned Voting. A vote center would all registered Pinal County voters a chance to vote anywhere inside the county. The voter must vote for the precinct they registered in, but the vote center staff would be able to print out their specific ballot for their specific area.

In 2011, Pinal County had 161,000 voters with 102 precincts and use 97 polling locations. Today the county has 206,000 voters and some polling places are at their max capacity. The Elections Director wondered aloud that after the next redistricting cycle (following the 2020 Census), would Pinal County need 120 precincts.

“If that is the case, how do we best serve the voters,” Forney said. “In our more urban centers, do we need vote centers, or do we need them everywhere?”

The thought is to put off the voter center idea and wait until after the 2021 redistricting, since it is an unknown on how much equipment will be needed after the redistricting and if there are changes in the Legislature in vote by mail laws.

Inbound Mail Ballot Processing - With more and more voters requesting mail-in ballots, the question becomes, how do you process these ballots effectively, quickly and correctly?

Each voted ballot that comes into the Recorder’s Office must be handled, inspected and signature reviewed. The affidavits signed by those vote-by-mail electors are scanned and their signatures are compared to what they have on file. This is a timely and labor intensive process.

“Some of these counties, like Maricopa County send their ballots to a third party vender off site to have them all scanned,” Recorder Ross stated. “That takes a long time with millions of ballots being returned.”

The Recorder stated that technology will be available in the near future that will help process these mail-in ballots that have automated signature recognition, offers on-screen side by side comparisons of signatures and provides a date and time stamp for official records.

After the presentation, the Supervisors addressed their questions, concerns and preferences with Recorder Ross and Director Forney.

Vice-Chairman Steve Miller inquired as to the amount 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 those ballots. That was a total of 73 percent return on mailed ballots.

“It looks like 65 percent of the populace is requesting mail-in ballots,” Vice-Chairman Miller said. “So, now much longer are we going to see 80 percent, 85 percent, 90 percent want mail-in ballots? I like a lot of these ideas, but I think consolidating precincts is the way to go.”

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 ask the legislature for help.

Piggybacking on Vice-Chairman Miller’s line of questioning, Supervisor Todd House said he was worried about longer lines at the polls.

“We want them to vote,” Supervisor House said. “We don’t want them to get caught in lines so they don’t vote.”

With both Recorder Ross and Director Forney seeking the Supervisors advice on what they wanted to see in future elections.

The Supervisors overwhelmingly liked the Electronic Poll Books, while other ideas favorited were the Voter Outreach, Food Truck Voting and Opt-In Texting.

This was a Work Session and no votes were taken.