Changes coming to way Pima County voters cast ballots

Published: Jan. 21, 2022 at 5:54 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Pima County is looking at a possible change to the way people vote in elections. It would sharply reduce the need for precinct polling places by opening dozens, if not as many as 100, voting centers.

Pima County is only one of four counties in the state which has not embraced voting centers but that could change at its meeting on Feb. 15.

At issue is when voters cast a ballot in the wrong precinct. By Arizona election law, if a person does not vote in their assigned precinct, the ballot is ruled invalid and does not count. There can be several hundred of them in large elections, such as a presidential election.

The issue was raised in court in 2014 when incumbent Democratic Congressman Ron Barber lost a race to challenger Republican Martha McSally by 187 votes. But the US Supreme Court ruled the state’s election law invalidating the ballots is legal.

Voting centers reduce the chances of that happening by allowing voters to cast a ballot at their convenience which does not have to be in an assigned polling location.

“It makes it so that any Pima County resident can vote anywhere in the county,” said Pima County Recorder Gabriella Cazares-Kelly, who has been working on the plans for a year. “I would be able to vote where ever was most convenient, like at closest to home, or closest to work, closest to school, or maybe closest to where I got groceries.”

Eleven Arizona counties, including Maricopa County, use vote centers. Arizona is one of 18 states which allow them.

Voting centers use computer technology to identify voters and speed up the process.

“We’re expecting ,you know, a check in process to go from three minutes per person to 30 seconds per person,” said Cazares-Kelly, who says she started working on the plan since she was elected in November 2020.

Besides eliminating long lines, vote centers will speed up the counting process by eliminating about 80% of the need for provisional ballots, which about a quarter of the voters fill out and which must be counted after election day.

“Voters would be able to walk in, present their identification, they would have a ballot that was printed specifically for them, their districts and their representatives,” Cazares-Kelly said. “They’d be able to cast that ballot and then be on their way.”

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