Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Arizona needs voting reform, including ending early voting

More than 400,000 Arizonans voted for a dead guy Tuesday.

State Rep. Jorge Luis Garcia, who was running for Corporation Commissioner, died of a heart attack two weeks ago, and, because of early voting, it was too late to take him off the ballot.

Apparently some voters, roughly the population of Mesa, didn’t get the news. Either that, or they preferred voting for a dead Democrat than a live Republican.

That’s the weirdest of the weird voter behavior from Tuesday’s election. Other strangeness included more than 300,000 voters who got early ballots and then didn’t vote early. They waited until election day and drove to a polling place and dropped off their early ballot.

It’s hard to fathom the point of that. It’s also aggravating. It turns election day into election week, as counties have to go through the laborious, week-long process of checking and counting them.

Then there are the voters who bothered to vote but couldn’t be bothered to vote for everybody. In Pima County, thousands of voters turned in ballots with numerous races left blank.

There is always some measure of “down-ballot” voter fatigue every election as voters faced with long ballots skip the small races at the bottom.

But last week in Pima County there was an outbreak of “up-ballot” fatigue.

More than 5,500 Pima County voters didn’t vote for U.S. Senator, the first set of bubbles to color in on the ballot.

It got worse from there. Every race in Pima County had instances of blank votes, the worst by number being the Tucson school district governing board race. More than 130,000 voters who live in the TUSD boundary cast ballots Tuesday, but more than 26,000 of them, about 20 percent, didn’t vote for a TUSD board candidate. Another 36,000 only voted for one candidate instead of two like they were supposed to.

That’s 40 percent of voters in TUSD who left votes uncast.

What’s the point of voting if you’re not going to vote?

And finally and perhaps the worst voter behavior from Tuesday, is the 1.6 million registered Arizona voters who apparently had something better to do and didn’t vote.

Obviously it’s long past time we reform our voting system. Not the mechanics of voting (how hard can it be to color in bubbles and stick a piece of paper into a bubble-reading machine?) but the process of voting and who we vote for.

The early voting experiment has proven it’s not worth the trouble. The idea was to make voting more convenient in hopes it would increase voter turnout. It hasn’t.

Consider the following:

Arizona Voter Turnout in Mid-term elections 1974-2010

1974 63 %

1978 57 %

1982 65 %

1986 56 %

1990 59 %

1994 56%

1998 46%

2002 56%

2006 60%

2010 46%

Source: Arizona Secretary of State

And while failing to increase turnout it succeeds in making county elections departments miserable and increasing the costs of vote counting.

We need to do away with early ballots and return to absentee voting – you only get to vote early if you’re out of town doing something important, like working at an embassy in Bangladesh or off killing Al Qaeda somewhere. Election day should be just that, the day candidates get elected. We don’t need election month.

If the supposed inconvenience of voting on election day is a turnoff for voters, so too is the length of the ballot. I’m a pretty informed guy when it comes to local and state politics but I couldn’t tell you the first thing about Frank Fontes, candidate for constable in Justice Precinct 2. Or whether Superior Court Judge Ted Borek is doing a good job and should be “retained.”

The ballot is cluttered up with anachronisms of the 19th and 20th centuries when Arizona was a rural, progressive state and electing people to these posts mattered.

But in this modern age it’s time we eliminate some of these penny-ante elected offices.

Why do we need to vote for the state school superintendent, the state treasurer or the mine inspector? All of those positions could be appointed by the governor.

And what’s the point of voting to retain judges when all the judges are always retained? Does anyone know when was the last time a judge in any county or appellate court in Arizona wasn’t retained? I’ve searched 20 years of newspapers archives (Lexis/Nexis) and almost 40 years of state election results and I can’t find a single instance.

Do we really need to vote for a county constable, who is just a glorified process server? Heck, we could probably get by without voting for any of the county elected offices: recorder, treasurer, sheriff, attorney, school superintendent, court clerk and assessor. All of those people could be appointed by the county supervisors.

Who cares if the court clerk is a Republican or a Democrat? What difference does it make? Is there a conservative way to file papers? A liberal way?

Voting for most of these offices is a waste of time.

Speaking of wastes of time, we don’t really need all those school boards, either. Local control is a myth, thanks to standardized testing and state funding of education.

We should consolidate school districts, at a minimum, or eliminate them altogether and let the state run the schools, since it funds them and dictates what gets taught anyway.

Same goes for fire and water districts. They’re anachronisms of our rural past. They should be consolidated or put under control of the counties.

Perhaps if you only needed to figure out a handful of ballot propositions and which of 15 or 20 candidates to vote for every two years instead of 50 or a 100, maybe more people would vote for the offices that matter and we wouldn’t need to give them a month’s head start.

But if all of this is too much reform with too much vested interest by the political parties to keep it as screwy as it is, then at a minimum we should require that people who get an early ballot actually vote early and not keep the rest of us waiting a week to find out if we get to smoke marijuana now.

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