Yes, election security is essential. And yes, votes should be counted as expeditiously as possible.
But Pima County’s tortuous vote-counting process – which was not expected to be complete 48 hours after the polls closed – is unacceptable and must be fixed.
There will never be a voting system – or anything else operated by humans – that is totally immune to errors and manipulation. And until there are massive technological leaps, vote totals will not be instantly available.
So we need to come up with the best of both worlds: a system that incorporates the highest degree of security while still allowing votes to be counted reasonably quickly.
Pima County now counts votes slower than any other county in Arizona. Maricopa County – which has four times as many people as Pima County – counts votes much more quickly. And so does Greenlee County, which has a population 120 times smaller than Pima.
The genesis of the delays was a lawsuit filed against the county by the Pima County Democratic Party, which had well-founded concerns about election security.
As part of the settlement, the county said it would no longer use phone lines and modems to transmit votes from its 373 polling places to a central computer. Instead, the sealed vote scanner from each polling place had to be brought to a central place and downloaded.
Chuck Huckelberry, the Pima County administrator, said he would not change that procedure unless representatives of all political parties concur. That makes sense.
A central question must be asked: Is it really more secure to have scanners driven around the county in private vehicles than to connect them to a telephone line? What if equipment is damaged in an auto accident? Does this really increase ballot security, or is it more of a feel-good change?
Is hacking into election results sent via modem a realistic concern? If so, why are other counties in Arizona and elsewhere using that process?
Instead of taking all ballot scanners to one place, would it be acceptable to have 10 or 20 places around the county where scanners could be taken, votes tabulated then transmitted to the central counting center over a secure modem and phone line?
Political parties and the county all have interests in getting votes counted accurately and quickly. So they must work together toward some resolution.
The problems surfaced this week when about 20 percent of the registered voters went to the polls for the primary election. It’s scary to think how much worse it will be in November when 80 percent turnout is predicted.
Changes must be made before then.