PHOENIX – It’s a scene straight out of “Mission: Impossible.”
A heavy wooden door with key card access blocks the way into the Maricopa County election center’s ballot-tabulation room. Try getting in without authorization and two guards will stop you.
Need to use the bathroom? Sorry, the receptionist says, this place is under lockdown and the public area doesn’t have one.
But here’s a tip you don’t have to destroy upon reading: Virtually anyone can get into this room.
All you need is an Internet connection.
Under a law that took effect in January, counties across the state must provide live webcams of their tabulation rooms any time they house ballots, even when nobody is around.
Maricopa County installed eight webcams in its tabulation room, where workers likely will spend days processing tens of thousands of ballots that won’t be counted on election night.
Karen Osborne, the county’s elections director, said she likes making the process more transparent to voters.
“They may get bored, but they can watch,” she said.
At night, the curious can even keep a virtual eye on eight memory sticks that hold all data from Maricopa County’s ballots. One of the webcams is trained on those, and the sticks are next to a window through which any member of the public can watch the counting in person.
Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, added the webcam provision to a 2007 bill signed into law by Gov. Janet Napolitano.
He said the idea stemmed from concerns about how ballots were counted in a 2004 legislative race, a controversy that led to an FBI investigation that found no evidence of foul play.
Counties’ webcams already have been used for the presidential-preference and state primary elections.
“It made a world of difference for elections integrity,” Harper said. “I know the public loves having the access.”
Gilbert Hoyos, director of elections for Pinal County, said the webcams are a great way to involve the public in the election process.
“We can’t get any more transparent than this; the voter submits his ballot at the voting place, and then they see it themselves being accepted, tallied and deposited,” he said.
Brad Nelson, director of elections in Pima County, keeps his webcams on year-round.
“You can actually see, if you’re so inclined, the preparation of the machines for the count,” he said. “Your ballot should be voted in secret, but should be counted in a way that is as public as possible.”
The webcams are great for Arizona and its voters, said Sean McCaffrey, executive director of the Arizona Republican Party.
“Every way in which state and local government can put more of what it does online for voters to watch, comment and participate in bridges that divide between government and the people it is really supposed to serve,” McCaffrey said.
The Arizona Secretary of State’s Office has links to all county webcams watching over vote-tabulation rooms at: www.azsos.gov/election/CountyLiveVideoLinks.htm