Pima County elections staff understands there is frustration about the length of the process and the fact there are not yet final answers on some outstanding races, but it is important to note some of the reasons for the delay and the way Pima County is working to ensure a secure election process.
1) More early voters are voting than ever before, but they aren’t turning in their ballots “early.”
Of the roughly 308,000 early ballots sent out, only 197,000 had been returned by the day before the election.
On Election Day, nearly 44,000 people took their early ballots to their polling places. Combined with those that came in before Election Day, but not in time to go through the verification process, there were more than 55,000 early ballots that could not be counted on Election Day because the signatures must first be verified.
The process was further muddled if voters showed up at the polls without their early ballots, since elections staff had to ensure that those voters did not actually mail their early ballot and then cast a physical ballot at the polling place.
This situation isn’t new. It has existed since the advent of early voting. This time, however, the numbers of early voters not only increased exponentially, but more people held onto their ballots longer.
2) We’re all human and ultimately, elections are a human process.
Included among the oversights, some voters:
- did not sign the white ballot affidavit envelope that contains their early ballot;
- used red or even glitter pens instead of the black or blue that is required by the scanner, or used white-out or punched holes in ballots;
- went to a different polling place than was indicated on the yellow card sent to each voting household;
- did not update their voter registration after a move;
- did not bring the required identification to the polls.
As with every election cycle, staff will do a performance review on the staff side as well. Staff will work to identify any lapses and take steps to address them for future elections.
3) The process is complex, involving two separate departments and continual, direct oversight by the political parties.
a) The Pima County Recorder’s Office is tasked with verifying voter identity.
For early ballots, staff compares signatures on the white affidavit envelope with voter signatures on file. If those signatures do not appear to match, staff will contact voters by phone or mail to determine the validity of the vote, although there is no statutory requirement to do so.
If a voter isn’t found on the registration rolls, staff will do a manual search for the original paperwork in case it wasn’t entered into the computer.
If voters are issued provisional ballots at polling places because they aren’t on the roster, didn’t bring proper identification or also received early ballots, staff must then verify that the voter is properly registered, voted at the right polling location, and didn’t already vote their early ballot before showing up at the physical polling station.
Voters who didn’t bring identification with them to the polls have five days to bring it to a library or a Recorder’s Office location.
Every provisional ballot is checked independently by two different staff members.
b) The Pima County Election Department is tasked with counting votes.
When Elections staff receives a batch of ballots from the Recorder’s Office, they ensure the number of ballots and the names of voters in that batch matches the receipt. Ballots then are opened for the first time.
Staff inspects the ballot to ensure there are no obvious reasons, such as stains, ink color or rips that would prevent the scanner from reading it. If there are problems, two staff members painstakingly fill out a duplicate ballot, under oversight of the political parties.
Once the ballots are fed through one of seven different scanners, staff ensures the tally matches the number of ballots fed into the machines.
4) There are multiple safeguards built into the entire system.
Dividing the work between two different departments ensures checks and balances exist.
Video surveillance captures and records the process as it unfolds.
Political parties, including some members who sit on an independent elections integrity committee, are on premises any time the offices are in operation.
Keypad door locks, motion detectors and alarms protect the ballots, which once counted, are kept in a secure vault.
The tabulation system, which cannot be operated by one person since it requires a two-party password, is also not hooked up to the internet to provide even more security.
Pima County conducted a hand count audit on Nov. 10 to verify the validity of the results.
Representatives of the Republican and Democratic parties arbitrarily selected early ballot audit batches to be counted. Five contested races were counted, as required by law, including U.S. President and U.S. Congress.
Four percent of precincts were counted, by Board of Supervisors policy. A discrepancy of seven votes was found altogether out of the 25,818 votes counted by the machine. The largest discrepancy was two votes in the race for Proposition 116.
One percent of early ballots were audited, according to state law. The hand count audit checked 12,585 votes and reported a difference of two votes.
In all, with nine differences out of 38,403 votes, results were far below the allowable variance under state law.
5) The County is working to provide transparency.
The Pima County Elections Department publishes a schedule of elections events at http://www.pima.gov/elections/PDF/event%20schedule.pdf.
If you’d like to watch a live feed of the ballot counting, please visit http://streamer.pima.gov/asxgen/wmtencoder/elections.wmv.
Now that the provisional ballots are turned over, voters will be able to log onto the Recorder’s site http://www.recorder.pima.gov/ to find out if their ballot was turned over for counting, and if not, the reason it was rejected.