Arizona SOS Ken Bennett seeks vote-counting overhaul

| November 20 2012
Christopher Cook

The State of Arizona had several races recently that were too close to call on election night, and thus required a careful tally of uncounted provisional and other outstanding ballots. This process took several days, and in the case of the Barber-McSally race in AZ-2, now finally decided in Barber’s favor by a comparatively small number of votes, it took well more than a week.

Arizona’s Secretary of State Ken Bennett has decided that this situation is unacceptable and should not be repeated. He is proposing an overhaul to the state’s voting system to avoid such protracted and slow ballot counts in future.

PHOENIX — Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett is proposing a wholesale overhaul of the state’s vote-counting system in the wake of embarrassing delays counting more than 630,000 ballots statewide from the Nov. 6 general election.

The delays kept voters from knowing the outcome of two of the state’s three major congressional races until at least a week after the polls closed, and the last wasn’t decided until Saturday. Bennett said if the presidential election had been in the balance, the state would have been the focus of nationwide derision.

Bennett said in an interview with The Associated Press that by 2014, he hopes to completely revamp the way early ballots dropped off at polling places are counted; cut the number of provisional ballots issued by 90 percent; and ensure the vast majority of votes have been counted within hours of poll closings.

“I want 98 percent of all the ballots to have been scanned into the system and counted by election night,”Bennett said Saturday. “And the next morning, as an election family statewide, we’re dealing with 10,000 to 15,000 ballots, and we’re done in two days.”

The lengthy vote count has brought complaints from voter rights advocates and others who say it highlighted problems with Election Day fairness in the state. But most observers said the delays mainly were due toArizona’s early voting system, which allows citizens to send in early ballots late and even drop them off at the polling place on Election Day.

Thirteen of the state’s 15 counties didn’t complete their vote counts for a full eight days following the election, while Pima and Maricopa county election officials continued slogging through piles of ballots Sunday.

Similar delays happened in the presidential election in 2008, when it took 15 days to complete the vote count in Arizona.

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It is entirely reasonable to look at the election system to see if it can be made more efficient. However, any overhaul that takes place must be done with a view to improving ballot integrity. Early votes, absentee votes, and 100 percent electronic machines (without paper backup) are all ripe for abuse, and some would argue, rife with it too. We would urge Secretary of State Bennett to include such considerations in any overhaul proposal.

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