Bennett's proposed voting changes would be welcome - and expensive

MOHAVE COUNTY/Courtesy<br>
From left, District 1 Supervisor Gary Watson, acting County Manager Mike Hendrix and County Attorney Bill Ekstrom participate in the official vote canvass Monday. Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett has proposed voting changes that could speed up election tabulations.

MOHAVE COUNTY/Courtesy<br> From left, District 1 Supervisor Gary Watson, acting County Manager Mike Hendrix and County Attorney Bill Ekstrom participate in the official vote canvass Monday. Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett has proposed voting changes that could speed up election tabulations.

Mohave County Voter Registration Supervisor Kim Stewart would be thrilled to have the new early ballot system Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett described last week.

There's just one catch - who's going to pay for it?

Bennett suggested making changes to the provisional ballot and early ballot counting system after it took more than a week to get the final results in two of the state's congressional races. Mohave County finished verifying and counting its provisional ballots on Nov. 15. The election was held Nov. 6.

"We had more than 4,200 provisional ballots. That's more than double what we normally get," Stewart said.

The delay was caused by the way the state processes early and provisional ballots. Arizona allows people who received an early ballot in the mail to drop it off at any polling place on Election Day. The ballots are collected by poll workers and shipped to the county voter registration division to be sorted, have their signatures verified and then transferred to the elections department to be counted.

Provisional ballots are given to voters who show up at the polls to vote without a valid ID or who are listed as having been mailed an early ballot. These ballots are set aside until the voter's identity can be confirmed or there is proof that the division hasn't received an early ballot from the voter.

Bennett described a voting system that would allow voters to go to any polling place in their county and cast a ballot with proper ID.

"It's called a 'ballot on demand' system," Stewart said. It allows poll workers to print a ballot for any voter who walks in the door. It would have the specific candidates and issues for that voter's precinct.

For example, someone who worked in Kingman but lived in Lake Havasu City could go to a Kingman vote center at lunch and request a ballot. The poll worker would verify that the person is a registered voter and the computer would print out a ballot that would list all the candidates and issues in the Lake Havasu area.

"This is something we've wanted to do for years," Stewart said. "It's a huge process with new software and machines. It also requires huge amounts of money."

The biggest roadblock to implementing the system is its cost, she said. It costs around $10,000 for one printer.

The money to purchase such a system would have to come from the federal government or the state, because the county doesn't have enough, Stewart said. The county could do it with paper ballots and its touch-screen machines.

The county's early voting locations that open about three weeks before Election Day do have ballots for each precinct in the county, she said. This allows voters from all over the county to vote early at one polling place in each of the three cities - Kingman, Lake Havasu and Bullhead City.

But the cost to expand that system to the entire county on Election Day would be astronomical, Stewart said.

"We would have to print enough of every type of ballot in the county to have at each polling place," she said. "There could be 600 different ballots."

The county could program its touch-screen voting machines to hold information for all of the available ballots, Stewart said. But some people don't like the machines because of hacking concerns.

The machines actually aren't connected to the Internet and have a redundant voting recording system, she said. Votes cast on touch-screen machines are recorded on a memory card and on a paper tape.

"If we're lucky, the Legislature will get excited about what happened this year and set aside some money for us," Stewart said.