KINGMAN - Voters in Mohave County will be using $683,000 in new equipment when they go to the polls for the Presidential Preference Election in March, and they'll be voting in 24 precincts instead of 73.
Mohave County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Monday to approve the purchase of the new voting system, and to consolidate voting precincts. The money will come from the $1.1 million Voting Equipment Replacement Fund.
Supervisors Steve Moss and Hildy Angius were opposed to the proposal.
Angius questioned the mechanics of the new voting equipment. The optical scan equipment currently being used to count votes is 10 years old, which is about the life expectancy for voting equipment.
"I have to be honest, I can't guarantee an accurate election with the equipment I have now," Elections Director Allen Tempert said.
Digital imaging is different than optical scanning, which cannot be transmitted from the polling site, he said. Voting equipment had to be transferred back to the Elections Department office after polls closed.
Voters will need new voter registration cards, and Angius asked how much that would cost the county and how long would it take.
The county will probably have to send out 100,000 registration cards, and would put the job out to bid, an Elections Department employee told the board. With postage, the cost would be just under $35,000.
"I understand the need for this, I really do, but it makes me nervous rolling it out on [an] election year," Angius said. "I just don't want unintended consequences on election day."
That's why Tempert wants the equipment in place at the polling sites for the Presidential Preference Election, allowing time to work out deficiencies before the primary and general elections.
The Presidential Preference Election is a political party election to see which candidate Arizona delegates should vote for at their respective national conventions.
"I have hesitancy because we're moving too quickly and there are a lot of moving parts," Moss said in voting against the proposal.
Joe Longoria, chairman of the Mohave County Democratic Central Committee, said the right to vote is of "paramount importance" to U.S. citizens and the cost savings of the proposal would be substantial.
The precinct consolidation is more of a concern for Longoria.
"Where was the stakeholders' input on this proposal and have we discussed the negative impact on citizens?" he asked the board during public comments. "Saving money should not be our primary goal here."
Longoria said he'd like to see Tempert gradually reduce the polling sites, which may take care of the "scavenging" of equipment and make it last longer.
John Townsend of Bullhead City, who worked as an inspector at the polling sites, said he didn't think changing equipment and reducing precincts during the 2016 election year was a good idea, especially with the large turnout expected.
Supervisor Gary Watson wanted to know if the voting process would be simplified.
Tempert said ballots would be simplified from 470 styles in the 73 precincts to 24 ballot styles with certain variations.
There was also discussion about voters having to travel farther to vote. We're in a "mobile society" and people get around easily, Tempert said. The 32 voting locations are along transportation lines and showed the highest voter turnout in the past, he added.
"I can assure you nobody will be voting out of the wrong precinct if there's less precincts and they'll know where they're going," the elections director said.