Pima County’s District 1 race
Randy Metcalf/The Explorer

Pima County will no longer make use of precinct scanners at polling locations after the Pima County Board of Supervisors rejected a measure to spend $1.8 million to replace them. 

The board’s decision came despite a recommendation by Pima County Election Integrity Commission (PCEIC) to keep the scanners in place since they allow for an electronic count at polling locations, serving as a way to double check ballots when they are tallied in the central count system. 

Bill Beard, District 1 PCEIC representative called the board’s decision frustrating, particularly since he says Pima County has a poor track record with handling elections in the past.

“If the board is truly concerned about the matter, perhaps actually listening to the advisers they appointed to advise them on thing elections-related might be a good place to start,” he said, also noting that District 1’s Ally Miller was the only supervisor to vote in favor of the PCEIC’s recommendation to keep scanners in place.

In a recent op-ed, Beard said the elimination of scanners eliminates a much-needed check in the election process, and could create unbalanced power.

“Each and every step of the process is to be watched by those outside the system, keeping those inside the machinery from having sway over outcomes… by subdividing the counting into smaller parts it becomes easier to detect errors and potential fraud,” Beard wrote. “When you can compare the final numbers on Election Day with the central machine counts and the sum from all the smaller precinct sections, it makes it a lot harder to cheat.”

Last week, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry submitted a response to Beard’s op-ed, saying it no longer make sense to employ precinct scanners due the fact voter habits don’t support spending the $1.8 million.

According to Huckelberry, 70 percent of voters in 2012 used mail ballots, and trends show that number will be closer to 80 percent by 2016. 

“It doesn’t make sense to spend $1.8 million for polling place scanners that will process only 20 percent of the ballots in 2016, with that percentage continuing to dwindle over time,” he wrote.

Huckelberry says even without the scanners, there are numerous checks and balances in place to make sure elections are conducted without political influence. Also, he adds, the plan to go without precinct scanners will be tested in 25 precincts in the upcoming primary election. 

Detailing the process, Huckelberry said polling locations will have a sealed steel ballot box, which poll workers will verify is empty before voting begins. Ballots will then be placed into the box with the number of entries recorded and placed into the box as well. 

At the end of Election Day, poll workers will open the box, verify the seal is in place, and count the number of ballots inside without counting the votes themselves. The tally will be compared to the voter signature roster to ensure all ballots are accounted for. Following that, a formal ballot report will be submitted that attests to the number of ballots as well as voter signatures. The box will then be resealed, a new seal and log created verifying counts, and the box then delivered by two poll workers of opposing political parties to the Pima County Elections Department. 

“Every step in the voting and tabulation process is done under the observation of representatives of the political parties,” said Huckelberry

Huckelberry said the same tabulation software program used by the precinct scanners and central tabulation equipment will be independently reviewed and tested by each major political party and by the Arizona Secretary of State prior to Election Day. Once certified by those users, a copy of the program is placed on file with the state to be reviewed in the event of an election contest. Following official election results, ballots are subject to a hand count audit to assure the program counted the ballots correctly, a count that is not performed by the county, but by the political parties under observation of anyone interested in the process, Huckelberry said.

“Clearly, there is a very detailed, verifiable and independent process that ensures every vote cast is counted accurately,” said Huckelberry.

(1) comment

Bill Beard

Mr. Huckleberry was kind enough to single me out in his memo to the Board advocating that NO precinct scanners be included in the purchase of new equipment for the county. The board is scheduled to vote at their Sept 2 meeting. The only justification Mr. Huckleberry used for not wanting to include precinct scanners is that the current ones are old, worn out and unreliable. He uses a memo from Brad Nelson, head of the Election Dept to identify problems with the current decades plus equipment. The existing system is so antiquated that replacement parts are no longer available.

His memo to the board of August 15, 2014 states,

"It is important to understand the increasing frequency of precinct ballot scanning failures. Such is expected to continue and be problematic in the future; hence, the need to transition to a new and more reliable system of collection and vote tabulation that is now proposed in the central counting system."

In other words we shouldn't buy new equipment since the old stuff is so unreliable. I'm not sure how that same logic will apply when each of the Supervisors requests a new vehicle for their use but it does go a long way to explaining the philosophy behind road repair in the county... but I digress.

The basic flaw in Mr. Huckleberry's logic boils down to this. Our system of laws is based on the simple idea that human beings make mistakes. Our election systems should never be trusted in the hands of only a few. It was specifically designed to have multiple checks on the power of any one individual or small group to have extraordinary influence on the vote tabulation. It was designed to be transparent and verifiable. Mr. Huckleberry convinced the board earlier this month to veto 2 recommendations to increase transparency and increase public confidence in the final results.

Most every elementary student knows about Checks and Balances. Mr. Huckleberry would have the Board of Supervisors put that lesson to the test. Do we trust those in power to do the right thing? A basic understanding of human behavior would say no. You design the system to be checked and cross checked. With scanners you have multiple ways to check results. Without them you concentrate power in fewer hands. Something the founders of this state and this nation sacrificed a great deal to ensure never happen.

Make your voice heard. Tell the Board they must insist that scanners be a part of the new system. $1.8 million out of a total budget of $1.3 billion plus is a very small price to pay to add a little more confidence and integrity to a system we have no choice but to trust in. The evening news proves time and again the alternatives are not something to build a future on.

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