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.