With unanimous approval from its town council Aug. 9, the Town of Marana is preparing to eliminate physical polling locations and instead transition to mail ballot elections.
Town Clerk Jocelyn Bronson said since 2000 more than 30 Arizona cities and towns have adopted the mail-in ballot form of hosting an election. The method not only saves money, but also increases voter turnout.
The neighboring town of Oro Valley hosted its first all-mail election in 2002, garnering a 42-percent voter turnout. The election held prior to the change drew a 24 percent turnout.
Oro Valley Town Clerk Julie Bower said, “It’s not so much about saving money as it is about increasing voter turnout and making it easier for the voter,” she said.
In Marana’s last council election, with five polls open, 98 voters filled out a ballot in person. The polls averaged less than one voter per hour at the physical locations.
Of the 18,489 residents registered to vote in Marana’s 2011 General Election, 3,335 voted. Of those, 3,237 were done by mail.
These numbers point to a growing trend of voters avoiding the polls, and Bronson said an all-mail election is a good direction for the town.
With council approval, Bronson said the Pima County Recorder’s office would manage the election, and ballots will be mailed first class with printed instructions to all registered voters 26-15 days prior to the election.
Mayor Ed Honea said he supported the change; however, he worries about residents who like to vote in person on election day.
Pima County Deputy Recorder Chris Rhodes also attended the special session.
Rhodes told Honea that the county recorder’s office does provide replacement ballot services. By law, the office must provide voters a place to go on election day to submit ballots.
Councilwoman Roxanne Ziegler asked if an all-mail election could potentially increase voter fraud.
Rhodes replied it actually reduces voter fraud because a trained staff can verify that a signature on the ballot is valid. County staff receives forensic document examiner training every two years.
Councilman Jon Post said while he understands the concerns surrounding fraud, he also wondered if Marana is ready to make such a change.
Citing the low voter turnout in recent elections, Post said he’s concerned the town is making it easier for people to vote, “when they don’t appear to care, anyway.”
Honea agreed with Post’s theory.
“If an individual won’t sign up to vote or won’t go to the polls, do we really want people voting who don’t follow the issues?”
Unfortunately, Rhodes said low-voter turnout is common throughout the entire country, unless there is a controversial issue on the ballot.
Post stressed that he’s not against the mail ballot election, but he is concerned about the high cost for candidates to campaign through mail, and for residents who will vote without being informed about the issues.
A drawback to a mail ballot election is that candidates sometimes vote before any debates or candidate information is distributed.
Councilwoman Carol McGorray and Rhodes said voters who cast a ballot by mail usually take more time to research candidates and the issues, utilizing the Internet for information.
McGorray, who votes by mail, said she has more time to review the ballot, rather than standing in a booth and feeling rushed to finish.
After an hour-long discussion, the council voted unanimously to allow Bronson to proceed with the new method to host elections.
Bronson said the transition process will be lengthy. It will begin with educating the registered voters about the changes that will be coming in future elections.