The Cottonwood City Council has finally agreed to adopt vote-by-mail for elections in the city. Cottonwood is the last city or town in Yavapai County to adopt the mail-in ballot system. Even so, the council gave the proposal a mixed 5-2 vote.
Council members Karen Pfeifer and Linda Norman voted against the measure and some other board members had reservations.
A vote to approve the measure Thursday now allows the city to use vote-by-mail (VBM) for the first time during its council elections in March and May. The terms now occupied by James Chapman, Tim Elinski, Norman and Pfeifer will be on the ballot.
Yavapai County Recorder Ana Wayman-Trujillo and County Elections Director Lynn Constabile gave the council a presentation to show pros and cons of the voting method.
The county officials said vote-by-mail is more secure, generates a higher voter turnout, eliminates confusion and reduces costs.
Cottonwood City Clerk Marianne JimÃ©nez told the council that since Yavapai County no longer conducts individual city elections at polling places, Cottonwood has needed to contract with a private vendor for the service. During the last primary, when a ballot counting machine was not available, the city had to count the ballots by hand.
JimÃ©nez says because of the increased number of voting regulations, the city now must hire part-time employees to conduct early voting in the 30 days prior to the election date.
Pfeifer worried about the potential for fraud by the vote-by-mail method.
Elinski said, "I am not crazy about it. I think it limits choice, but I recognize the advantages."
Duane Kirby also had some reservations: "I am not overly sold, but I have no objection."
County Recorder Ana Wayman-Trujillo told the board that every single vote-by-mail signature is compared and confirmed. Poll workers are trained what to look for and the county employs a handwriting analyst under the County Attorney's office.
"We have had one case in which we believe someone in a household may have committed voter fraud." She says the signature did not agree with records and that case has now been turned over to the County Attorney.
Arizona now has permanent early voting. The recorder says registering to vote early in all elections resolves a problem that some people have who believe that voting only occurs in November.
Councilman Terrence Pratt was adamant about the adoption of the mail ballot method. "Many retirees say that it is more convenient and it brings more people into the democratic process." He said, "At 19 percent, we have abysmal numbers that show up at the polls, now."
Sedona has had an average vote of 57 percent in its VBM elections, Prescott 59 percent, Clarkdale 58 percent and Camp Verde 52 percent.
The state of Oregon is now exclusively vote-by-mail. Mayor Diane Joens read reports of its success and told the council that Oregon has had a "three-fold increase in participation."
Wayman-Trujillo said the county had 771 voters called the county on election day to ask where they should vote.
City Attorney Steven Horton reminded the council that since Arizona is a Voting Rights Act state, Cottonwood must get a "pre-clearance" before it changes its voting method.
In order to vote in the primary election you must be registered to vote by Feb. 9, 2009.