Mon, July 22

County to work only with cities conducting all-mail elections

A unanimous decision made Monday by the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors means the county will no longer contract for election services with municipalities unless the community is conducting a strictly vote-by-mail election.

There are other options for cities and towns still wanting to hold elections at traditional polling places, but the county's decision is sure to have an effect on some municipalities.

Back in August, officials from the county's elections department met with local communities to get feedback on the idea. At that time Elections Director Lynn Constabile said that, according to law, county and state elections can not be called strictly by mail. Therefore, primary and general elections at those levels would still be held at polling places and administered by the county.

But for local elections, municipalities have in the past been able to contract with the county for services such as voter verification, use of the voting machines, the hiring of poll workers and tabulation.

In August Constabile sited the cost effectiveness of vote-by-mail elections and higher voter turnout rates as reasons why the idea was being considered.

Now that the board has made its decision, communities that were planning polling-place elections may be reconsidering.

Clarkdale Town Clerk Joyce Driscoll said the town council's decision to forego mail ballots in the upcoming March 2006 election will be re-evaluated. Council members are scheduled to decide at their Oct. 11 meeting.

Council members made the decision to favor polling-place elections in August. Clarkdale had been conducting all-mail elections since March 2000.

"We have contracted with the county in the past probably in every election we've done," Driscoll said.

If the council stands by its decision, Driscoll said the town has an election consultant that could take over where the county usually steps in.

But the benefits of an all-mail election are why the staff recommended that the council stay with vote-by-mail process, she said.

"Mail ballot elections are less labor intensive," Driscoll said. "It doesn't require hiring poll workers or securing a polling place."

The issues raised by Proposition 200 (requiring voter identification) also make voting by mail a better option, according to Driscoll.

"The issues with Prop. 200 Š the implementation of that will create difficulties at the polling place," she said.

According to Driscoll, mail ballots are in a way exempt from the Prop. 200 process. Signatures on the ballots are verified, but proof of identification isn't required.

If council members decide not to go to an all-mail election, Driscoll said the challenges will be dealt with.

"We're just going to have to make sure we're trained," she said.

The City of Cottonwood has traditionally held elections at polling places. City Clerk Marianne Jimenez said Cottonwood has contracted with the county in the past. They've also contracted with independent election consultants as well.

She said the board's decision shouldn't have an impact on Cottonwood elections, as long as the city still has the option of going with another service.

Cottonwood Vice Mayor Randy Lowe is opposed to mail-ballot elections because he says the method provides too many opportunities for fraud.

"I think we give citizens ample opportunity to get to the polls and vote," Lowe said. "I've used the example before -- if there's a dominant personality in the household Š the one dominant adult says 'just sign your ballot and I'll fill it out.'"

Trying to get more people to vote is an admirable, Lowe said. But he feels it should be accomplished by encouraging people to be responsible. The next regular election for the City of Cottonwood is scheduled for March 2007. Lowe said he knows there is some interest in going to all-mail ballots by some on the council.

"I'm sure at some point it's going to come up for an issue in Cottonwood," Lowe said.