Tue, July 16

Letter: Declining to vote at all isn't a sensible option


Several friends of mine didn't want to vote by mail in this school override election. Judging by comments on the VI's website, some Verde Independent readers share their trepidation. After 15 years dealing with voters' concerns in Los Angeles, I don't consider this unusual or unreasonable.

Vote-by-mail originated as an imperfect accommodation for those who, due to physical distance and unavoidable obligations, could not be in their precinct on election day. It's appropriate for votes of confidence and corporate proxies (where those who don't like the results can sell their stock). But it was never intended to carry contested public elections all by itself.

VBM can't be as secure as walking into your polling place, signing the separate voter register, being immediately verified, and only then receiving a ballot from a supply signed out to a precinct inspector, who has to account for every single one immediately after the polls close and personally return them all to the County Elections Division with affidavits signed by every poll worker. No one else handles the ballots. No one else has access to the Roister of Voters. The voted ballots are delivered in a sealed box, ready for tallying that night.

By necessity, mail-only elections first broadcast ballots to everyone whose registration is still on file. The voted ballots trickle back -- with no record of how many the Elections Director should receive and no accountability on the part of those handling them in transit. Voters names have to remain affixed to their vote until their signature's been verified. This is a time-consuming process, so the ballots can sit around for weeks before being counted.

This is too loosey-goosey, or too threatening, for some people.

However, declining to vote at all isn't a sensible option. That just encourages special interest operatives, intimidation tactics, and voter suppression.

So I called the County Elections Division to see what Arizona's citizens can and can't do to help guard their votes. This is what I gleaned, in ascending order of "paranoia":

1. To be more certain ballots don't go astray.

a. Don't leave your voted ballot in your mailbox.

b. Minimize handling by using the drop-off boxes. County officers take entire bags from the boxes, seal them, and deliver directly to Prescott without sorting.

c. Send your ballot via certified mail. But don't request a return receipt. The mailroom isn't set up for it. NOT RECOMMENDED AFTER OCT. 31.

d. Take your ballot to Prescott yourself. You can turn it in at the "open office" or put it in the drop box there. But again, don't request a receipt. They don't have any.

e. 4 days after any of the above, call the Prescott Election Division to be sure your ballot arrived intact and was certified (1-928-771-3250). They will be happy to check the status for you.

2. To better protect your privacy and deter ballot culling by name or address...

a. Be sure both orange and green envelopes are sealed to your satisfaction. Clear packing tape and high-tack stickers reading BALLOT TAMPERING IS A FELONY are both legal. Just don't obscure your name on the green envelope, and don't smudge your signature on the affidavit form. These are needed to process your ballot.

b. Don't put your return address on the green envelope.

c. Enclose the green envelope in a blank envelope and pay the postage yourself if mailing. This slows processing down, but the Registrar wants you to vote.

3. Remember, once your ballot reaches them, the Election Division's time-tested VBM security procedures take over.

Your ballot will be logged-in upon receipt. Without being opened, it then goes to signature verification experts with lots of practice. They log it in again and slit into the affidavit portion to check the signature.

Then, still essentially unopened and no longer attached to your name, your ballot goes to an Election Board composed of members of all interested parties in Yavapai County. They supervise opening the envelopes and the preparation of ballots for counting. Then, finally, after the election is closed, the office of the Elections Director gets to count the votes.

I hope this helps anyone reluctant to vote by mail. The votes you cast in local elections are, in fact, the most important votes you can cast.

T. Hearn