Since the dawn of he 21st century, election trends and technology have been changing rapidly.
One thing that hasn’t changed much, however, is the equipment Pima County uses to collect and tabulate votes. It is decidedly 20th century, having been in use since the late 1990s.
With a major election looming in 2014 — the ballot is expected to have a little bit of everything, with congressional seats, statewide offices and propositions, local races and bond questions — the county planning an upgrade.
The plan is to buy new optical scanners to replace more the 400 machines they have been using for going on two decades.
Brad Nelson, the Pima County elections director, said a change in voting trends, with many preferring to mail in their ballots rather than step into a polling booth, is helping him to save taxpayers an estimated $1.5 million.
The savings mostly come from getting rid of the optical scanners that were placed in hundreds of polling places and instead using paper ballots that can be counted by faster, higher capacity scanners located at the county’s main election headquarters.
Paper ballots would still be issued at the polls, Nelson said. They would just be locked in metal boxes and brought back to county facilities to be counted.
He doesn’t expect the new procedures will cause any significant delays in reporting results on election night.
Replacing the aging machines currently used at the polling places would cost an estimated $2 million. But it it will cost roughly $500,000 to buy four or five machines to be located at the centralized facility.
Selling the current optical scanners, which will still be used this fall in some regional elections including the Vail incorporation vote, might bring in additional revenue to the county.
They might be old, he said, but spare parts are in short supply.
Nelson thinks there are vendors who would be willing to buy the outdated scanners and strip them for hard-to-find parts.