Pima County was the worst offender in disenfranchising voters in 2008, according to a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union, which determined the county invalidated 18 percent of provisional ballots because voters went to the wrong polling place.

The report focused on provisional ballots, which are used to record votes when there is some question about whether any given voter might be eligible to vote.

The organization's study, which covered Maricopa, Pima, Pinal, Yavapai and Coconino counties in the 2008 election, found that of about 131,500 provisional ballots, almost 40,000 ended up invalidated, for reasons as varied as the person didn't have the right identification or was ineligible to vote.

But the No. 1 reason ballots were rejected - some 13,500 of them - was because voters showed up at the wrong polling place.

Pima County provisional voters had a one-in-six chance of having their votes go uncounted, the report found, with about 3,200 rejected from a pool of nearly 18,000.

ACLU Executive Director Alessandra Soler Meetze said Arizona's voting system is too restrictive, since it requires voting within the precinct, especially since polling places frequently change with population shifts. The organization says voters should have been directed to their new polling location.

"It's a problem that can be fixed," Soler Meetze said, "and it should be fixed." She said until it is, voters should know about the requirement and should consider voting early.

Pima County Elections Director Brad Nelson said he has been trying to bring those numbers down, saying his office has been sending out an index-sized card in the mail to every household before every election identifying polling places.

Technology at the polling place isn't yet state-of-the-art. There isn't a computer available to allow poll workers to punch in someone's address and send them to the correct location. Instead, poll workers walk voters over to a large map and have them point out their home, then sift through paper reference materials to tell them where to go.

The other reason the county might have ranked so high, Nelson suggested, is that voters are directed to different polling sites, depending on whether the city or county is running the election.

Nelson said it would be difficult to toss out the precinct requirement altogether, since even a shift of three blocks might mark a new legislative district or a new school district boundary. Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez said one solution might be to count a person's statewide vote, for example, such as for governor, but not count races that differ by precinct lines.

The report comes after a recent report by national policy centers Demos and Common Cause found Arizona worst among 10 states for what they characterized as "excessive hurdles to voting."

Those hurdles, it contends, include the chilling effect of the "ugly" immigration debate, requiring proof of citizenship and requiring voters to register almost one month before the election.

Meanwhile, the registration deadline is approaching for the general election.

To vote in November, you need to be registered by the close of business Monday. For information, call 740-4330.

To See the Report

Go to "Uncounted Votes" at acluaz.org/press_releases/ Attachments/PB_Report_092810.pdf

Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at 573-4243 or rbodfield@azstarnet.com