The U.S. Postal Service "misplaced" about 85 mail-in ballots for an upcoming all-mail election in Sahuarita, Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez said Friday.
While replacing the ballots was relatively easy for a smaller-city election, the incident is raising questions about the Tucson City Council's recent decision to switch to all-mail voting.
This is the first time the Recorder's Office has heard of the Postal Service losing ballots, said Rodriguez. The disappearance of what "appears to be a single mail tray" of ballots was discovered when voters, all in the same section of the Quail Creek neighborhood, started reporting they hadn't received theirs a week after they were mailed out.
Just over 12,000 ballots were mailed to Sahuarita voters on April 21. So far, 85 voters have requested replacements. Rodriguez said the problem appears to be limited to "a single tray" of ballots intended for that neighborhood. With 1.6 million mail-in ballots sent in Pima County over the last decade, "this is a very rare occurrence," she said.
Postal workers "haven't found any evidence that any mail was misplaced," said Robert Soler, a spokesperson with the U.S. Postal Service in Tucson. Still, both Soler and Rodriguez urged voters to call the Recorder's Office if they hadn't received a ballot and they would be mailed before the election on May 17.
"The voters have been issued second ballots and we have taken care of them," Rodriguez said, who added that measures are in place to make sure there would be only one vote per person.
Pima County GOP Chairman Brian Miller said the incident shows flaws in the all-mail system.
"To mandate that voters use the most fraud-prone and fraud-riddled aspect of our current system is absurd," Miller said. "The Democrat City Council did that to stack the election."
Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Vail, agrees this shows all-mail elections are cause for concern.
"It is a big deal. There are people who didn't get a ballot at the same time everyone else did," Antenori said.
Republican senators voted to prohibit Tucson's all-mail decision earlier this month. Sen. Ted Vogt, R-Tucson, proposed an amendment to SB 1331 to bar cities that hold partisan elections from adopting an all-mail system - Tucson is the only one. Vogt said he pushed the amendment to make sure the entire city can weigh whether mail-in ballots are a good idea, not just the council. The bill awaits a signature from Gov. Jan Brewer.
"The reason I allowed Ted Vogt to amend that bill is because they eliminated people that do not trust the mail system," Antenori said. "There are potential flaws with mail-in-only ballots."
But Democrats say Sahuarita isn't necessarily a warning signal against all-mail elections.
"We've already utilized mail-in ballots for some time now, and this problem could crop up if it was an all-mail system or a hybrid system," Democratic Councilwoman Karin Uhlich said. "It's a concern either way."
Uhlich, who approved the all-mail system, said she wanted more information about what happened. "Part of my support was predicated on the quality of our postal service," Uhlich said.
But she remained confident that the all-mail system was a good choice.
"We need a system that is straightforward and implemented in a clear-cut manner," Uhlich said.
Republican Councilman Steve Kozachik said that what happened in Sahuarita was one of the reasons he opposed the change.
"I did not have a huge problem with the potential for fraud; it was more along the line of mistakes and errors," Kozachik said. "I don't think there was any kind of grand scheme to go and steal Sahuarita's ballots."
But it did raise concerns he brought up when the council voted on the decision, Kozachik said.
"As we're seeing in Sahuarita, issues do arise in this situation," Vogt said. "The city needs to take a more deliberate look at what this means for voters."
Kellie Mejdrich is a University of Arizona journalism student apprenticing at the Star. She can be reached at 573-4142 or at email@example.com