Pima County's painfully slow vote tabulation, as evidenced again in Tuesday's sales-tax election, is an overreaction to election integrity issues raised three years ago, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said.
Huckelberry said it may be time to reconsider some of the procedures that have consistently made Pima County a distant last in the state to report its vote count.
Tuesday's vote was no exception. After 10 p.m., Pima County only had 8 percent of polls counted, while three other counties had already posted 100 percent and Maricopa - which had five times as many votes to count - had finished tallying 99.3 percent.
By 10:15 p.m., Pima County was up to 18 percent. The next slowest performing county at that time was Apache, at 83 percent.
Huckelberry said there's a good reason for the lag time.
Pima County, in 2007, agreed to stop using modems to send results directly from polling places to be counted, in response to charges raised by the Pima County Democratic Party the county rigged the 2006 regional transportation vote. There were concerns a hacker could intercept the transmission and change the results.
Elections director Brad Nelson is only partly joking when he says his office now has a flow chart the size of Texas.
Let's say you're a poll worker, Nelson said.
When the polls close at 7 p.m., you will finish a mini-audit on site before taking the vote recording machine to one of a dozen satellite locations, where they undergo another inventory. They then sit in a van waiting for the others being funneled to that location to arrive so they can all be delivered to central receiving at the basement of the county complex downtown, where they're inventoried again.
From there, questioned ballots are sent off to the County Recorder's Office while the rest are routed to the counting site on South Mission Road, where they are again inventoried and inspected before the data is uploaded. Political parties observe the entire process.
"We've got checkers checking the checkers," said Huckelberry, in noting it's time to revisit the process.
He said he was caught up in the frustration himself - and prodding his elections director along - because if the sales-tax election went down, it was going to spell large funding shifts from the state to the counties.
The decision to stop transmitting votes by modem, he now believes, "was an overreaction." He plans to ask the county's Election Integrity Commission to look into what technological advances have come on line since 2007 that could help shore up confidence in electronic transmission of the data.
"I think when the polls close, people expect to see results and they expect to see them fairly timely," he said.
Aside from the unwieldy counting process, the advent of early voting and other voting protections has also led to delays. The elections division still had about 10,000 outstanding ballots to count Wednesday, in part because folks who had early ballots dropped them off at the polling places instead of mailing them in, which required additional verification.
Matt Benson, a spokesman for the Arizona Secretary of State's Office, said while the office prefers results to come in both accurately and on time, "we respect that in Pima County they have some special concerns about the integrity of local elections, which has led to some of the safeguards they've chosen at a local level."
On the other hand, he said, the office hasn't found fault with the electronic transmissions, either - especially since hard copies follow for audit purposes.
Jeff Rogers, chairman of the local Democratic Party, said he, too, noticed that regardless of how many times he clicked refresh on his computer, the Pima County count was still coming slow. While he lauded the county as a model for ballot security, he said he wouldn't be opposed to revisiting the security protocols given that a few years have lapsed.
But, he said, "I've always taken the position that it's better to have accurate results than speedy results."
And if the county doesn't get the process switched by the August primaries, Rogers has one suggestion: "Just have a longer election-night party."
Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at 573-4243 or firstname.lastname@example.org