Mail-in elections may represent the future in Tucson, but complications in Tuesday’s voting show that future isn’t now.
Bertha and Jesse Rialmo emerged exasperated from El Pueblo Senior Center, 101 W. Irvington Road, after finally completing their votes in the Sunnyside Unified School District budget override and Tucson city elections.
Both were mail-in elections, but for those who didn’t send their ballots in on time, like Bertha Rialmo, delivering the mail-in ballot proved complicated because the Pima County Recorder’s Office ran the Sunnyside override election, while the city ran its own polls. She arrived at El Pueblo thinking she could drop off her ballot and vote in the Sunnyside election, then take a class offered by the center. Nope.
Although the county had a voting site for the Sunnyside election in a room adjacent to the city’s election site at El Pueblo, it wasn’t that easy. To vote a provisional ballot in the Sunnyside election, Rialmo had to return to her home voting precinct at Ocotillo Early Learning Center, 5702 S. Campbell Ave. Then she went back to El Pueblo for her class.
“That was the stupidest thing I ever encountered,” she said. “The mail-in ballot is a farce.”
A Tuesday tour of three city voting sites and one Sunnyside site showed that many Tucsonans mistrust mail-in voting and prefer to drop off their ballots at a collection site.
I went to the Morris Udall Regional Center, 7200 E. Tanque Verde Road, to drop off the mail-in ballot for the city election that I’d forgotten to mail in. Older voters such as Jerry Miller told me they are simply not comfortable with the mail-in system and prefer to put the ballot in the box themselves.
“It’s more open door for fraud,” he added. “They say it’s a plus, but it’s a negative to me.”
At Donna Liggins Recreation Center, 2160 N. Sixth Ave., the voters I interviewed ranged from 31 years old to 77 and were more content with the mail-in system.
The youngest, Michaele Pepe, brought her two young children with her to turn in the ballot she hadn’t had time to mail. It was simple, she told me, adding, “I like the mail-in system.” Then she took her kids to the playground.
But the real problem was on Tucson’s south side, where the two mail-in elections occurred simultaneously, but without enough coordination to make voting easy for last-minute voters.
It goes back to the old county-city divide. Sunnyside paid the Pima County Recorder’s Office to run its budget-override election, sending out mail-in ballots and establishing nine polling places. Only one of Sunnyside’s polling places, El Pueblo, also had a city voting site.
The catch, for Sunnyside voters who lost or did not receive their ballots, was that they had to go to an assigned polling place in order to cast a provisional ballot. They could drop off mailed-out ballots at any of the nine sites. In the city election, residents could vote provisionally at any of the seven polling places.
“You’re talking two jurisdictions,” F. Ann Rodriguez, Pima County recorder, told me Tuesday afternoon. “You have the city and the county. The county can’t acquiesce its responsibilities to the city.”
An employee of the City Clerk’s Office told me just about the same thing.
“We need to have this sorted out,” former Tucson City Councilman Steve Leal told me in the parking lot outside El Pueblo. “The system is inadvertently making it harder for people to enliven their citizenship.”
Sunnyside board member Eva Carrillo Dong, campaigning for the override at El Pueblo, also said the system should have been less confusing.
That seems to be the main lesson from the city on Tuesday: The system of drop-off sites may be adequate for people who choose to drop off their ballots, forget to mail them or don’t receive ballots and must vote provisionally. But officials need to work out a way to avoid separate mail-in ballots in overlapping jurisdictions with a blend of drop-off sites.
That’s a recipe for confusion and disenfranchisement.