It seems as if every election cycle in this century has been fraught with controversy. When election results come into question time after time, public confidence in them begins to wane. Are there things we can do to improve both election integrity and public confidence in the election process?
A quality audit process is helpful in keeping people honest and increasing voter confidence. The Pima County Elections 2018 Security Plan says, “Arizona State Law requires a hand count/audit of ballots from randomly selected precincts and early ballot batches for the presidential preference, primary and general elections. … State law does not provide for the hand count/audits for local elections. However, Pima County may choose to perform hand count/audits for local elections to increase voter confidence.”
Brad Nelson, Pima County Elections director, told me that Pima County performs the audits of local elections on request. I think it behooves Pima County to apply the state law to all local elections to increase voter confidence.
I also spoke with Nelson about the vulnerabilities associated with voting by mail (VBM). He identified protections such as tamper-resistant envelopes and signature verification. He also said that even advocates of mail-in balloting would admit to vulnerabilities such as someone receiving another’s ballot and completing it, or someone forcing his or her spouse to vote a particular way; but while those things can happen in the absolute sense, they do not represent a significant effect.
He also pointed out that most election problems are a result of human error, and while poll workers do an excellent job generally, there is always the occasional error of handing a voter the wrong ballot, for example. Those on the permanent VBM list are sent the correct ballots automatically without the risk of human error. VBM also eliminates the complication of voters going to the wrong polling place.
I do believe that Nelson’s points regarding human error are valid, though no system is perfect. In the last election, we did see residents of a south-side precinct receive ballots that incorrectly did not include the Tucson Unified School District board races. The error was discovered and corrected ballots were then sent to the affected residents.
VBM has become quite popular with those who direct elections and the voters themselves. Adrian Fontes, the Maricopa County Recorder, took the extraordinary step of sending all voters mail-in ballots and replacing 724 polling places with 27 large ballot centers available to any voter. The city of Tucson elections are VBM only, though voters may drop off ballots at ballot centers as an alternative to mailing them.
There are some things that many, including me, find objectionable with VBM balloting. Most important is the lack of a chain of custody. “Chain of custody” is best described by Pima County’s “Two Person Rule” defined in the “Election Security Plan.” It reads, “To prevent the possibility of illegal manipulation of voted ballots, any time voted ballots are not in a sealed container, they shall be in the presence of no fewer than two observers from different political parties.” It seems like a silly precaution after those same ballots were sent through the mail. It only has meaning for votes cast at the polls.
The less apparent, though deeper problem with VBM balloting, is the cheapening of your vote. Instead of taking the time and effort to go to a neighborhood polling place and complete your ballot , matching your effort and commitment with that of the poll worker, your vote is just another box to check in between your sewer bill and an appeal to save on your car insurance.
Give voting the respect and security it deserves. Go to the polls.