Monday, October 20, 2014

Pima ballot error has some observers crying foul

PowerTalk 1210 has confirmed that some 16,000 Pima County voters will be getting a second, shorter ballot, because the first one contains an error in one race.  Some feel the decision to send a replacement ballot has the potential to adversely effect every county-wide race on the ballot.
Here’s what happened.   In addition to all the other county-wide and state-wide races before them, voters in the Continental School District in the Sahuarita area also are making choices in a school board race.  Three names are on the ballot, along with the instruction, “VOTE FOR NOT MORE THAN THREE.”  The instruction should have said to vote for no more than two. 

Recently election officials became aware of the problem.   The office of the Pima County Schools Superintendent accepted responsibility for it.  In consultation with the Secretary of State's office and the Pima Elections Office, the decision was made to send out a second ballot—a short one, containing only the affected school board race.

Here’s the problem with that.   In the “before” picture, only one race was affected.  In the “after” picture, all county-wide races are potentially affected.   To fully participate in the elections, some 16,000 voters within the Continental School District must now fill out and return two ballots.  Those going to the polls in person also will get two ballots.   If any voter gets confused and sends in just one ballot or no ballot at all, then the race or races on the disregarded ballot get deprived of that voter’s selections. 

The district involved is heavily Republican.  When you consider that in recent elections some races have been decided by only a handful of votes, you begin to see the problem.  In 2012, Democrat Ron Barber beat Republican Martha McSally by a very narrow margin (2,454 votes according to the official canvas posted on the Secretary of State’s Office.)   If only 10% of voters in the Continental School District fail to return the long ballot who otherwise might have—you begin to see the issue.

Bill Beard, who sits on the Pima Elections Integrity Committee, is furious—and the main target of his ire is Pima Elections Director Brad Nelson.  “I have called on numerous occasions to have the man fird.”  What should have happened, said Beard, is that the Pima Elections Office should have simply acknowledged the problem and told voters to follow their ballot instructions.  In a worst case scenario, if the Continental School Board race then received more votes than it should have, elections officials could have invalidated that race and rescheduled it for March.  As it is now, every county--wide race on the ballot has the potential to be affected.  And what's worse, very little could be done about it after the fact even if the problem becomes obvious.

When this reporter called the Pima Elections Office this morning, a spokeswoman referred all queries to the Pima County Schools Superintendent’s Office.  The CFO of that office, Ricky Hernandez, does not share Beard’s concern, and believes voters will figure this out.  “Frankly,” he said, “even if people don’t vote on the Continental race, it should not have any bearing on the Congressional race, provided they vote the long ballot.”

But what if they don’t?  That’s what has Beard so furious.   Potentially, it would only take a small percentage of confused voters to affect every county-wide race.  Beard feels voters will be suspicious of that second ballot, and anything could happen.

Beard is also very concerned that none of the elections officials involved in the decision had the courtesy to contact any political parties or any of the candidates who are running for office.  “That screams out to me that there are blithering idiots” in charge of the process, he said.  Beard added that it’s not at all clear the Secretary of State and local elections officials had the statutory authority to send out that second ballot. 

So far this error has received little publicity.  There is no mention of it on the Pima County Elections Office website.  And as noted, when contacted this morning, that office deferred questions to the Pima County Superintendent of Schools office.  The latter's website has posted a notice warning Continental School District voters about the error and the second ballot voters there will be receiving.

The whole controversy dries up and blows away if the vast majority of Continental School District voters do fill out both ballots.  But if a large number of them return the short ballot but not the long ballot, that would be a different story.  The number of those who do that will become apparent after the election.  But there will never be any way to know how many voters wind up returning neither ballot at all because of the confusion.

Once again, it could be an interesting election season in Pima County.


A listener tip led to this story.  We love those!   Here is my contact info.

©2014 by Forrest Carr.  All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment