Changes needed so early voting works properly
I have long supported the early voting system here in Yuma County, but lately I have been having second thoughts about it.
The early ballot system makes a lot of sense — one reason a large majority of local voters choose to use it.
It is desirable to encourage as many people as possible to take part in the election process. That's difficult when elections are held on a work day, since some people must either take off their jobs to vote or try to go to the polls at inconvenient times when they need to be dealing with their families or taking care of other matters in their busy lives.
By sending mail ballots to voters, it allows them to fill them out at their convenience prior to Election Day and send them back in, hopefully after doing research on the candidates and issues so they can make informed decisions.
The mail ballots can also help prevent long lines at polling places and in other ways make the voting experience a better one even for those who choose to continue to go to voting places on Election Day.
So, it should be a win-win situation for everyone.
Unfortunately, there are some serious shortcomings with the system which ought to be corrected, yet none of our elected officials seem to be willing to do it.
One complaint that keeps being aired is the issue of potential voter fraud. That is a serious charge, one that came up repeatedly in the just-completed election — partly because of misinformation that was spread, likely for political purposes.
But it is not the first time this issue has been raised. Here in our county, the concerns seem to be centered around groups, particularly in south county, collecting early ballots and sending them in together. There have been allegations these ballots are also filled out for people in favor of particular people and that signatures of voters have been forged.
The extent of this I believe may be exaggerated, but even the perception of voter fraud is a bad thing. It undermines confidence in the voting system.
This shouldn't be happening. Stricter ballot handling rules and monitoring need to be put in place to re-enforce confidence in the system. It can be done and it needs to be done.
Also troubling is the continued problem with “late” early ballots. Far too many voters, both here in Yuma County and throughout the state, are not returning their early ballots early, as intended. Instead, they turn them in at the polling places on Election Day.
That is a big problem because they have to be counted separately and it can delay final results for days. That means the outcomes of close contests remain unknown for extended periods of time. The Raul Grijalva and Ruth McClung race is one example this election. The outcome of a number of statewide ballot measures also has been in doubt.
This should not be happening. Early ballots should not be accepted on Election Day. They should be required to be returned early, as intended. If they aren't returned early, then don't count them. Some will cry out that every vote must be counted, no matter what, but without rules, the election process would be chaotic.
A similar problem exists with so-called provisional ballots, which are used when voters for some reason cannot be properly identified on Election Day. Although that is a smaller issue than the early ballots, there needs to be some adjustment there, too, to shorten the delay in getting them counted.
The number of late early ballots reported after Tuesday's election reveals the scope of the problem. In Yuma County alone there were 6,200 late early ballots, and for the state as a whole there were nearly 300,000. As for provisional ballots, there were 1,800 in Yuma County and more than 80,000 statewide.
I still like the early ballot system, but only if state officials are willing to make the changes needed so that it works properly and Arizonans are not waiting days to find out what really happened in an election.
These problems keep cropping up every election, and our lawmakers need to quit ignoring them.
Terry Ross is director of the Yuma Sun's News and Information Center. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone him at 539-6870.