Voting centers a good idea that can be improved
Voters care about their right to vote.
That is one definite conclusion we can reach from the voting problems experienced here Nov. 6 when Yuma County switched from precinct-style voting to centralized voting centers.
Voters were unhappy — very unhappy — about the long lines and waiting times to cast their ballots. It was clear they wanted to vote and felt they should have been able to do so more easily.
They are right, of course. Voting should not be so difficult. Some even had to give up because they had other commitments or health issues which prevented them from dealing with the long waits.
Yuma County Elections Director Sue Reynolds acknowledged the problems at a recent Yuma County Board of Supervisors meeting and promised to try to make things better in the future. That's good, and county leaders need to make ensure the promise is fulfilled.
Some upset voters have cast the blame for the problems on the voting centers concept, but I think the basic idea is a good one.
It makes no sense to maintain 39 polling sites, as has been the past practice, in an era when a large majority of voters actually vote by mail in Yuma County. It is expensive and difficult to staff that many polling locations that only allow voters in that particular area to vote.
It is more practical and less expensive to instead set up voting centers, as was done this year, where any voter — regardless of their precinct — can choose to vote. Whether the “magic number” of voting centers is 11 — like this year — or some other number will need to be determined.
The problem this year doesn't appear to be the voting centers themselves, but the equipment in them.
The key to voting centers is letting voters from throughout the county be able to go to any voting center to cast a ballot. That means each center must be able to provide multiple ballots. If you are in one area of the county your choices will be different on some candidates and issues than someone from another area.
The decision made here was to print separate ballots on demand using information from a central database. Unfortunately, if you have computer issues or printer issues — both of which apparently occurred Nov. 6 — the ability to vote can slow to a crawl, causing long lines and wait times.
There were touch screen voting machines in place at the centers as a backup, but not enough to handle the large number of voters.
That doesn't mean voting centers themselves are a bad idea, but it does mean it is absolutely necessary to ensure that either the equipment is much more dependable and can handle the demand or that there is a better backup system so voters can cast their ballots in a reasonable amount of time.
Voters need to reflect on the fact, however, that there was no assurance of timely voting even under the old system. In 2008, another presidential election with a large turnout, there were also very long lines and very long waits in some areas even with many more polling sites.
However, there is an option available to every voter in Yuma County that guarantees you will not need to wait in line. In fact, lots of people already take advantage of it here.
That, of course, is voting early by mail. Registered voters are given the option of requesting these ballots — or can get on a permanent list to get them — in every election.
But I agree that even if you don't choose the mail option, you should have the ability go to a voting center and cast a ballot with relatively little hassle. And it is up to local election officials to ensure that happens for every election.
Terry Ross is director of the Yuma Sun's News and Information Center. Email: email@example.com. Telephone: 539-6870.