Phoenix to use voting centers in city election

AP News
|
Posted: Aug 26, 2011 5:03 PM
Phoenix to use voting centers in city election

Phoenix will be using a new voting system in its municipal election, allowing voters to cast ballots at any of 26 voting centers.

The Arizona Secretary of State's office said Friday that Phoenix is the first Arizona city to use the new voting center concept that replaces traditional voting places. A state law enacted earlier this year authorizes but doesn't mandate the use of voting centers.

The new system means Phoenix voters won't have to vote at specified polling places in the precinct where a voter resides.

Phoenix voters will be electing a mayor and City Council members as well as deciding several ballot measures. Voting centers will be open Saturday, Monday and Tuesday.

The National Conference of State Legislatures says Arizona is among nine states that either permit jurisdictions to replace precincts with vote centers or authorize pilot projects.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

Phoenix, Arizona's most populous city and the nation's sixth largest, is aiming to save money and add convenience for residents as it tries something new in how it holds its elections.

Following the lead of a small number of places around the country, Phoenix will allow its 650,000 registered voters to cast ballots for Tuesday's city election at any of 26 voting centers.

The voting centers replace 128 assigned polling places. While most Phoenix voters cast early ballots, typically mailing them in, those who voted in person formerly had to go to an assigned polling place.

The new system will cut costs for taxpayers and provide new options for voters who can vote at locations near their work, school, shopping or day care, Mayor Phil Gordon and other officials said Friday.

Phoenix's new voting centers will be open Saturday, Monday and Tuesday for voting in Tuesday's election, which features a hotly contested mayoral race, four City Council contents and two ballot questions.

"Now they've got more opportunities," said City Clerk Chris Meyer. "We've removed most of the obstacles as far as time."

Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett said Phoenix is the first Arizona city to use the new voting center concept that replaces traditional voting places.

Phoenix and other charter cities in Arizona already had legal authority to use voting centers, and Phoenix began planning for use of voting centers several years ago.

However, Bennett, a Republican who is the state's top elections official, is encouraging the spread of voting centers. He won legislative passage this year of a new state law authorizing counties to use voting centers.

The measure drew bipartisan, near-unanimous support among legislators.

With its new law, Arizona is among nine states that either permit jurisdictions to replace precincts with vote centers or authorize pilot projects in selected administrations, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Use of the voting center was pioneered by Colorado's Larimer County in 2003, followed by an Indiana pilot project in 2006.

A 2010 study by the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Indiana's Ball State University said voting centers don't necessarily boost overall turnout but provide convenience for voters and save money for participating governmental jurisdictions.

Meyer said Phoenix likely will save up to $350,000 on the previous $1 million cost of a city election, with reduced spending for hiring election workers, renting polling places and preprinting ballots.

With voters able to cast ballots at any center, there won't be preprinted ballots for each voter. Instead, appropriate ballots will be printed once voters go to centers and election workers look them up on computerized registration lists, Meyer said.

Under the Arizona law, it's not mandatory for counties to switch, but Bennett said several counties are considering use of voting centers, at least partially.

Because some rural counties have residents who live far from cities or big towns, they may need to keep polling places for individual precincts in some areas, he said.

Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and is home to three of every five Arizonans, is hesitating about switching to voting centers. County officials have cited concerns about up-front costs for new computer equipment for voters to use any voting center.

And Bennett said the advent of voting centers isn't a harbinger of the end of in-person voting.

He noted that Arizona voters in 2006 overwhelmingly defeated a ballot question to have the state switch to all-mail voting.

"I don't think voting in person will ever go away," Bennett said. "There's a certain percentage that likes coming into a poll."