Pima County prepares for vote centers, awaits key technology | Government & Politics

Pima County’s election officials are readying to implement the first year of replacing precinct-based polling places with vote centers and electronic poll books ahead of August’s primary elections.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors approved the locations of 129 vote centers in a 4-1 vote Tuesday, which will replace the polling centers where in-person voters had to cast ballots within the precincts they live in. Now, voters will be able to cast a ballot at any location.

The board approved the move to vote centers in February, making Pima County the last county in Arizona to adopt e-poll books and the 12th county to adopt voting centers.

Through a contract with TENEX, the county elections department is receiving election management software that will replace the paper rosters and series of logs and forms used to manually check in a voter. Now, elections department employees will check voters in on an iPad that will print off a ballot specific to their precinct.

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The elections department designated, and the board approved, 129 vote center locations across the county, which are more concentrated in urban areas and largely remain in the same location as historically used polling places in rural areas.

Most of the technology needed to run the vote center model has arrived in the county, including 400 e-poll books and the cradle point devices that provide secure internet service to the iPads.

But the delivery time of an essential tool to carry out the new system is cutting it close to the Aug. 2 primary elections.

The county has yet to receive any ballot-on-demand printers but anticipates receiving them in shipments from the second week of June through the third week of July.

Once a voter checks in, the e-poll book will send a ballot specific to the races the individual qualifies to vote in. According to Constance Hargrove, the county’s new elections director who started the position on April 4, there could be around 1,500 different ballot styles.

Constance Hargrove is Pima County’s new elections director.

“Unlike precinct voting, where they would have maybe two or three different ballot styles, the vote centers would have to have every single ballot style for every voter in the county,” Hargrove explained.

She said the shipping delay is due to supply chain issues, which are affecting a variety of industries globally.

Supervisor Steve Christy, the sole dissenting vote on approving the vote center locations, placed “vote center implementation” on the board’s Tuesday agenda and questioned Hargrove about her department’s progress.

“What is the most drastic and negative issue that if something in that timeline does not happen, what keeps you up at night?” Christy asked.

Hargrove said the ballot on-demand printers are her greatest concern because of the extra time manually issuing paper ballots would take.

While the county does anticipate receipt of the ballot printers in time, it still has contingency plans in place. By June 3, Hargrove said, she’ll have to make a decision on how many backup paper ballots she’ll need to order for vote center locations.

“Instead of having the printers print the ballots for the voters, the clerks and the judges will actually have to go pull the ballot out of a file cabinet, basically, and issue the ballot to the voter,” she said. “Kind of back to the old way where we print a bunch of ballots, we have them in the location to issue to the voters. That’s worst-case scenario if we don’t get printers.”

The elections department anticipates having precinct-specific paper ballots ready in case of printer failure, but in the case of connectivity issues, voters would use provisional ballots.

“The vote centers are pretty much — if you’re in the urban area — about three miles apart, you could drive to another one and actually cast a ballot, that actual location may still be up and running,” Hargrove said. “If they’re in the location where they’re not connected, then it’s safer to vote a provisional ballot. That way, it gets looked at after the election, and if you see that this person already voted, it wouldn’t count.”

Christy asked Hargrove if the preparation for vote centers is “a three-legged stool” and if “just one item would collapse the whole system.”

Hargrove assured the supervisor: “Absolutely not.”

“Because we are accustomed to operating in the old way, even though it was a precinct-based system, we can revert back to that even in a vote center setting,” she said. “It would not be as efficient. And it would not be as easy. But we could definitely revert back to that.”

The Elections Department will conduct a live test of the e-poll books in the coming months. The iPads have been acceptance tested to ensure they work properly, but staff will ensure the system works with up-to-date voter data from the Recorder’s office, Hargrove said.

Elections workers will go through training on the new process two weeks before the primaries, and Hargrove said all equipment will be ready by the general election on Nov. 8.

Contact reporter Nicole Ludden at nludden@tucson.com

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