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Yuma's 2012 Vote Center Experience, in Glorious Detail

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[Image courtesy of pg-magazine]

Every now and then, I come across a local article that goes above and beyond the norm in the level of detail it provides on election administration. The latest example is a piece by Hillary Davis of the Yuma Sun, who wrote yesterday about a hearing featuring Yuma County's after-action report on the 2012 election. The major topic was vote centers, and includes a fascinatingly thorough look at the challenges associated with the County's commitment to vote centers:

"We all know we had some pretty significant challenges we dealt with," Yuma County Administrator Robert Pickels said Wednesday as he presented the board of supervisors with an after-action review of Election Day 2012, detailing problems and solutions.

He addressed primarily issues of equipment, staffing and facilities, including:

• Ballot printers: The printers that turned out ballots on demand "presented, by far, the most significant delays," Pickels wrote.

Printers started malfunctioning as soon as the voting centers opened, with connectivity problems with the electronic election books that contained voter information. The printers also had mechanical problems all day because of the volume of ballots being requested. In some cases, components -- input trays, unengaged paper guide locks and the paper -- weren't lining up.

Then, there were paper jams. Dry, hot air caused static buildup that led to the snarls, as printers tried to pull in several pieces of paper that had stuck together. In addition, some paper was damaged during shipping.

Only two technicians from the printer vendor were in Yuma on Election Day. County staff admitted that they could have had more of them in town but did not, in an attempt to save money and because the smooth primaries created a sense of security.

The county wants to bring in more technicians next time, and municipal staffs around the county have tentatively agreed to train and make available members of their own IT teams on Election Day.

• Insufficient and inadequate voting centers: The county suggests adding at least one additional voting center each in San Luis, the Foothills and the north end of the city of Yuma, bringing the total up to 15 sites. Yuma County Recorder Robyn Stallworth Pouquette said more voting centers is "a given."

Because some of last year's sites were too small or didn't have easy access to parking, restrooms, water or shade, the report recommends using county facilities as much as possible and considering better-appointed locations such as Arizona Western College, the National Guard Armory, the clubhouse at the Yuma East neighborhood, San Luis and Yuma city halls, the Somerton public safety building and the Yuma Civic Center.

• Staffing: Increase the staffs at each site from 10 to at least 15, recruited from county agencies, political party ranks, and the high schools. Students could earn credit and the small stipend that all election workers get.

• On-site early voting: The county recorder's office offered in-person voting the weekend before Election Day, drawing 771 voters. The idea would be to expand on this by having at least one vote center with a smaller staff in each area of the county a week prior to the countywide general election, in addition to the opportunity at the recorder's office.

• Provisional ballots: An influx of people on the permanent early voter list ended up wanting to cast ballots traditionally, at the voting centers. But because records showed that they had already been given ballots, if they wanted to vote on-site they had to fill out provisional ballots -- and the preparation of provisionals is a slower process.

Based on these findings, Yuma is looking ahead to a number of changes that it hopes will improve the experience for voters, including having pollworkers walk the line with an e-pollbook to identify provisional voters before they create a bottleneck at the front and purchase of new equipment to improve capacity.

As the country prepares to take a hard look at elections, here's hoping we're lucky enough to get the kind of detail included in the Yuma story.

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