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Sec.of State Wants to Revamp Polling System

Ken Bennett by Howard Fischer 112012.jpg
Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

The state's chief election official wants lawmakers to consider a system that would allow any voter to show up at any polling place in the county.

Secretary of State Ken Bennett said one reason the vote count this year was so slow is that voting habits have changed. More than half of Arizonans automatically get an early ballot by mail. But what has happened is many people wait until just about the last minute to bring them in -- in person.

"Right now if you drop your ballot off at any place, it goes into a box, which gets transferred to a bigger box, which gets transferred to downtown," Bennett said. "And all of a sudden, statewide, the counties had over 450,000 early ballots dropped off at the polls."

He said it took a week just to work through those as they have to be sorted, have their signatures checked and then run through centralized counting machines. Bennett said a better alternative might be voting centers where ballots for any precinct could be not only printed on demand for any voter that showed up but actually verified and counted on site. Coconino County Recorder Candace Owens said the idea sounds good -- if bugs can be worked out.

"I would think you would have to have a contingency plan so if a ballot-on-demand printers break -- and that's I the weakest link in all this -- you'd have to have printed ballots as a backup," Owens said.

And then there's the question of cost, with Maricopa County alone putting a $20 million price tag on making the conversion. Bennett said he will discuss all that with county election officials and, eventually, with lawmakers.