Centers aim to make voting easier - Ahwatukee Foothills News: News

Centers aim to make voting easier

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Posted: Friday, June 10, 2011 10:00 am

New in-person voting centers may make the process more convenient and affordable for city residents and put Phoenix ahead of the curve when it comes to the way residents vote in the future.

The plan to get rid of voting precincts and create more centralized voting centers was originally approved in 2009 when the city noticed a definite decrease in the amount of people coming out to vote. This election is the first since the plan was approved.

In the last two elections 95 percent and 96 percent of all ballots received were mail-in ballots. However, the city still wanted to give options to those who prefer to vote in person.

"In the last city-wide election 4,000 people voted at the polls, which is an average of 32 per polling place," said Cris Meyer, acting city clerk. "We had some that actually had less than five. The council was committed to finding a way to keep the polling place option available to people that wanted to do that, but also find a way to make it more efficient."

The city decided to follow a plan that has been popping up in other states and get rid of specific polling places within precincts. City leaders met with the community back in 2009 and came up with 26 voting centers. Phoenix residents can go to any of the 26 voting centers. To make it more convenient the city decided to open the voting centers on the Saturday and Monday before each election, as well as on Election Day.

"We tried to put the centers on major streets," Meyer said. "They're all accessible to public transportation. Most of the sites are visible or in well known places around the community. In some cases it may be a little harder for some voters and for some it may be closer. Also with Saturday voting people who do have transportation issues could maybe get friends or family members to take them to the polls on Saturday where in the past people were at work and maybe couldn't do that."

With all the changes the city is hoping to save around $250,000 or 25 percent of the cost of elections. The plan is more cost effective than polling places and more cost effective than mail-in voting.

The city will not be making any changes to the mail-in ballot way of voting.

For now the changes are only happening for city-wide elections. Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett is hoping to make similar changes for state-wide elections. He introduced a bill recently that allows counties to use voting centers as a pilot.

"We're the largest jurisdiction to do this and no one else has done it the way we have including Saturday and Monday voting," Meyer said. "Some counties have done it and reduce the number of sites and let anyone vote at those. We're the largest entity to do it and we're doing it a little differently than anyone else. It's more cost effective and more flexible and convenient for the voters. It should make it easier for the voters. The ones that vote by mail can still vote by mail, it doesn't change anything, and it reduces the cost for elections."

For more information about voting centers, visit phoenix.gov/election.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com

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