Familiarity > Cost Control: Tucson to Use Pima County to Run Fall Election

[Image via Arizona Sunshine Tours]

The City of Tucson, AZ has several elections this fall and in an effort to save money, put the November process out to bid. Ultimately, however, a familiar face will be in charge – Pima County, which wasn’t the low bidder but convinced the City Council that using another office (even its own Clerk) could potentially cost Tucson more than the money saved. Tucson.com has more:

The Tucson City Council has contracted with the Pima County Recorder’s Office to handle the city’s election this fall.

The Tuesday night decision rejected a competing proposal from City Clerk Roger Randolph that — at least according to one report — would have saved the city about $50,000.

In all, the council was shown four options for the November elections, including one with the city handling its own election process and one with the county handling the entire election, which also includes three school districts holding budget overrides and bond elections. The costs of the different options by the city clerk ranged from $350,000 to $531,000, depending on whether the election was on separate or consolidated ballots.

The big issue – and a key reason the City stayed with the County – was the potential for confusion for voters:

In November, city voters will have several ward races to decide as well as three ballot measures, including a proposal to increase the pay for the mayor and council members and a sales-tax increases to fund zoo improvements and to pay for early education programs.

The city is handling the primary election Aug. 29, which involves just two contested races in three wards.

Mayor Jonathan Rothschild downplayed the difference in cost between the different proposals and said his main concern with the city handling its own election is the possibility of some voters being confused if they received two ballots in the mail. For example, a city resident living in the Sunnyside school district, which is holding a budget-override election in November, would get a mail-in ballot for the city election and a second ballot for the district tax vote if there wasn’t a consolidated ballot.

The County also made it clear that going with an outside entity could create additional problems:

In a seven-page letter to the city, Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez disputed the city clerk’s cost figures offered to the council by Randolph, suggesting they were incorrect.

“There are clear errors and omissions in the cost figures provided,” Rodriguez wrote. She suggested two jurisdictions handling the election, with separate mailings and ballots, would be “a complete disservice” to voters.

Additionally, she would not assist the city in any way if it handled its own election outside of supplying the voter lists. Rodriguez also suggested that city staff had little experience in handling relatively complicated election laws. “In the current political environment any error by any election official brings allegations of fraud and manipulation,” she wrote.

This arrangement – while not typical, given that most localities have their elections supervised as a matter of course, not contract – shows the degree to which county election offices’ experience is valuable, if somewhat underappreciated, at election time. As anyone who’s ever attempted a recipe or a home improvement project they saw on TV will tell you, it’s never as easy as it looks.

One note, though: the County Recorder’s strong words about accuracy and security will almost certainly raise the bar for November. I’ll be curious to see if everything does indeed go well – and if not, what the various parties have to say about it, given that they are paying for experience.

Stay tuned …

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