Maricopa County Opens Doors to Explain Precinct and Election Changes

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So much of what goes on in election offices between Election Days is invisible to voters – which is why it’s always encouraging to see election administrators open their doors to the public. That’s what happened recently in Maricopa County (Phoenix), AZ where the county recorder’s office hosted the public in an informational session about precinct changes as well as upcoming changes to the voting process. Arizona State University’s Downtown Devil (love the name!) has more:

Proposed changes to the downtown voting precinct were met with positive feedback Tuesday.

Maricopa County residents attended a public meeting Tuesday night to ask questions and learn about the new voting precinct plan in the last five meetings hosted by Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes.

“We aspire to inform the public regarding the processes that affect the elections and the reasons why we’re engaged in the process. This is really information for the public,” Fontes said.

The process of reprecincting occurs after every census and federal general election. The recorder’s office intends to have fewer than 2,000 voters who have not signed up for the permanent early voting list in each precinct. Size for each precinct will ideally be between 4,000 and 5,000 voters. Another goal is to reduce the number of ballot styles as well as avoid breaking up communities of interest such as retirement communities and Native American communities.

The new downtown precinct will have western and eastern borders of 19th and First Avenues and will stretch from the railroad tracks behind the sports arenas in the south to Van Buren Street in the north.

“One of the critical parts about the precincts in downtown Phoenix that we had to pay close attention to was the fact that we’ve got so much construction going on and so many people will be moving in over the next couple years,” Fontes said.

Gary Bilotta, mapping services director for the recorder’s office, gave a presentation that explained voting and justice precincts in detail.

The new plan will reduce inflated voter ratios, remove splits between cities such as Tempe and Mesa, and adjust for redistricting, according to Bilotta.

The meeting was a hit with attendees, who appreciated the opportunity to hear about the office’s plans and appreciated the effort at transparency:

Many participants attended the meeting to understand what was going on and listen to how the changes would affect them.

Richard Hale, a precinct committee member for Cameo, heard about the meeting from a letter he received from Maricopa County. It was his first time attending a meeting on this topic. He said this is an issue the public should have a say in.

“This is the public’s space. This is the public’s electoral system,” Hale said. “It doesn’t belong to the county, it belongs to the public. We trust them, but we’re going to verify.”

Hale said it’s important for him to come to these meetings in order educate himself and be the most effective at his job.

The recorder’s office also used the meetings as an opportunity to flag a big upcoming change for voters in the upcoming election:

The majority of the questions from attendants concerned the changes involving the voting process.

Most Maricopa County voters want to vote by mail. In 2015, 97 percent of voters voted by mail, according to the presentation.

In the upcoming election, all voters will receive a ballot in the mail. They will have the option to either mail their ballot it in or drop it off at a ballot site. Ballot sites open 27 days prior to the election.

“We don’t want the voter limited to one spot and one day,” Fontes said. “We’re at the forefront with a lot of the other larger jurisdictions in the country that are moving to this model.”

The changes to make the voting process simpler and more accountable impressed Susan Hudson, the precinct committee chair for Legislative District 24 and community activist.

She attended Tuesday’s meeting to learn more about the improvements and was pleased with Fontes’ effort to involve the public in the process.

“Government needs to be transparent. Democracy needs to be transparent,” Hudson said. “Adrian’s just doing a fantastic job.”

For his part, the recorder views public input as an important part of the process:

Fontes said most of the general public does not have a lot of knowledge on this topic. The goal of these meetings is to be informative.

“We’re listening. We’ve got a lot of ears paying attention to what’s going on,” Fontes said. “We want to make sure that we have precincts that make sense, so that those jurisdictions can govern better.”

The new voting precincts must be approved by the County Board of Supervisors by December 1, 2017.

Kudos to Maricopa for hosting the meetings and to ASU’s Downtown Devil for sharing the story; while not every office will have the occasion (or the opportunity) to host meetings like this, the effort to open doors proactively to the public – rather than just being transparent if and when problems/controversies arise – is something every election administrator across America should consider. Whether it’s in-person meetings or an active social media presence (or both!), inviting the public to see what happens during the crucial time in between elections is a positive step.

Keep those eyes and ears open … and stay tuned!

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