Amid all the panicked noise that surrounds the coronavirus, we’re listening to a common sense recommendation being promoted by Cochise County Elections Director Lisa Marra.
For months, well before the advent of the pandemic, Ms. Marra has been promoting a switch to voting by mail, replacing of our current process of casting ballots on Election Day at a vote center.
Her reasoning focuses on the existing participation by an overwhelming percentage of voters who choose to cast early ballots.
Consider the most recent election.
Limited to registered Democrats, more than 91 percent of the votes cast in the Presidential Preference Primary were early ballots. That left Cochise County on the hook paying to operate 17 vote centers for the 855 citizens who came out to cast their ballot last Tuesday.
Some will argue this sample size isn’t representative of most elections, which is partially correct. We can anticipate a much larger turnout for the General Election on Nov. 3, when America picks its next president. All registered voters will be encouraged to participate in that election and the field of candidates won’t be limited to Democrats.
That doesn’t mean Marra’s recommendation isn’t valid. More than 60 percent of the electorate cast early ballots in the last presidential election in 2016 and in subsequent years the percentage of voters who mail-in or drop off early ballots has steadily increased. In the 2018 midterm election, when 45,927 votes were tallied, 74.3 percent were cast before vote centers opened.
The only challenge for election officials has been voters who receive early ballots and don’t return them prior to Election Day. These “provisional ballots” cost time and taxpayer money during the tabulation process. Marra and her team have focused their efforts on encouraging voters to return their ballots a few days before Election Day, at the latest.
For elections of smaller scale that have occurred since 2018, the county Elections Department has conducted mail-only elections for school districts, city council and other offices, with great success. Voter participation has been strong and complaints have been minimal, if any..
We certainly hope the coronavirus is a distant memory when Cochise County holds its primary election on August 4 and the General Election November 3. If that’s not the case, it makes sense that our current practice of “social distancing” be applied to both elections. Voters should be directed to cast their ballot through the mail to continue the fight to stop the spread of the virus.
Moving into the future, we support Marra’s call for mail-only balloting, even if the current crisis has passed. The early voting process provides citizens more time to cast their ballot and it saves the cost of staffing and operating 17 vote centers throughout Cochise County.