An all mail ballot election proposed for Oro Valley's March 12 primary is likely to leave voters wondering longer whether their candidates won or lost.
Against this shortcoming, the Oro Valley Town Council Nov. 7 will weigh the positives that an all-mail ballot election will bring to the table: greater citizen participation, added convenience for voters by having ballots mailed to them, and reduced election staffing costs.
"It takes longer to get the results" in a ballot by mail election, said Duncan Miller, management analyst for the Paradise Valley Town Clerk's Office. "Most often, with the nonmail balloting, we'd have the results of an election the same night, but now it's more likely that final results won't be in until three days after the election," Miller said.
By law, results must be tabulated within five working days after an election.
Paradise Valley turned to all-mail balloting for the first time in March 2000 and by doing so doubled voter turnout from 16 percent to 32 percent in a community with about 10,000 registered voters among a total population of about 13,000.
Other towns throughout the state that have gone the all-mail ballot route for their elections are reporting similar results.
Carefree, with its nearly 3,000 residents, including 2,000 registered voters, switched to the all-mail ballot in March 1997 and saw voter turnout rise from 22 percent to 45 percent the first year, then to 51 percent in March 1999, 53 percent in May of that year, and 51 percent in March 2001.
In Litchfield Park, where all-mail balloting began with the 2000 primary, turnout rose from 44 percent in the 1998 primary to 63 percent of 2,400 registered voters among a total population of about 3,800, edging up even higher to 66 percent in the 2000 general election.
Efforts to speed up the ballot-counting process, slowed in an all-mail balloting process because of the time it takes to verify voters' signatures, haven't always produced the results desired.
In Carefree's last election, as an example, there was a 309 vote difference out of 997 ballots cast between the unofficial results announced election night and final results received a few days later.
One thing the all-mail ballot has taught both voters and candidates is to be patient.
"We made it clear to the media and the public that the election night results were unofficial and not necessarily correct, and that the correct count would be available a few days later," Town Clerk Betsy Wise told the Carefree council in a memo shortly after the election. "This helped calm the public and the candidates," she said.
"Due to past experience, we were prepared for a wide difference between election night unofficial results and the official results which came in," Wise said. "I feel, with the wide discrepancy we had experienced previously with ballots coming in and the national election problems so fresh in our minds, that people were more understanding and did not have such high expectations regarding the early results."
Whether that holds true in Oro Valley this March when voters go to the polls to vote on a mayor and councilmember remains to be seen.
Mayor Paul Loomis is up for re-election and Councilmember Fran LaSala is stepping down. A recall election down the road also is a distinct possibility
For Oro Valley, the cost of an all-mail balloting would boost election costs to $88,644 total for both a primary and general election, compared with $63,216 for a regular election.
While more expensive on the surface, Town Clerk Kathi Cuvelier is projecting that the higher voter turnout will reduce the cost per votes cast.
But with all-mail balloting, candidates will have to come up with their campaign financing faster, have less time to sell voters on their merits because the all-mail ballot can be cast immediately, and have fewer opportunities for last minute advertising or to participate in debates that might sway voters their way, those experienced in such elections say.
Partly in light of this, the Oro Valley Town Clerk's Office is making it possible for candidates to take out petitions to run for office beginning Nov. 5, although the office is not required to have them available until Nov. 13. The deadline for filing as a candidate is Dec. 12.
Sample ballots must be prepared and ready for mailing to candidates by January 25 and ready for distribution to voters by Feb. 7.
In the midst of the Oro Valley Town Council's consideration of all-mail voting, the threat of a recall election is also in the wind. A group known as Citizens for Open Government began inquiries more than a month ago as to the rules governing a recall election, specifically how many signatures would be required and the deadline for gathering signatures and implementing a recall election. The group is now casting about for candidates.
Currently, 1,254 signatures would be required for a recall election to be held.
Members of Citizens for Open Government and the activist Oro Valley Neighborhood Coalition have been opposed to the all-mail balloting on the grounds that increased voter participation would result in their having to collect more signatures to place a recall measure on the ballot.
Opponents of the two groups argue that it seems strange for them to be advocating less voter participation so that a handful of dissidents can continue to make Oro Valley the recall capital of the nation with potentially the town's fifth recall since 1993.
Members of the two groups are angry with those on the council who have been aggresively supportive of Vistoso Partners' Rancho Vistoso development, decrying its potential negative impact on Honey Bee Canyon. They've also been getting support from residents in the exclusive La Reserve area opposed to commercial development nearby who are exploring both recall and a referendum should the council approve an amendment to the town's General Plan that would allow Canyon Del Oro Partners to develop a combined 130-acre commercial residential center on the east side of Oracle Road at First Avenue near Rooney Ranch.
When the council takes up the all-mail ballot question it also will be voting on General Plan amendments in both Neighborhood 11 and Neighborhood 12 of Rancho Vistoso.
The Neighborhood 11 amendment would advance plans for the construction of 89 homes on 60 acres set aside for open space. Citizens for Open Government got enough names on petitions to place the matter before voters, but were stalled when the council voted to reconsider its approval at a September meeting, in essence nullifying that action.
The Neighborhood 12 proposal calls for building 116 single-family luxury homes and 88 casitas on 358 acres near Honey Bee Canyon in the exclusive Stone Canyon Community. The council voted in favor of a General Plan to advance these plans earlier this year, but later also voted to reconsider that action.
The March 12 primary also includes a referendum vote on a separate preannexation agreement between the town and Rancho Vistoso. The referendum is a product of Citizens for Open Government efforts.