Override Ballots Don't Fit

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Rim country residents voting by mail in the Payson Unified School District budget override election will find it impossible to fit the ballot and other pieces together.

Not only is the ballot (which can't be folded, stapled or mutilated) too large for its security envelope, but the address doesn't align with the window it's supposed to show through in the mailing envelope.

Christopher Creek resident James Oliver decided to get to the bottom of the situation, and two weeks later he's still digging.

Oliver lives in one of three rural areas -- the other two are Whispering Pines and Gisela -- where only mail-in voting is permitted in this election.

"I tried to vote at Gila County Recorder's Office in Payson and they told me I couldn't," Oliver said. "I called (Gila County Elections Director) Dixie Mundy on April 22 about not being allowed to vote, and she said she had nothing to do with it. Then I talked to (Gila County Recorder) Linda Haught-Ortega on the 23rd about the ballot problem."

Haught-Ortega told him the same thing happened during the Democratic presidential preference primary, but that everybody had managed to make it work without complaining.

"She told me to slit the envelope and make it work, and that she'd tell the post office they won't be able to see the addresses on this and we'll get them all in," he said. "Basically she said, ‘Just live with it.'"

Oliver decided he'd rather not, so early last week he called Joe Kanefield, state elections director. Because the override is a county election, Kanefield referred him to Deputy Gila County Attorney Brian Chambers.

When he called Chambers, he was told to call Kanefield. Informed that Kanefield said to call him, Chambers promised to look into the matter and get back to Oliver. So far he hasn't.

Fortunately, from this bureaucratic morass emerged one county employee willing to deal with the problem.

When Oliver first tried to vote at the recorder's office, it was Chief Deputy Recorder Nancy Ellsworth who told him he couldn't.

"She was physically there at the Payson office, and she offered to bring a ballot by my house that evening and let me vote," he said.

Ellsworth confirmed the offer.

"Anything to get the job done," she said. "Normally we don't take additional ballots to all mail-out precincts, mainly because they have one coming in the mail, so he was a little upset because I didn't have a ballot there for him. I offered to have one there for him the next day or to take one out to him. Those are the only two things I could do."

Ellsworth also confirmed Oliver's allegation that the mail-in ballot material doesn't fit together, and explained why. It seems that every election form, including envelopes, has to be approved by the U.S. Justice Department.

The new vote counting machines that replaced the punch card system did not arrive in time for the county to get that done.

"So we used the same mailers and provided an additional envelope for secrecy," she said.

A number of counties warned the state that they needed more time to gear up for the new equipment, but federal funds were at stake so the secretary of state rushed the new machines into service.

"We're doing the best we can," Ellsworth said.

The good news is there will be no hanging chads in Gila County. The bad news is James Oliver still hasn't voted. He thinks the best solution, given the situation, would have been to include clearer instructions with his mail-in ballot.

"Those they put in the early mail ballot bear no relationship to the materials you got," he said. "It's like they said, ‘Oh, here's a set of directions for assembling a bicycle. Let's send that.'"

Now the county is even offering to let Oliver vote at the recorder's office. So far he's been too busy making phone calls to try.

"If they had just let me vote there in the first place, none of this would've happened," he said.

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