Several candidates have questioned the town's election process, but Town Clerk Silvia Smith is confident the ballots will be safe and secure until they are counted March 14.
The major point of contention is that the ballots are opened by election workers before Election Day, then stored. But Smith says the storage system -- like every other step in the process -- is secure.
"They are locked away in a fireproof vault and there they sit until (it is) time to count the ballots on Election Day," Smith said. The vault, which is key-operated, is only used for ballots and therefore access is limited.
It would be impossible to wait until Election Day to count the ballots, according to Smith.
"It is not humanly possible to process that many envelopes in one day," she said.
Here is the complete process:
- Ballots were mailed out Feb. 9. If you haven't received yours, call town hall at 474-5242. A second mailing for recent registrants will go out Feb. 27.
The names on the ballots are rotated so every candidate's name appears first the same number of times.
"Two people in a household shouldn't compare their ballots, because more than likely they're going to be totally different," Smith said.
- Returned ballots must be taken to Globe for signature verification by two members of the election board or the alternate board. This will probably be done twice a week.
"The ballots can never be with (just) one person," Smith said.
- Gila County elections officials verify the signatures, which are located on the outside of the envelope, and two election board or alternate members return the still-unopened ballots to Payson.
- The three-member board meets to process the ballots. They are opened, and the ballots and envelopes are placed in separate stacks. The envelopes and ballots are counted to make sure the totals match and the envelopes are then bound and placed in a separate ballot box. Observers are welcome, but they need to call the town to find out when the board is working.
- The ballots are then checked for accuracy. If the voter's intent is known but the ballot is filled out incorrectly (using, for example, check marks instead of filling the ovals), the board will fill out a duplicate ballot reflecting the choices. The original ballot, signed by two board members, is saved in case of challenges.
- The alphabetized ballots are then locked in the vault to await counting on Election Day.
- Utilizing the Optiscan system instead of punch cards for the first time, the ballots are machine-counted on March 14. A preliminary count will be available sometime after 8 p.m., but the final count, reflecting ballots that arrived Monday or Tuesday, won't be available until probably Thursday afternoon.
"We will be able to announce Tuesday evening how many ballots are outstanding, because we go to the post office at 7 p.m. and get any ballots that have been dropped off," Smith said.
The town attorney's office is still considering letting the ballot counting begin Monday, March 13, and then continue into Tuesday.
"They tell us it takes approximately nine hours to do between 3,000 and 4,000 ballots," Smith said. The scanning machines are leased from Election Operations Services, which provides an operator for the counting process.
Vote counting hours will be publicized and the event will be open to the public, even if it begins on Monday. The process will also be videotaped and archived.
Members of the election board are Sherry Smith (inspector) and Beverly Wells and Phyllis Lee (judges). Members of the alternate board are Beverly Savage (inspector) and Gaye Stidham and Tracie Butler (judges).
This will be the fourth consecutive all-mail election conducted by the town.