By Naomi Hatch
There are six municipalities in Navajo County and of those, Taylor and Holbrook are the only ones that do not use Navajo County Elections Services to conduct local elections.
HB 2826, which was passed in 2012, requires that all political subdivision and candidate elections must take place on even-numbered years on the primary and general election dates of August and November. This required approval by resolution to change the election date in Taylor.
Navajo County Elections Director Johnathan Roes made a presentation on elections to the Taylor Town Council April 2.
Roes said that there are 61 voting precincts in the county with approximately 55 polling locations, but they are in the process of consolidating polling places due to purchasing new equipment and this will give Taylor one polling place rather than two.
Navajo County has approximately 58,820 registered voters and 2,114 of those are registered voters are in the Town of Taylor; however the voting average in Taylor is very low for town elections.
Town Clerk Kelly Jones said that the number of signatures needed on a petition is five percent of the voters from the previous election, and Taylor candidates need just five or six signatures to be put on the ballot.
Roes gave an overview of his department, explaining that Navajo County conducts federal and state elections every two years, and one will be held at the end of this year. They cover six municipalities, three Native American reservations and numerous unincorporated areas, and provide election material in five languages.
Cities and towns can continue to conduct their own elections, but they would essentially be competing with the federal elections, said Roes.
He explained some of the issues as a result of HB 2826, including that council member terms would have to either lengthen or shorten if elections were held on the odd number years. Last month the Taylor Council approved a resolution lengthening present terms by a year and a half. Another issue is that before the odd year election the home rule option may run out, and there could be issues with calculating runoff percentages and signature requirements.
Roes listed pros as that Navajo County would provide all election equipment and poll workers, but did say that there are enough poll workers in Taylor that they would use them. The county would work with Taylor to ensure noticing requirements are met, and would work with Taylor and local candidates to ensure the ballot is correct.
The county would do early ballot processing and verification, which is usually done by the town clerk, would have rapid website reporting of the results and would include recount services, which Jones said would save staff a lot of time.
Because of the way the voting precincts are set up with some not living within town limits, Navajo County cannot accommodate all-mail ballets could be a con, as would be having the town races at the end of the ballot, which could lead to some voter fatigue with voters quitting before they came to the town election. There would also be limited ballot space, especially in presidential years, but the county would definitely work with all towns in its jurisdiction.
Another con would be that there would be no local place to obtain a ballot, because everything is run from the county. An example of this was that if an early ballot were lost, the voter would need to call or visit the county for a replacement.
Roes said that the cost could be higher at a predicted $5,813.50, which is calculated by the number of voters.
Town Manager Gus Lundberg said that the budget includes $5,000 for an election, but the cost may not be that high, noting, “That doesn’t include staff time and all the gray hair.”
Jones said that with some elections staff members spend a lot of time verifying votes, and she felt that contracting with Navajo County would be a very good thing for the town.
“Navajo County has been great with our elections,” said Jones noting that if they are used, they would better know the legalities, since she takes a class just prior to each election, but they deal with it all the time.
“I don’t think we want to be in competition,” said Mayor Fay Hatch. “No one would come over here to vote.”
Roes explained that the town would have local control over all candidate paperwork, which would still be filed with the town clerk, and over all pamphlets and informational advertisements, which would still be put out by the town. The town would approve the ballot prior to printing and the town council would still canvass election results.
“If you decide to use the county, we would just take the responsibility,” said Roes, noting the county would act as a vendor.
By Naomi Hatch