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Phoenix to use voting centers in city election

Phoenix, the nation’s sixth largest city, aims to save money and add convenience by allowing its 650,000 registered voters to cast ballots for Tuesday’s city election at any of 26 voting centers.

The centers replace 128 assigned polling places. While most Phoenix voters cast early ballots, typically mailing them in, those who voted in person formerly had to vote in their precincts.

Arizona is among nine states that either permit jurisdictions to replace precincts with vote centers or authorize pilot projects in selected administrations, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The centers don’t necessarily boost overall turnout but can save money for governmental jurisdictions, a 2010 study by the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Indiana’s Ball State University found.

Phoenix, the first Arizona city to use voting centers, will likely save up to $350,000 on the previous $1 million cost of a city election, with reduced spending for hiring election workers, renting polling places and preprinting ballots, City Clerk Cris Meyer said.

With voters able to cast ballots at any center, there won’t be preprinted ballots for each voter. Instead, appropriate ballots will be printed once voters go to centers and election workers look them up on computerized registration lists, he said.

The new system allows people to vote at locations near their work, school, shopping or day care, Mayor Phil Gordon and other officials said Friday.

The centers will be open Saturday, Monday and Tuesday for voting in Tuesday’s election, which features a hotly contested mayoral race, four City Council contents and two ballot questions.

Arizona cities already had legal authority to use voting centers, and Phoenix began planning for their use several years ago. Earlier this year, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, the state’s top election official, pushed for legislative passage of a new state law authorizing counties to use the centers. The measure drew bipartisan, near-unanimous support among lawmakers.

Under the Arizona law, it isn’t mandatory for counties to switch, but Bennett said several are considering using the centers, at least partially. Because some rural counties have residents who live far from cities or big towns, officials may need to keep polling places for some individual precincts, Bennett said.

Use of voting centers was pioneered by Colorado’s Larimer County in 2003, followed by an Indiana pilot project in 2006.

Bennett said the advent of voting centers isn’t a harbinger of the end of in-person voting. Arizona voters in 2006 overwhelmingly defeated a ballot question to have the state switch to all-mail voting, he said.

“I don’t think voting in-person will ever go away,” Bennett said. “There’s a certain percentage that likes coming into a poll.”

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