Incremental changes (in electoral politics)

By Bellah Nelson/El Inde

Alison Jones, a woman in her early 60’s with a short cut of curly white and grey hair, has been chair of the Pima County Democratic Party since 2018. Elected by the Precinct Committee persons of the Democratic Party, hers is a volunteer position to lead the county party in finding and electing Democratic candidates. “We’re not just about anybody who happens to say they’re a Democrat, because anybody can file as any party they want,” Jones says. She says she focuses on pushing Democratic values, finding good Democrats who stand for what they believe in. 

During this year’s election season, mail-in ballots were utilized especially by Democrats across the country. Usually, votes are cast in-person on Election Day at local polling locations, whereas a mail-in or an absentee ballot is used in cases where one cannot be present on Election Day.

Dealing with ballots and vote counting is the responsibility of a non-partisan entity, the recorder and the elections department. “There is a procedure in place, not only in Arizona but virtually everywhere in the United States, where our election officials count the votes and there are both Democratic and Republican Party representatives with them when they count the votes,” says Thomas Volgy, a political science and public policy professor at the University of Arizona. “None of that changes when you switch from in-person to mail-in-voting.”

An envelope collection box at the USPS located on Speedway Blvd in Tucson. Photo by Bellah Nelson/El Inde.

Given the COVID-19 pandemic and dangerous risk of infection across the country, there were record numbers of mail-in ballots and early voting. The use leaned heavily towards Democrats because of Trump’s push to his base that the use of mail-in ballots would lead to fraud and voter abuse. Trump attempted to paint a bad light on mail-in ballots, saying that it would affect the integrity of the election results. “I understand why Trump is pushing this narrative; any doubt on our current process plays to his base and that is what he is doing,” says Jones. 

Jones is confident in the mail-in ballot-counting process, referencing a study done by the Brennan Center for Justice, which claims that the historical fraud associated with mail-in ballots is infinitesimally small. “I could almost count on my fingers and toes in the last 20 years, the number of ballots that have been considered fraudulent,” Jones says. She has been voting by mail for just over 10 years.

At first, Volgy had a hard time switching to mail-in ballots. “I like the idea of going down in person. I liked the feeling, the sense, and the smell and the intensity of people walking into a polling place and casting their ballots … But it’s really old school,” he says. “So I switched over to mail-in-voting because it’s convenient, maybe a decade ago, I haven’t voted in person since.”

Arizona, specifically, has been doing mail-in voting since 1991. Volgy, who was a Tucson City Mayor from 1987 until 1991, explained, that in Arizona maybe 70-80% of people vote by mail. “We know how to do this and we know how to do this really well,” he says. 

This is not the case for other states. In previous years, there have also been four to five-day delays in election results because of absentee ballots dramatically increasing. “I see no difference this year than it has been in the past when there has been a high volume of mail-in-voting,” Volgy says. 

Volgy’s predictions were correct. The country saw this play out in states like Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Nevada, where results were delayed because of the quantity of mail-in ballots that were only beginning to be counted on Election Day. These delays were driven by the pandemic and also the upsurge of interest in voting on the part of the people: Both candidates this year ended up receiving more votes than any previous presidential candidate, with Biden leading at over 81 million.

With Jone’s 2-year chair term at the Pima County Democratic Party coming to an end, she predicted Biden’s win as well. Jone’s position requires a lot of time spent fundraising, which is then shared with legislative districts to help secure their votes. “Everything we do is ultimately targeted at getting our candidates elected,” explained Jones. “As the county party, our focus is on the state legislature and county offices, such as the board of supervisors; I think we’re well-positioned there too.”  

Pima County focuses specifically on legislative districts. In Tucson, there are 7 separate districts, each with 2 elected state house members and 1 elected state senate. Indirectly, the Pima County Democratic Party also works to educate the voters by holding civics classes so that people can understand governmental functions, as well as building the Democratic platform.

At the announcement of Biden’s victory, America saw many people celebrating in the streets, many of whom were younger generations and people of color. “Change is made incrementally. There are a lot of 80, 70, and 60 year-olds who vote regularly and religiously. Eventually, Gen-Z will become the powerhouse and will be able to sway the elections,” preached Jones.

A ballot drop-off tent set up outside of the Pima County Recorder’s Office in
Tucson on Election Day, November 3rd, 2020. Photo by Bellah Nelson/El Inde.