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Maricopa County runs first ever 'mock election' in anticipation of long ballots

Maricopa County ran a mock election for the first time ever Wednesday as a way to practice running polling places with what are expected to be unusually long ballots in November.

This year, the county anticipates printing a two-page ballot, with choices on the front and back of each page. In preparation, the county invited poll workers and election staffers to run a mock vote center, like the ones voters could go to on election day. 

County Elections director Scott Jarrett said longer ballots mean longer lines.

“One of the things that we’re doing is ensuring that we have enough voting booths in all of our vote centers to accommodate the additional turnout and the additional time it will take to complete the ballot,” Jarrett said.

Ballots in 2022 took an average of 10-11 minutes to fill out. In the mock election, Jarrett said it took participants an average of 13-15 minutes to fill out their longer ballots. 

Longer ballots also mean higher costs, Jarrett said, and potentially a longer waiting period for results. 

But longer ballots aren’t expected until the General Election in November. Primary ballots in Maricopa County will be one page only. 

What’s making the ballot particularly long this year are citizen initiatives and legislatively-referred ballot measures that lawmakers are asking voters to decide on. Jarrett said the county won’t know exactly how long the ballots will be until late August.

Ballots haven’t been this long since 2006, when Arizona used a different voting model. The state used to have precinct voting, where voters were assigned a specific voting location and could only vote there. 

Now, voters in Maricopa County can go to any vote center they like to cast a ballot on election day. 

But that requires vote centers to be prepared to print a wide variety of ballots.

At the precinct polling places, all the ballots were the same type. At vote centers, printers must produce different ballot styles depending on where a voter lives.

Jarrett says the county, like always, also has planned a series of “stress” tests on their equipment. Printers, for example, are pushed to their full capacity. Those stress tests will also go forward, but Jarrett noted that the mock election is a more realistic simulation of election day.

Though there were some bottleneck issues, Jarrett said the mock election went fairly smoothly.

The staffers and poll workers posing as voters checked in to vote, received ballots, filled them out and fed them into machines. No results were announced.

At the end of the day, participants went through a debrief where they were asked to share their thoughts with the county.

→  Get more Arizona politics news

Camryn Sanchez is a field correspondent at KJZZ covering everything to do with state politics.