Voters will have far fewer polling places to choose from in this month's primary election because of the dramatic rise in early voting.
In Pima County, there will be 288 polling places in the Aug. 28 primary - compared with 417 in the 2010 general election, said Brad Nelson, Pima County elections director.
That's significant - marking a 31 percent decrease in polling places. It's the first time the county has cut back on polling places, Nelson said. The number of polling places had increased by 10 to 15 spots every two years for the last decade, he said.
The reduction is a direct result of the rapid rise in early voting, which has exploded over the last 14 years.
It increased steadily during the early to mid-2000s, triggering the state to create the permanent early voter list in 2008. That fueled even more early voting.
More than 75 percent of votes are now cast by early ballots in Pima County elections - compared to about 25 percent in 1998.
Last week, the Pima County Recorder's Office mailed 216,600 early ballots, shattering the record for the most ever sent out in a primary election. Thousands more people will request early ballots in the coming weeks.
With so many people voting by early ballots, fewer polling places are needed, Nelson said.
Pima County Elections sent out sample ballots - which show a voter's precinct and polling place - a week earlier than normal this year to ensure that people are aware of the changes. People also will be voting for the first time in new congressional and state legislative districts.
"Many people haven't voted since the general election of 2010, and we want to let them know there's been a lot of changes since then," Nelson said.
The sample ballots should be arriving to voters' mailboxes on Monday, Nelson said. Sending out the sample ballots earlier will also allow people to decide if they want to vote by early ballot instead of going to a polling place. Voters have until 5 p.m. Aug. 17 to request an early ballot.
Some people may find that their new polling place is too far or too inconvenient, Nelson said.
"With fewer polling places, they may opt to do early voting," Nelson said.
One sample ballot is sent to each household with at least one registered voter. Households with voters not registered in either party will receive ballots for all political parties. People on the permanent early voting list will not be getting the sample ballots.
People who still prefer voting at the polls need not worry. That option isn't going away anytime soon.
Though Tucson held its first all-mail election in November 2011 to choose a mayor, there are no known plans to do all-mail elections at the county level.
On StarNet: A breakdown of Tucson-area races, voter resources and links to political news coverage can be found at azstarnet.com/elections
Ways you can vote
To vote on Election Day
You can find a list of polling places for the Aug. 28 primary by going to www.pima.gov/elections and clicking on "where to vote" at the top of the page.
To vote early
If you haven't requested an early ballot, you have until 5 p.m. Aug. 17. Go to www.recorder.pima.gov and click on "early ballot request," or call 724-4330.
Contact reporter Brady McCombs at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4213.