Colorado clerks worried about election costs
DENVER, Colorado ” Even though most of the state’s electronic voting and counting machines have now been certified, county clerks are still facing some uncertainties as they prepare for this year’s elections.
Questions surrounding the touch-screen voting machines led lawmakers to push for paper ballot elections this year, a proposal (Senate Bill 189) that will get its first hearing at the Capitol on Monday.
However, Rio Blanco County clerk Nancy Amick said her county and some others switched entirely to the computerized machines which were seen as the answer to the voting problems in the 2000 presidential election. Others, like Mesa and Jefferson counties, rely heavily on the ATM-like voting machines. Now she said they face the prospect of buying scanners to count all the paper ballots just for this year’s primary and general election.
“The clerks are still hoping for the flexibility for the possibility of having a mail ballot election,” said Amick, president of the Colorado County Clerks Association.
A mail-in election would allow election workers to spread out the counting of ballots using fewer scanners. But Majority Leader Ken Gordon, who backs the paper ballot proposal, said legislative leaders want to have a uniform, system of voting statewide. Lawmakers are encouraging voters to cast ballots early by mail but still want to give voters the option of going to the polls on Election Day.
Some clerks are also worried about rolling out a new statewide voter registration database in a presidential election year expected to draw a record number of voters. The database should have been implemented in 2006 but the original vendor was fired and work had to begin again. It’s never been used statewide.
Douglas County clerk Jack Arrowsmith said he’s reserving judgment until after a mock election is held in April.
“All of us hope that it does great, but until it’s put through the paces, we won’t know,” he said.
El Paso County is one of nine pilot counties that has tested the system so far and clerk Bob Balink said it’s performed well in tests. Still, he said he understands the apprehension of clerks who haven’t used it yet.
Jenny Flanagan, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, said the database will be the gatekeeper that will determine whether someone gets to vote or is given the right ballot for their precinct.
So far, 35 of the state’s 64 counties have been connected to the database. Twelve of them no longer have their old county databases and will have to rely on the new database in this year’s election. They are Alamosa, Chaffee, Cheyenne, El Paso, Elbert, Gilpin, Logan, Morgan, Otero, Prowers, Pueblo and Sedgwick counties.
All counties will use the system during early voting, some in conjunction with their old systems, but only counties with vote centers ” where voters choose where they cast ballots ” will use it live on Election Day.
Counties, like Denver, where voters will only cast ballots in precincts where they are registered to vote, will print out or download the list of voters eligible to vote in each precinct after the close of early voting the Friday before the election. Secretary of State spokesman Rich Coolidge said.
Coolidge acknowledged Colorado couldn’t fully implement the system partly because the state fell behind in developing the database. However, he said it would also be difficult to find enough voting locations with high-speed internet access that were also accessible to the handicapped.
Gordon said there would be too much pressure on the new system for all the counties to be online on Election Day, which could cause it to crash.
“That would be too scary,” the Denver Democrat said.
The voter database is required by the same federal law that mandated there be at least one computerized voting machine at every polling place for disabled voters.
Coolidge said the law only requires the state to use the database to register voters, not to check their eligibility at the polls. He said all counties will be using the system to register voters in time for the Aug. 12 primary election as the law requires.