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Denver vote-counting delayed again

George Merritt
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Denver officials were still counting ballots from a mail-in election on Wednesday, blaming the delay on a last-minute rush of ballots the day before.

It was the second time in a year that Denver voters had to wait to hear the outcome of an election. In November 2006, it took nine days to count the ballots because of computer glitches and other problems.

There were no computer problems this year, Clerk and Recorder Stephanie O’Malley said.

She said about a quarter of the 90,000 votes cast were not turned in until Tuesday, which delayed the counting. She said it also takes longer to tally mail-in ballots than the traditional kind.

There was no immediate word on when the 8,000 remaining ballots would be counted. The outcome appeared to be decided in all but one of 13 local races or issues on the ballot.

About 20 Denver police officers from a SWAT team were called in to help Tuesday night to give tired volunteers a break. The officers were used because anyone who handles ballots must have a background check.

“We wanted to work as long as we possible could last night,” O’Malley said. “Some of our more elderly election judges who had been here throughout the day elected to go home.

Denver’s problems in November 2006, which forced some voters to spend hours waiting in line, led to an overhaul of the elections office and landed the city and county of Denver on Secretary of State Mike Coffman’s “watch list.”

Coffman’s spokesman, Rich Coolidge, said observers from the secretary of state’s office saw no serious problems in Denver’s election.

“We were watching for long lines or someone waiting for four hours to cast a ballot,” he said. “They acted appropriately and this is a problem with ballots coming in all at once.”

O’Malley was first appointed and then elected to the clerk and recorder’s job after her predecessor resigned amid the overhaul.

Despite this year’s delays, O’Malley said the reforms have improved Denver elections.

“We are happy about the fact that (residents) were able to cast their ballots, which they were not able to do in 06” because many walked away from long lines, she said.

But she acknowledged, “No election is a perfect election.”

Susan Rogers, who was a member of the Denver Election Commission before it was disbanded as one of the reforms, said mail ballots have slowed counting before.

“You can only count a thousand ballots an hour on a good day,” she said.

“Maybe now (Denver residents) will understand that the process itself is misunderstood and the expectations are unrealistic,” Rogers said.

Rogers and O’Malley said that mail ballots can take longer to count than traditional ballots. Each mail ballot has to be opened and the signature has to be verified before it is run through a counting machine.

The advantage of a mail-ballot election is that officials can get a head start, running the ballots through machines several days in advance without releasing totals.

O’Malley said she expected between 10,000 and 20,000 ballots to come in on Election Day. About 22,000 came in.

Four other counties on the secretary of state’s watch list ” Douglas, Montrose, Pueblo and Routt ” reported no serious problems Tuesday.

Election results were delayed for a Mesa County school district race when a corrupted computer disk returned inconsistent results, forcing election officials to recount the ballots.

“We saved the results to a floppy disk that didn’t read right,” said elections chief Sheila Reiner. “It was a bum computer disk.”

Associated Press Writer Steven K. Paulson contributed to this report.


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