Teak Simonton: Putting on an election is hard work in Eagle County
Eagle County, CO, Colorado
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but every other November I am reminded that it takes several villages, actually an entire county to hold a successful election.
Everyone from the clerk’s staff to the generous help of staff from other county departments to the software and printing vendors, Canvass Board, judges, local post offices and even the local Xerox repair man helped us get the job done in a remarkably short period of time and with some big challenges.
Challenges aside, the Canvass Board consisting of Jo Brown, Harvie Branscomb and I recently completed the post-election review and audit and I’m happy to report that all of our processes stood up to this scrutiny and hand count comparisons to machine tabulations were accurate.
But for purposes of understanding the magnitude of the event, let’s backtrack so I can give you a quick view of some of the work involved.
Beginning in mid-summer the mail ballot requests and voter registration applications began arriving. As the deadline to register and subsequent deadline to ask for a mail ballot approached the quantities increased dramatically, and in the end thousands were arriving each day.
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Once ballot language was available, the precise and time-consuming process of creating, proofing and lightly testing and ordering the many mail and polling place ballot styles was completed.
By early October more than half of our 20 staff (typically only three of us are directly involved in elections) deserted their posts in the recording and motor vehicle divisions and began helping with the escalating election related tasks.
After the ballots arrived, all electronic equipment and optical scanners needed to be thoroughly tested. Four of my crew and I, along with several testing board members appointed by each political party, spent an entire week marking test ballots, tabulating these results and casting test votes on all of our machines. It is an important exercise for obvious reasons, but it is very precise and tedious, and there is no room for error. At the end of this process, the machines were carefully sealed and stored for future polling-place installation.
High voter turnout mandated that we hire 30 percent more judges than for the 2006 election. There were more than 165 judges to train. Someone once compared this situation to deploying several large army divisions, with each soldier having had an average of four hours training and expecting the outcome to be flawless. So much for these people to learn and retain with so much at stake ” and yet they really did a fantastic job!
Of course, while all of these major tasks were occurring we were also carefully preparing our staff to assist in the polling places, mailing hundreds of ballots every day, holding early voting at three locations for two weeks and organizing the supplies, equipment and logistics for the installation of 17 polling places.
We worked very hard, and in the end, with a few very minor exceptions everything worked out as well as we hoped. Election results weren’t exactly available on Election Night, but happily after a 24 hour day for several of us (and several very committed mail room judges), results were posted at 5:30 a.m. the next day.
Knowing how hard we all worked, and how mentally and physically exhausting our job was, I sympathized greatly with those in Boulder County for the pressure they were under when their results weren’t immediately available. Even harder to imagine was the state of election officials in Minnesota who were involved in an immediate and intense recount of 2.9 million ballots.
It sure helps re-affirm the many benefits of being clerk in a medium-sized county in which I can be directly involved in all election-related processes, and work directly with so many incredible individuals. Administering elections is a very exciting process, and even with the extreme amount of work surrounding each one, we love it.
It all boils down to this. Hours spent testing equipment: 240. Cost of hiring 165 election judges: $55,000. Percentage of people voting before Nov. 4: 69 percent. Total number of voters casting ballots: 21,818.
Hearing from so many of you post-election that we did a good job: priceless!
Teak Simonton is the Eagle County clerk-recorder.