Voting system backed

Officials say county is ready

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A close presidential race that could draw a record number of voters to the polls, the mishaps of the 2000 election and reports of fraudulent voter drives and other registration woes have put pressure and scrutiny on the nation's voting system as never before.

In Routt County, after long days and weekends, and with the help of extra workers, the county clerk's office is on top of registration and absentee ballot mailings.

Although some concerns have surfaced at the state and national levels, Routt County Clerk Kay Weinland is assuring voters that their votes will count.

Those involved in local politics share Weinland's faith in the system.

"I think Routt County is going to do a fine job handling the election," said Jennifer Schubert-Akin, secretary for the Routt County Republican Central Committee.

"You have to have good people running the system to make sure the rules are followed, and I think we have that," she added.

Ben Beall, a past county commissioner and former chairman for the Routt County Democratic Party, said he feels there are many safeguards in the election system to prevent fraud and to ensure that people who should be able to vote, do.

"I think the real issue is to get everybody to vote, not fraud," Beall said. "Everybody should believe in the system and go and vote."

This year's numbers

Voters have come to register across the state in "huge numbers," said Lisa Doran, public information specialist for the Colorado Secretary of State.

That also is true for Routt County, where 12,820 people are actively registered. That number represents a 10 percent increase from the about 11,500 voters who were registered for the August primary.

It still could increase, with emergency registrations.

There are 16,812 eligible voters in Routt County, a number that includes inactive voters or those who have not voted in the past few general elections.

The numbers highlight the likelihood of a good turnout, as well as one concern about the election systems. Although the county has 16,812 eligible voters, the 2003 U.S. Census estimates indicate there are only 16,090 residents who are 18 or older.

Although voter registration lists are updated every month with information from the state, registration roles still need more cleaning.

Another sign of the likely high turnout is that 1,516 absentee ballots have been requested. Although two weeks remain until the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot, the requests mark an almost 40 percent increase from the 1,100 absentee ballots requested for the 2000 general election.

How the system works

When someone wants to register to vote, they first fill out a form and deliver or mail it to the county clerk's office. That form also can come through the local Department of Motor Vehicles when a person changes an address on their driver's license, Weinland said.

The information is entered into the county's database almost immediately. The longest delays happened right after voter registration closed, but even then, all of the applications were entered within four days, Weinland said.

After the information is entered, the application is scanned so a copy can be kept on file, and the voter's signature is cropped and saved to allow for signature verification at a future date.

The information is then double-checked for accuracy and completeness, and if there are problems, voters are contacted directly for more details.

Once the information is complete, the system makes a card verifying that the person is registered, and the card is mailed.

People who think they have registered through mailing in a form should be sure they receive the verification card, as forms could be lost in the mail. Those who register at the DMV also should double-check, as those forms are delivered to the clerk's office, and in the past, Routt County has had some difficulties getting them, Weinland said.

People who registered at a voter registration drive should take special precautions, as some drives this year did not turn in their registration forms, Weinland said.

For absentee ballots, the minute the clerk's office receives an application, the information is entered into the computer system and two labels are printed: one goes on the envelope with the ballot, and one goes on the absentee request form. If the office finds a request form without a label on it, it knows a request was missed.

There are checks and double-checks all along the way, as well as a system that ensures materials are not lost or entered inaccurately, Weinland said.

"I absolutely want to reassure people that we're in control and we're on top of it," she said. The volume of registrations and requests just means the office is working especially hard.

But at the same time, she said, voters need to realize that the election system is administered by people, and so has room for human error.

"Recognize that yes, we're human, and we are under a tremendous amount of workload and pressure," Weinland said.

But if there are errors, Weinland said the office would make every effort necessary to fix them.

"Our whole objective is so people can vote," Weinland said. "Our intention is never to disenfranchise a voter."

Safeguards

There is a fine line between making sure only eligible voters can vote, and not disenfranchising people, said Doran with the Secretary of State's Office.

Many safeguards are in place, she said. A critical safeguard, which was put in place by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 and state legislation, requires voters to bring identification when they register and when they vote.

Another critical one is the provisional ballot, which allows people whose records are not clear or who forget identification on Election Day to vote, but their votes are not counted until their information is double checked.

For the state's more than 6,000 convicts serving sentences who are registered but not eligible to vote, provisional ballots will make sure people who are not supposed to vote do not, but also that voters are not disenfranchised.

Voters need to take responsibility for making sure they are registered, Weinland said.

"There is still a lot of responsibility for the voters," she said. "We can't do it all."

The first step to making sure one is registered is to watch for the voter registration verification card mailed out by the clerk's office. Anyone who did not receive a card should immediately contact the clerk's office to find out if they are registered.

Some counties publish their voter registration lists online to help residents check they are registered, but Weinland said she thinks security issues need to be addressed before Routt County's voter registration list is published online.

Because Routt County is small, it's just as easy for residents to call the clerk's office and be sure they are registered and their records are current, Weinland said.

"Providing an election for the citizens of Routt County is a lot of work, but we are happy to do it and we are dedicated to getting it done right," Weinland said.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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