County election process could change

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— Moving Routt County's voting process into the future and potentially changing the county's precinct boundaries is getting a serious look by Routt County Clerk Kay Weinland.

New legislation, population growth and the increase in early and absentee voters are among the factors that are changing the dynamics of the voting process. Weinland said she wants to make decisions that will stand up far into Routt County's future.

"I really want to set the stage for a long-term solution, rather than an interim solution," she said.

The county's boundaries last were changed more than 20 years ago, Weinland told county commissioners Monday, so it's time for another look.

"We may end up not making any changes, but I think it's time to review it and at least have some discussion about it," Weinland said.

Changing the boundaries could make sense for various reasons, including drastic changes in population densities, needed clarification in maps, and the fact that school district boundaries could be used when possible to help with coordinated elections.

"To me, it logistically might make more sense to reconfigure some of these for the convenience of the voter," Weinland said.

Also, some precincts have such a small number of voters -- there are 16 registered voters in Precinct 18, for instance -- that Weinland worries about the secrecy of their ballots.

Although there is no requirement to have a public review of precinct boundary changes, Weinland said she recommended that the public be involved in the process and a citizen group be formed to consider changes.

Weinland also presented information to the Routt County Board of Commissioners about several options for a vote-tallying system for the county. Routt County has been leasing a ballot scanner to tally its votes, and it's in a good position to make a permanent decision, Weinland said.

One option is to buy a central counting machine, similar to the one the county has leased, but that requires paper ballots and their associated costs, delayed results on election night and significant staff overtime.

Potentially better options include moving to precinct counters, in which voters still vote on paper ballots but feed the ballots into individual counters that are at each polling location, or having touch-screen computers at each location.

Counters at every precinct would allow results to be available soon after polls close but would continue to incur ballot-printing costs.

Touch-screen voting could be a substantial investment at first, but it could have long-term savings because it requires less staff overtime on election night and involves no costs for printing ballots. The system also would mean almost instantaneous results on election night.

By 2006, each county is required to have at least one touch-screen terminal in each location under the Help America Vote Act, because the devices are accessible to voters with disabilities who previously have had to vote with assistance.

An entirely different system would involve creating seven voting centers. In that method, there would not be a polling location in each precinct, but instead, there would be seven centers across the county at which any resident could vote on voting day. That way, there would be "no wrong place to vote" because voters could go to any of the seven centers.

Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger agreed that the concept seemed interesting, but that the larger discussion about the budget is necessary first.

Weinland said she was struggling to decide what voting process would best meet the county's future needs, but that all options would be considered, with the potential of having something new in place for the 2006 election.


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

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