Updated November 8, 2006 at 1:25 p.m.
The switch to electronic voting machines was supposed to make voting easier.
That didn't happen Tuesday in Routt County.
Simply put, there weren't enough voting centers, and there weren't enough of the new machines to handle demand. Throw in a long ballot with more than a dozen state amendments and referenda to decide, and voting becomes an unwelcome chore rather than a rewarding experience.
Residents waited in line for as long as four hours to cast ballots Tuesday. Many voters went beyond the 10-minute time limit because of the length of the ballot and their inexperience with the new voting machines. Also, there were reports that the new voting machines.
This was supposed to be progress. This was supposed to encourage participation and boost turnout. Instead, we fear it has discouraged voters.
By mid-day, dozens of voters who had been in line at the Steamboat Pilot & Today voting center had given up and left. Assuming other voting centers experienced the same thing, potentially hundreds of Routt County voters gave up on the chance to cast ballots.
Of course, Routt County wasn't the only place to experience problems. Longer waits and longer lines were reported in the Denver metro area. And with dozens of states making the switch to the new voting machines, computer glitches, broken machines and voter confusion were reported from Ohio to Washington state.
The bottom line? Routt County must learn from this experience and do better by its voters in the future.
The county had 35 machines spread across eight centers Tuesday. Each center had at least three, but not more than six, machines. At one point, three of the four machines at the Pilot & Today were broken.
The machines, when they were working, were easy to use and produced quick results. The problem wasn't the technology; the problem was there just wasn't enough of it.
On Monday, Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland said, "I have more voting machines (per registered voter) than I'm required to have by law."
Based on what we experienced Tuesday, what the law requires isn't nearly enough.
In 2004, Routt County had more than a dozen voting precincts with stands for up to eight people to vote at once using paper ballots. That's about double what was available Tuesday.
It cost about $250,000 to buy 35 voting machines. We recommend that the county double that amount before the 2008 presidential election. The county also should add at least two more voting centers. And the county should consider extending early voting hours to include Saturday voting.
We often use this space to encourage participation in the democratic process, and we were encouraged by the strong turnout for a non-presidential election. It's a triumph for our system of government. But we worry that many voters were so frustrated by Tuesday's long lines that they will be reluctant to return to the polls in the future.
Routt County commissioners should waste no time fixing this problem. Tuesday's election problems do not and should not have to be repeated.