Officials look ahead

Monger: More machines, vote centers needed

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The scene at a Voting Center

Hundreds of voters wait in line to cast ballots Tuesday afternoon at the Steamboat Pilot and Today, one of eight voting centers in Routt County. Some voters waited as long as four hours. The last ballot at the Pilot and Today was cast at 11 p.m.

Hundreds of voters wait in line to cast ballots Tuesday afternoon at the Steamboat Pilot and Today, one of eight voting centers in Routt County. Some voters waited as long as four hours. The last ballot at the Pilot and Today was cast at 11 p.m.

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Vicki Weber, Routt County's elections supervisor, saves ballot data from the county's 35 electronic voting machines onto a central computer in a basement vault at the Routt County Courthouse on Wednesday. County officials acknowledged Wednesday that more voting machines and vote centers are needed for future elections. Some voters waited as long as four hours to cast ballots Tuesday.

— County officials said Wednesday that more electronic voting machines and more vote centers will be needed for future elections in Routt County.

"It's quite evident, especially in a (2008) presidential election, when you could have twice the amount of voters we had this year, that we're going to have to go with more vote centers," Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said.

On Tuesday, thousands of Steamboat Springs voters waited as long as four hours to vote in the midterm election that resulted in sweeping Democratic victories across Routt County, the state and the nation. Because vote centers in Hayden, North Routt and South Routt were far less crowded than those in Steamboat, many Steamboat voters drove outside of city limits to cast their ballots, creating lines and voting delays across the county.

A total of 7,845 Routt County voters participated in the election. Of those, about 3,800 voted by early or absentee ballot, meaning about 4,000 voters shared the 35 voting machines distributed among eight vote centers.

Mechanical problems shut down several of the machines for an hour or longer, further increasing delays and lengthening lines.

Election judges and poll watchers said many people left vote centers without casting a ballot.

"A lot of people left," Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland said Wednesday. "Many people who stayed waited four hours to vote. That should not have happened, but it did, and we learn from it. I don't take that lightly."

Weinland said Monday that the county's 35 machines surpassed recommendations by manufacturer Hart InterCivic as well as the number of stations required by law. More vote centers, more machines and more training for election staff and volunteers will be needed in the future, she said. Additional vote centers would be located in Steamboat Springs, Weinland said.

Weinland met with Monger and Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak on Wednesday to begin discussions about budgeting for more machines.

"They absolutely know that we have to ramp this up," Weinland said. "Everything we do we have to do with budgets in mind, but at the same time, we have to balance that with service to voters."

Weinland said each Hart InterCivic electronic voting machine costs $2,500, plus $1,000 for a printer that records each ballot cast. In addition, a central computer, or "judge's booth controller," is required at each vote center at a cost of $3,500 apiece.

Monger said the electronic machines are required by the Help America Vote Act, or HAVA, which President Bush signed into law in 2002. Monger said the county has spent $145,250, in addition to a grant of $140,750 from the Colorado Secretary of State's Office, to meet HAVA requirements.

"It'll take more taxpayer dollars for new machines," Stahoviak said. "We can thank the federal government for that. Once again, we get an unfunded mandate."

Weinland said local schools such as Steamboat Springs High School and Steamboat Springs Middle School could be ideal locations for future vote centers. Although Weinland stressed that she has not yet discussed the idea with Steamboat Springs School District officials, she said schools could provide ample parking and facilities for a larger vote center.

Each central computer can handle as many as 12 voting machines. On Tuesday, the largest vote centers had six voting machines.

"We have lots of opportunity for expansion," Weinland said.

She also suggested that if the school district could plan to use Election Day as one of its monthly "Curriculum and Instruction Days," which provide planning time for teachers while students have no school, the school facilities would be available, and more students could participate as election judges.

Sixteen high school students manned laptops and helped verify voter registration at vote centers Tuesday.

"They were awesome," Weinland said.

Weinland said she and her Clerk and Recorder's Office employees decided against preparing a back-up system of paper ballots to be used in the event of mechanical failure.

"We didn't have a paper back-up," Weinland said. "We chose not to go that way. Logistically, it would have been extremely impractical."

Weinland said because of the new "vote center" system, in which a Routt County voter can vote at any one of the county's eight centers, paper ballots would have required preparing seven different ballots to accommodate the different issues voters decided on, depending on where they live. Such a system would have created a "large margin of error" for election staff, who would have been asked to sort and properly distribute paper ballots, Weinland said.

Reviews and audits of Tuesday's election begin today.

Weinland said she has scheduled a random test of the electronic machines today, in which votes in two randomly selected races from two randomly selected machines will be hand-counted to verify computer accuracy.

Colorado Secretary of State Gigi Dennis provided Weinland with the serial numbers of the machines to be tested and the races from which to count votes.

Weinland will conduct the test with Lynn Abbott, secretary of the Routt County Democratic Party, and with an as yet undetermined Republican representative.

On Nov. 17, Weinland will conduct a "canvass" of the election with Abbott, Steamboat Springs City Clerk Julie Jordan, and Jennifer Schubert-Akin, chairwoman of the Routt County Republican Central Committee.

Comments

JazzSlave 7 years, 11 months ago

""It'll take more taxpayer dollars for new machines," Stahoviak said. "We can thank the federal government for that. Once again, we get an unfunded mandate."

A mandate that was signed into law in 2002. You've known the score for 4 FRICKIN' YEARS, Nancy. Thank you so much for the gratuitous whining and finger pointing.

Now grow up and do your job.

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thinkpeople 7 years, 11 months ago

Typical for this paper as well as this county... Does anyone know how to do math??? 35 voting machines at $2500 equals $87,500 Add 35 printers at $1,000 equal $35, 000 then add the 8 "Judge's booth controlers at $3,500 each, equals $28,000. Here's the hard part add those three figures together and the sum is $150,500 for everything mentioned in this article.

The problem is the same article says the County spent $142,250 and received $140, 750 for a total of $283,000. What happened to the rest of the money??

I would expect the Pilot and Today to demand an investigation... FIRST of the reporter... that didn't think through what he was reporting... SECOND of Commisioner Stahoviak for complaining of "an unfunded mandate"... looks to me like the county should have only paid $10,000 to cover the shortfall from the federal grant. And THIRD, the office of the Clerk and Recorder's office to see where the EXTRA $130,000 was spent.

That $130,000 should have represented an additional 36 voting machines...

So, in closing... we need better reporters that think through the story they are reporting on... to get all of the facts and then determine if they make sense, and not stop asking questions until the facts make sense. We need County Commisioners that provide oversight, leadership and quit complaining about the Federal Government when the County officials they represent, fall down on the job. And we should demand that the Clerk and Recorder's office provide a complete explanation where the money went.

Come on... Think People...

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another_local 7 years, 11 months ago

It should have been forseeable that 35 machines was not enough. Getting 4000 voters on election day is not an unforseeable event. There were tests that showed that it would take up to 8-10 minutes to complete the ballot.

Guess what:

4000 voters X 10 minutes = 40,000 minutes

40,000 minutes / 60 minutes per hour = 667 machine hours

667 machine hours / 35 machines = 19 hours per machine

Start at 7AM, run for 19 hours, finish at 2AM

I guess we are lucky not everyone took 10 minutes..... Do the same math and, Holy Moly, you finish at 10PM!

You had to assume that all the machines worked flawlessly and there were always voters at every station ready to use the next machine AND that voting would only take 6 minutes to figure that we had enough machines.

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