Steamboat Springs Electronic voting equipment used in Routt County and throughout the state of Colorado was decertified Monday, calling into question how some counties will conduct their 2008 elections.
Scanning systems used in Routt County to count paper ballots have been completely decertified for failing to count ballots correctly, Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman announced Monday. However, the county's electronic voting machines and related software have been conditionally certified.
The decertifications and conditional certifications are the result of court-ordered certification tests of all the state's electronic voting equipment. The Secretary of State's Office conducted the tests. All of Colorado's 64 counties were affected by at least the conditional certification of voting equipment from four different vendors.
Routt County is one of 47 counties that use equipment provided by Hart InterCivic. Hart equipment also is used in nearby Eagle, Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Summit counties.
Premier Election Solutions, whose equipment is used in 14 Colorado counties, was the only company not to have any equipment decertified. All of Elections Systems & Software's equipment, used in Jefferson and Mesa counties, was decertified.
Following Coffman's announcement Monday, Routt County officials stood by their equipment.
"Our history with the machines is that they have perfectly counted the ballots," County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.
County Clerk Kay Weinland said tests done before and after elections have shown the equipment to work flawlessly.
"I still stand that this is a good system that I trust," Weinland said.
Weinland will attend a meeting Thursday afternoon in Denver with Coffman's staff and Hart InterCivic representatives for a review of the testing results. Until then, Weinland said she doesn't know what to do about a situation she called "disconcerting and terrifying" in advance of possibly "the biggest election in the history of the country."
"We're behind the eight ball," Weinland said. "I'm sick. I don't know what to do."
Anticipating the possible decertification of electronic voting equipment, Weinland and other Colorado county clerks supported in November the option of an all-mail ballot election in 2008. That won't be an option now, however, because the scanning equipment that was decertified leaves the county with no way to count mail-in and other paper ballots. Weinland said she is unsure what the conditional certifications of electronic voting machines and software will require.
"I can tell you it's going to cost money, whatever the conditions are," Weinland said.
Routt County already has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on voting equipment and training, a fact that made Coffman's announcement especially frustrating for county officials.
"This is a huge investment we made," County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said. "Taxpayers paid for this, and now it's worthless."
Routt County owns 35 Hart InterCivic electronic voting machines, and Weinland received authorization earlier this year to purchase 20 more at a cost of $169,000. The state prevented counties from moving forward with such purchases, however, while the recertification process was pending.
In addition to passing tests at the county level, all the equipment that went through Colorado's recertification process passed federal tests as well.
"It's a very rigorous testing program here at the state," Secretary of State's Office spokesman Rich Coolidge said.
Coolidge said Coffman will meet with the Legislative Task Fore on Voting Equipment Recertification at 9 a.m. today to discuss how next year's election will be pulled off in counties affected by decertification. State Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, a Democrat, and House Minority Leader David Balmer, a Republican, will lead the task force.
Coolidge also said that counties and vendors have 30 days to contest Coffman's decisions. Weinland, however, is skeptical that the appeal process can be resolved in enough time to prepare for next year's primary and general elections.
"Our prep process begins in February, and we have nothing to prep," Weinland said.
Pete Lichtenheld, director of marketing for Hart InterCivic, said the company will contest recertification results.
"We hope to contest the results," Lichtenheld said. "We believe there were errors in the testing. (Our equipment) is very accurate."
Among the alleged errors, Lichtenheld said he believes testers did not clean the scanners after thousands of ballots had been run through them. Lichtenheld said cleaning the scanners is "standard maintenance."
Lichtenheld also expressed frustration with standards that go above and beyond what is required at the federal level, vary from state to state and tend to change as new state election officials take office.
"The standards are being rewritten as we speak," Lichtenheld said. "We're definitely shooting at a moving target. It's very difficult for us to change on the fly."
In November, Coffman acknowledged that the recertification process - which was supposed to be done in July - has put him at odds with many of Colorado's county clerks. The tension is heightened in Routt County, which Coffman placed on his Election Watch List after a 2006 election that saw hours-long delays at Routt County polling centers.
In the face of lawsuits aimed at doing away with electronic voting altogether, Coffman said he is trying to make sure the equipment is beyond reproach, but critics have claimed he is merely making political hay in the name of election reform. Coffman, a Republican, has announced his intention to run for the 6th Congressional District seat being vacated by Republican Tom Tancredo, a candidate for president. Coffman denied such claims.
Information on the state's voting system certification program, such as copies of letters sent to vendors and detailed reports on their equipment - including the provisions for conditionally approved equipment - can be found at www.elections.colorado.gov/DDefault.aspx?tid=501.