The election reforms implemented by Routt County are, by and large, appropriate. But allowing voters to use paper ballots if they choose is a step backward.
Last week, Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland and the Routt County commissioners agreed to return to precinct-based voting and letting voters choose between electronic voting machines and paper ballots.
Certainly, precinct-based voting will help ease the lines that plagued the November 2006 election. We agree with other reforms, including the expansion of early voting hours and increased voter education efforts.
But allowing the use of paper ballots in anything less than an emergency is, in our estimation, a mistake.
For last fall's election, the county moved to all-electronic voting at eight voting centers throughout the county. Voters could cast ballots at any voting center, regardless of the precincts in which they lived.
The result wasn't good. On election night, voters still were in line at 11 p.m., and many people gave up and went home or back to work because they weren't able to wait up to four hours to cast a ballot. There were not enough voting machines. There were not enough voting centers. And there was not enough familiarity with the new voting machines to address technological problems quickly.
The problems were so bad that Routt County was among four counties in Colorado named to Secretary of State Mike Coffman's Election Watch List.
The Routt County Election Review Committee was formed to review the processes used and recommend changes to prevent future problems. The return to paper ballots and precinct-based voting are part of the committee's suggested reforms.
Weinland is recommending the use of 10 polling locations in 2007. Most of the polling locations will serve two precincts. The change, we think, will allow election workers to better gauge how many voters to expect at each site.
But allowing the use of paper ballots will slow the process. In 2006, electronic voting was not the problem; a lack of machines and lack of technological familiarity with the machines - on the part of election workers and voters - were.
The county used 35 machines in the last election. Last week, county commissioners unanimously approved buying 20 more, bringing the total to 55. We don't think that's enough, and county commissioners would be better served buying more machines than necessary. We still think there should be 70 - enough for seven machines at each polling location.
Still, 20 additional machines coupled with better-trained election workers, heightened understanding of how the machines work, a shorter ballot and fewer voters likely will be enough to try all-electronic voting again this fall. Electronic votes are instantly tabulated; paper ballots must be counted. The paper-ballot option will invite confusion, slow the election process and unnecessarily delay the inevitable transition to electronic voting.
Our first effort at all-electronic voting did not go well. But that should not deter us from adding more machines, getting better trained and taking a run at it again. It is the right thing to do.