Back to election basics

County returns to precinct voting, optional paper ballots

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Clerks coming to town

The Routt County Clerk and Recorder's Office next week will host the state's 2007 Clerks Conference at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort. The conference of about 200 participants begins Monday and continues through the week.

"Due to the fact that we are both hosting and participating in the conference, our offices will be extremely short-staffed next week," Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland said. "Any business that can be conducted with us either this week or the week of June 11 would be preferable." Call the office at 870-5556 with questions or for more information.

— In November, Routt County voters will cast ballots by precinct and will be able choose between voting electronically or on paper.

Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland and the Routt County Board of Commissioners agreed Tuesday to return to precinct-based voting, discarding the use of vote centers that allowed citizens to cast ballots at any polling location in the county. Precinct-based voting means citizens will have to vote at a location near their residences. In November 2006, the inaugural use of vote centers in Routt County led to massive lines and overcrowding - especially in Steamboat Springs - that made some voters wait up to four hours to cast a ballot, or leave in frustration without voting at all. The debacle ultimately drove Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman to place Routt County on the state's Election Watch List.

Mechanical problems with the county's electronic voting machines also contributed to the delays.

"We feel like switching to vote centers and electronic voting all at once may have been going a little fast," Weinland said Wednesday. "This will let us take a step back."

Weinland said returning to precinct voting will give voters the option of casting paper ballots in November and the 2008 presidential election, if not beyond.

Routt County has 18 voting precincts. In 2006, when voters could cast ballots across the county, each vote center would have needed numerous copies of the different ballots for all 18 precincts - and some precincts had more than one style of ballot - creating a potential paperwork nightmare that led Weinland's office to rely solely on the electronic machines.

Precinct-based voting, however, means each polling location will need only the ballots for a maximum of two precincts, making paper ballots again possible for what Weinland called "a contingency measure."

"I just can't go through another election without paper back-up," Weinland said. "I'd be a basket case."

New polls

Weinland is recommending the use of 10 polling locations in 2007. Most of the polling locations will serve two precincts. For example, voters from precincts 11 and 12 in downtown Steamboat Springs will likely vote at Centennial Hall on 10th Street.

Weinland and the Citizens' Election Review Committee met several times during the winter to prepare recommendations for improving local elections. In addition to more machines and more polling locations, the recommendations include expanded early voting hours and increased voter education efforts.

Tuesday, county commissioners unanimously approved up to $160,900 for election expenses, including 20 new electronic voting machines.

Routt County used 35 electronic machines in 2006. The new machines will raise that total to 55 in November. Weinland said she hopes the county will purchase 15 more machines in each of the following three years, for a total of 100 by 2010.

"We want to have everyone voting electronically by 2010 or 2012," Weinland said. "Right now, we need to have paper backup, at least until we figure out some of the nuances with the equipment and people are more familiar with it."

Weinland said her office is still looking for "technically savvy" election judges. Those interested can contact Weinland at 870-5556.

County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said voter data from 2006 shows most of the people who voted in Steamboat also lived in Steamboat, meaning the vote centers did not necessarily help commuters vote while away from their place of residence.

"It didn't look like the use of vote centers was really necessary from a customer service point of view," Stahoviak said.

Weinland said voting by precinct will allow the county to prepare for a certain number of voters at each location, and avoid the uncertain turnout that created lengthy lines last fall.

"I feel really good about it," Weinland said of precinct voting and paper back-ups. "It's the right thing to do."

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