Routt County Clerk and Recorder's Office employee Kathy Brusca posts the first round of election results at the courthouse in downtown Steamboat Springs on Tuesday night.

Photo by Brian Ray

Routt County Clerk and Recorder's Office employee Kathy Brusca posts the first round of election results at the courthouse in downtown Steamboat Springs on Tuesday night.

Mail-only vote possible

County clerks warn of potential election crisis in 2008

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At a glance

Routt County saw 6,124 voters turn out at the polls on Election Day, a drop from 2005's record number of 6,850 voters in an odd-year election.

The drop occurred despite a large number of local issues on this year's ballot.

"I was disappointed," Weinland said. "I thought we were going to have a higher-than-normal turnout, and it was ordinary."

Weinland said she wasn't sure why turnout dipped, but guessed the lack of any state issues on the ballot may have played a role.

Weinland said she was thankful for a smooth process compared to the 2006 election, in which voters waited for hours to cast ballots at crowded vote centers plagued by mechanical delays and a long ballot.

"We have a good experience under our belts as we move into '08," Weinland said of Tuesday's election. "I needed that. The voters needed that."

— Mail-in ballots could be the only option for Routt County voters in the 2008 election.

In a meeting with the state legislature's Joint Budget Committee on Thursday, a group of county clerks from across Colorado said legislation might be necessary to allow an all-mail-ballot election in 2008, because the Colorado Secretary of State's Office has failed to complete a court-ordered recertification of the state's electronic voting equipment.

The recertification was supposed to be done in July, but is now not expected until December. The delay has stalled efforts of Colorado counties - including Routt - to prepare for next year's presidential election.

"I didn't make it down to Denver," Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland said Friday. "I did say I would support an all-mail vote if we can't get our equipment certified."

The certification delay is frustrating, Weinland said, because of the amount of money that Routt County has already spent on 35 electronic voting machines.

Weinland received authorization earlier this year to purchase 20 more of the electronic machines for the 2007 election, at a cost of $160,900. But because the state won't allow counties to move forward with voting equipment purchases while the certification process is pending, Routt County has not yet bought its 20 new machines. And Routt County's 35 voting machines - used in Tuesday's election - could be disqualified from use in 2008.

"I think we're between a rock and a hard place," Weinland said. "We can't just buy more equipment."

'Excuse every time'

Secretary of State Mike Coffman has blamed the certification delay on voting machine vendors failing to provide all the information required to complete the certification process.

"It was, 'The dog ate my homework,'" Coffman said Friday. "It was an excuse every time. I've never seen anything like it."

Vendors, in turn, have accused Coffman of changing the rules throughout the process by repeatedly asking for additional information. Colorado's 64 counties currently use electronic voting equipment from four vendors. Routt County's machines are from Texas-based Hart InterCivic.

"The rules changed once we started down that road and they continue to change," said Pete Lichtenheld, director of marketing for Hart. "To change the rules in the middle of the process is unreasonable. : We're 100 percent confident in our equipment."

Coffman denied that he has been changing the rules, and said the additional requests were sometimes the result of more questions being raised than answered when Hart and other vendors submitted their initial documentation.

State Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, is a member of the Joint Budget Committee and attended the county clerks' presentation Thursday. He seemed open to the idea of an all-mail ballot if necessary.

"My thoughts are, they need some legislative options to run fair and verifiable elections next year," White said. "There's a lot of uncertainty as to whether these machines will be certified on time."

Boiling over

Coffman acknowledged that circumstances have put him at odds with several of Colorado's county clerks. Coffman placed Routt County on his Election Watch List this year after a 2006 election that saw hours-long delays at Routt County polls.

Coffman said he is "getting it on both sides." 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.

At the same time, Coffman said, county clerks are nervously stuck with expensive machines that could be decertified.

"Their frustrations are just boiled over," Coffman said.

On top of it all, Coffman - who has announced his intention to run for the 6th Congressional District seat being vacated by Republican Tom Tancredo, a candidate for president - has also faced accusations that he is not committed to the task at hand.

Coffman denied such claims, as did White.

"He's committed to pursuing his job first and foremost, I think," White said. "He has always demonstrated an ability to do the job he was elected to do."

While confident the certification process will wrap up in December, Coffman said there is no guarantee that equipment will pass the certification.

"I don't know how the results are going to be," he said. "It could be that nothing passes."

In the event that any equipment does not pass certification, a "Legislative Task Force on Voting Equipment Recertification" will be convened to develop alternative solutions for Election Day 2008. State Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, a Democrat, and State Rep. David Balmer, a Republican, will lead the task force, which will include Coffman.

Meanwhile, Weinland noted that mail-in ballots are gaining acceptance in Routt County. There were about 2,000 requests for mail-in ballots this year, compared to just 375 in 2005.

Comments

another_local 6 years, 5 months ago

Why wouldn't we go back to old fashioned paper ballots?

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dave mcirvin 6 years, 5 months ago

The state of Oregon has offered mail in ballots for all elections including presidential for years. It is so efficient and provides days or weeks for one to deliberate over all the issues and candidates at ones leisure...It has significantly increased voter turnout, saves the state money and is more carbon and traffic neutral. Thus, we voted here via mail in this past election.

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Richard Levy 6 years, 5 months ago

Many places use mail in only ballots for off year elections. I'm not sure its appropriate for presidential years like 2008. The upside could be setting precedence for future mail only ballots which would help reduce the costs of elections.

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Matthew Stoddard 6 years, 5 months ago

Anyone ever have something lost in the mail, or torn up and put into one of those plastic baggies? To a single person, it may only happen 1 once a year.

On that kind of scale...think about it. How would you know if you're vote didn't turn up? In the electronic age, why take steps backward. The machines are easy to use. Even last year's debacle only took me 5-10min to vote. I just stood in line for an hour, waiting to get to the booth.

Stormpeakco- does this mean you don't deliberate over all the issues and candidates already? You wait to do that at the voting booth? Personlly, I usually have already spent months deliberating so when I go to the booth, I don't have to hem and haw.

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agentofchange 6 years, 5 months ago

Right on Matt, I'll "Hand Deliver" my ballot. I don't use the USPO for anything anymore. It's FED EX or email. Yes, I will "Hand Deliver" my vote, that's how important it is to me. By the way, with the USPO doing such a bang up job, maybe this is some government geek's way of propping up the "snail mail" department with mega bucks,but not this little black duck. Thanks but no thanks.

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