Colorado's legislators and county clerks are making the right move by preparing for potential problems with the 2008 election. But any push to mandate a statewide, all-mail voting system is premature and should be used only as a last resort.
The county clerks, including Routt County's Kay Weinland, are concerned they won't be prepared for the 2008 general election if the Secretary of State's Office can't complete the certification process for electronic voting machines, or if the machines used in most Colorado counties fail the certification tests.
Last week, a group of county clerks met with lawmakers in Denver and said a change in state law may be needed to allow an all-mail election next year.
There's no question that mail-in voting is gaining popularity here and elsewhere. We suspect local demand for mail-in ballots was fueled by the hours-long lines that plagued county polling centers in 2006. More than 2,000 Routt County residents requested mail-in ballots this year, and 1,634 such ballots were completed, returned and counted. Less than 400 residents requested mail-in ballots in 2005, the last odd-year election.
While we agree that mail-in ballots are a good option for some voters, we are hesitant to endorse any move that would require all voters to cast their ballots by mail.
Topping our list of concerns about an all-mail system is the greater potential for fraud. Add to that list the questionable reliability of the mail system and the potential elimination of one of democracy's most hallowed rituals - a public vote on Election Day.
What we'd rather see is a dedicated effort by Secretary of State Mike Coffman to complete an already overdue electronic voting machine certification process. Coffman blames the delays on a lack of cooperation from electronic voting machine vendors. Most of the vendors say they've provided everything that's been asked of them and that Coffman keeps changing the rules.
Coffman was quick to place counties such as ours on his Election Watch List after the problems of 2006, and we agreed with his decision. But his office has done little to help Routt and other counties better prepare for the 2008 general election, which could bring record turnout. Now that he has announced his intention to run for the 6th Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, we're even more concerned about Coffman's commitment to solving the state's election issues.
Fortunately, Colorado counties have a couple more months before the panic button needs to be pushed. Coffman says the voting machine recertification process will be done in mid-December. Depending on the outcome of those results, Routt County could finalize the purchase of 20 additional machines it already has budgeted for.
Those additional machines, combined with early and mail-in voting options, will provide the most complete and appropriate means for local voters to cast their ballots come Election Day 2008.