County adds voting equipment

Officials concerned about registration system

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— Routt County has 20 more electronic voting machines to use in upcoming elections, but the county's top election official expressed "serious concerns" Thursday that a new statewide voter registration system could crash in November.

At a meeting of the local Citizen Election Review Committee, Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland said county commissioners have authorized the purchase of 20 additional voting machines from Texas-based Hart InterCivic, raising the county's total to 55 machines for use in August primaries and November's general election. Thursday's meeting also included discussion of the new Statewide Colorado Registration and Election system, known as SCORE II, which Weinland said is placing the state's entire voter registration database on a single server in the Denver metro area.

Weinland described SCORE II as a slow system - generated by federal requirements - that could be overloaded by massive voter turnouts across the state. The system will be accessed to verify registrations of voters at poll locations and process mail-in ballots on Election Day.

"It scares the bejesus out of me," Weinland said of connectivity issues. "I'm really fearful that Colorado will be in the national headlines."

Catherine Carson, chairwoman of the Routt County Democratic Party, compared the potential overload to Colorado's on-line rush for World Series tickets last fall.

"Remember the Rockies tickets?" Carson said. "Odds are, this is going to crash."

Weinland's chief deputy, Sherry Wofford, said the system's capacity will be tested in a statewide mock election scheduled to begin April 21. Jan Kuhnen, a retired Larimer County election official, is coordinating the mock election through the Colorado Secretary of State's office.

"We're all going to hit (the system) at the same time with look-ups," Wofford said of county election officials across the state.

Wofford said paper poll books of Routt County voters will be on hand at each poll location in upcoming elections. Paper ballots also will be on hand to supplement the electronic voting machines.

Sitting in storage

Commissioners first approved the 20 new machines a year ago and actually ordered and received them, but certification questions raised by Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman caused Weinland to place the machines in storage, not pay for them and almost send them back to Texas.

"We had told Kay to contact Hart and see if we could just send them back," Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said Thursday. "Hart agreed to take them back, but we never finished the process of boxing them up and sending them. : We're glad we didn't."

Weinland said most of the new machines will be used at voting locations in the Steamboat Springs area, because of the high numbers of Steamboat voters. Carson is analyzing voter data to determine how many voters to expect at each location and how to allocate the machines.

Weinland said the total cost of the 20 new machines and related equipment is about $81,500. Stahoviak said funding was allocated in the county's 2007 budget.

The election committee did not decide Thursday whether to purchase an additional 15 voting machines - to raise the county total to 70 - at a cost of more than $46,000. Weinland and Carson cited uncertain possibilities of state legislation regarding the 2008 election or further certification questions.

"I think it's fiscally responsible to wait on these machines," Weinland said of the extra 15.

The election committee was formed to improve county elections after frustrated voters waited hours to cast a ballot in 2006.

An even larger turnout could hit local polls in November.

"Our voter registration numbers are off the charts, already," Weinland said. "We're seeing a huge, huge increase in numbers."

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