Voting equipment OK'd

Machine recertification eliminates need for hand counts

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— Secretary of State Mike Coffman reversed Thursday his decertification of voting equipment used in 47 Colorado counties, including Routt and Moffat.

The recertification of the machines, which are manufactured by Hart InterCivic and used to count ballots, is not expected to affect plans to hold paper-ballot elections in Colorado this year, but it will eliminate the need to count ballots by hand.

"This will allow us to have an electronic means to count paper ballots," said Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland. "It's monumental. To count them by hand would have been not only labor intensive, but also it's been proven to be the least accurate means to count ballots."

Routt County also owns electronic voting machines manufactured by Hart that received conditional certification when Coffman announced in December the results of his court-ordered recertification of electronic voting equipment used throughout the state.

Although the majority of the state now has the means to hold an electronic election, officials still plan to push a bill that would all but mandate a paper-ballot election. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon said the bill - which is backed by Gov. Bill Ritter and sponsored by the majority and minority leaders in both houses of the state Legislature - was necessary even if equipment was recertified and available for use.

"The confidence in the electronic voting machines has taken a hit," Gordon said. "We're trying to have an election people can have confidence in."

In a statement released Thursday, Hart officials expressed relief that the months-long saga has found some resolution.

"We are thrilled that we are in a position to continue to serve the county clerks and recorders, and the voters in the state of Colorado with accurate, secure and accessible election solutions," Senior Vice President Phillip Braithwaite said.

In his own statement Thursday, Coffman said his initial decertification of the Hart scanning machines was based on their failure to count ballots with extraneous marks correctly. An example of such a mark is a dot inadvertently left in a voting box because of a "pen rest." The machines sometimes counted the mark as a vote, according to Coffman's tests.

However, after listening to public testimony Feb. 21 and 26, Coffman devised a plan to allow the machines' use. It was found that when a voter properly marked another box for that race or question, the Hart system would flag the ballot for an "overvote." In such cases, judges physically examine the ballot and determine voter intent.

In an "undervote" situation however, when a voter chooses not to make a choice in a race or question, the Hart system sometimes incorrectly recorded such marks as a vote, according to Coffman's tests. Testimony at the public hearings demonstrated that it is unlikely such miscounts would affect the outcome of a race, and in the rare circumstance that it would, the vote would have to be so close that a mandatory recount would be necessary. As such, a condition of Coffman's recertification of the equipment is that in any recount, election judges must physically examine every ballot.

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