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State legislators to weigh public comments today; Iowa holds caucuses

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To hear an audio broadcast from the Capitol in Denver of today's public meeting, held by the Legislative Task Force on Voting Equipment Recertification, visit the state Legislature's Web site at: www.leg.state.co....>

— While the race for the White House begins in earnest today with the Iowa caucuses, the clock is ticking for Colorado officials hoping to avert an Election Day 2008 crisis in November.

In the wake of Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman's decertification or conditional certification last month of electronic voting equipment used throughout the state, solutions have been proffered, but no decision has been made as to how the upcoming presidential election will be pulled off.

"I don't know what's going to happen," Routt County Clerk Kay Weinland said Wednesday. "I think, at this point, people are still scrambling."

State Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, D-Denver, hosts a public meeting from 9 a.m. to noon today in Denver, at the Capitol's Old Supreme Court Chambers, to gather more opinions on the subject.

Gordon is co-chairing the Legislative Task Force on Voting Equipment Recertification with Assistant House Minority Leader David Balmer, R-Centennial.

Erika Jensen of the Senate majority leader's office said members of the public will have an opportunity to speak about election processes for three to five minutes on a first-come, first-served basis. An audio broadcast of the hearing can be accessed from the Legislature's Web site, www.leg.state.co.us/.

"A lot of the members of both houses plan to be there," Jensen said. "This is just the very early stages : to gather the collective opinion of the electorate."

On Dec. 17, Coffman, the state's top election official, announced the results of a court-ordered recertification process of the state's electronic voting equipment. Colorado's 64 counties use equipment provided by one of four vendors. Routt County is one of 47 counties that use equipment provided by Hart InterCivic. Hart equipment also is used in nearby Eagle, Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Summit counties.

Coffman announced that the two Hart scanning machines used to count paper ballots have been decertified, while electronic voting machines and related software have been conditionally certified. Coffman has since held meetings with vendors, county clerks and the task force.

Whatever solution is ultimately settled on likely will require a change to existing state law. The Legislature does not convene this year until Jan. 9. Weinland said county clerks throughout the state are preparing legislation - which they hope to have fast-tracked - that would allow an all-mail-ballot election this year.

Coffman opposes that plan. Secretary of State's Office spokesman Rich Coolidge said Wednesday that Coffman fears there could be intimidation factors associated with an all-mail-ballot election. For example, Coolidge said someone voting at home in front of their parents, for example, might feel pressured to vote differently than they might in the privacy of a voting booth.

Coffman has suggested the state vote by paper ballot at designated precincts in November instead of relying on electronic voting machines.

"He just feels, among our options, that will be our best chance for fair and verifiable elections," said Coolidge, who noted that mail-in ballots would still be an option under Coffman's proposal.

The proposal would not erase the need for at least one electronic voting machine at each polling location to meet a federal Help America Vote Act requirement that counties offer touch-screen voting for disabled voters. Coolidge acknowledged that need Wednesday.

Coffman also has suggested that lawmakers give him the flexibility to accept California certifications of voting equipment patches and updates that might cure the problems raised by Colorado's certification process.

Pete Lichtenheld, director of marketing for Hart InterCivic, said his company will participate in today's public meeting.

"We're going there to make a statement and to listen to what the public has to say," Lichtenheld said.

Lichtenheld said Hart is reviewing documentation from the certification process to prepare its planned appeals of the decertification and conditional certification of its equipment. Vendors have until later this month to start the appeal process, and Coolidge said no decisions would be made until that process plays out.

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