Our View: Lawmakers have hands full

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— Colorado lawmakers will have their hands full in the coming weeks as they attempt to sort through the growing debate about the state's election systems.

The Legislature convenes Wednesday in Denver, and at the top of its to-do list will be quickly determining how best to conduct the November election in light of Secretary of State Mike Coffman's decision to decertify many of the voting machines and ballot scanners used in counties across the state, including Routt County.

It's a critically important issue - and not one with an easy answer. Lawmakers must come to agreement on a solution that will ensure a fair and accurate election for all Colorado voters.

The issue came to a head Dec. 17 when 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 purchased from Hart InterCivic. Hart equipment also is used in nearby Eagle, Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Summit counties.

Coffman decertified the two Hart scanning machines used to count paper ballots. He conditionally certified Hart's electronic voting machines and related software. Many of the machines produced by the other vendors also were decertified. Coffman said the decertification was necessary because of security weaknesses, programming errors and inaccuracies.

Many of the state's county clerks, including Routt County's Kay Weinland, defend the electronic voting equipment and say the various machines used in their counties have passed numerous tests. Clerks and voting machine manufacturers are expected to appeal Coffman's decision.

In the absence of electronic voting equipment, most county clerks support an all-mail election, and they are preparing legislation that would permit such an election this fall.

We have concerns with an all-mail ballot, the most prevalent of which is the potential for fraud. Coffman has said voters subjected to an all-mail election could experience undue influence as they fill out their ballots at dinner tables surrounded by family and friends.

We think the option with the most potential is a plan to amend the certification process, which could allow some of the decertified machines to be recertified. Coffman has said that could be accomplished without lowering the standards for the electronic voting machines.

Another option gaining traction is paper balloting at precincts, with all votes counted by hand. We believe such a process would create an Election Day nightmare given the turnout expected for the presidential election and the limited number of election judges qualified to count ballots.

Routt County has spent more than $200,000 on electronic voting machines, a sizable investment that could be for naught if the machines are never recertified. But more important is ensuring fair, accurate and inclusive elections. As it stands, Colorado lacks a plan to accomplish such an election. We hope that will change in the coming weeks.

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