Steamboat Springs Voters in Routt County and across Colorado likely will take a technological step backward at the polls this year.
With each passing day, election officials become less optimistic that electronic voting equipment can be recertified in time for the 2008 presidential election in November. Secretary of State Mike Coffman decertified or conditionally certified equipment used throughout the state in December as part of a court-ordered state certification process.
"The reality is Routt County is one of these counties that has no certified equipment," Routt County Clerk Kay Weinland said in a presentation to the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Monday. "There's still no guarantee that our equipment will be certified or that it will be certified in time for the next election."
The state Legislature has fast-tracked legislation that gives Coffman the authority to amend or rescind his December order "without relaxing existing standards for voting systems." The bill, House Bill 08-1155, also would allow Coffman to include county clerk personnel in the process.
"There was no county clerk involvement in the previous proceedings," Weinland said.
Weinland described the certification process as "maddening" and said it involved over-the-top methods such as running ballots smeared with ketchup, makeup, oil and other substances through electronic scanners. Furthermore, she said the scanners were not cleaned after such ballots were run through them.
Weinland said the tests were inappropriate because election officials never would allow such ballots to be sent through the machines. She said clerks have administrative procedures to protect against "voter stupidity" that were not taken into consideration by Coffman's certification process. In the case of a ketchup-smeared ballot, Weinland said it would be given to a board of judges who would remake the ballot.
Despite the fast-tracked legislation and county clerk involvement, Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, agreed with Weinland that electronic voting is probably out for 2008.
"I think there's still enough uncertainty with that system to push that off to another year," Romanoff said Monday. "We expect the election to be hotly contested, but we don't think the rules should be."
The Colorado County Clerks Association is requesting additional legislation that would allow an all-mail election in November, an option Weinland supports. Preferring to preserve voter choices, Coffman opposes the county clerks' proposal and has promoted the use of paper ballots at traditional precinct polls. Romanoff said the Legislature likely will support Coffman's proposal over the clerks' request for an all-mail vote.
Whatever lawmakers decide, Rep. Al White, R-Hayden, said he expects the decision to be made in a matter of weeks, a fact appreciated by Colorado clerks.
"We are encouraged with the legislative focus on this urgent matter," Nancy Amick, president of the state clerks association, said in a news release. "It is critical that the Legislature works with the clerks and moves swiftly on this measure. In a normal presidential year, our planning would be well under way, and we cannot afford to lose any more valuable time."
Further complicating matters is Colorado counties' mandatory transition to a new statewide online voter registration system on which election officials will be trained. Weinland noted that such a transition couldn't come at a more difficult time.
"We anticipate a record number of new registrations," she said.
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