Steamboat Springs After months of controversy surrounding electronic voting equipment used in Routt County and statewide, local election officials finally have enough resolution to begin preparing for a presidential election that many expect will draw record numbers to the polls.
"We're going to proceed with the election as we had previously planned," Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland said.
That means Weinland will prepare for the use of electronic voting equipment - a prospect that appeared dire just weeks ago, as officials dealt with the widespread decertification of electronic voting machines used in Colorado. But Secretary of State Mike Coffman has recertified all electronic machines, and officials have distanced themselves from costly paper ballot proposals.
While she is happy that it now appears the county will be able to use its voting machines, Weinland said the months of uncertainty have hampered her office's ability to prepare for the August primary and November general elections.
"I'm extremely happy now that we can move forward with the election : and I'm confident in Routt County's voting system," she said. "In some respects, we're set back. But there's still time to salvage and move forward."
In February, Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, D-Denver, introduced a bill that would have all but mandated a paper-ballot election for Coloradans in 2008. Gov. Bill Ritter initially backed that bill, which was in response to Coffman's December decertification or conditional certification of electronic voting equipment used throughout the state. Majority and minority leaders of both houses of the Colorado General Assembly sponsored the bill.
Support was eroded, however, by opposition from the state's county clerks and Coffman - who suggested relying on paper ballots shortly after his decertifications - as well as a mounting price tag for an all-paper election. The cost initially was estimated at $3.5 million but quickly rose to about $11 million. On March 20, the bill failed, 8-1, in a hearing before the state Senate's appropriations committee. Just three days earlier, Gordon told the committee that Ritter would be supporting the bill and its accompanying cost, but by the time of the vote, Gordon was the only one left standing by the legislation.
Coffman began recertifying the state's voting equipment before Gordon introduced his bill, and has since recertified every previously decertified machine. Even so, Gordon said a paper election was necessary because of the distrust created by Coffman's initial decertifications.
"It's a voter confidence issue, and that's a very important issue," Gordon told the appropriations committee March 17.
Before withdrawing his support of the bill March 19, Ritter agreed.
"The risk of litigation and lack of public trust in previously decertified equipment makes the widespread use of these machines in 2008 infeasible," Ritter wrote in a letter to county clerks dated Feb. 26.
When asked if anything positive was gained from the months of controversy and officials' shifting positions, Weinland said only "gray hairs."
"We've pretty much gone full circle," she said.
Weinland and other county officials now must decide whether to move forward with the purchase of additional voting equipment for the upcoming election. Routt County owns 35 electronic voting machines, and Weinland has authorization to purchase 35 more. There is some hesitancy to move forward with the purchase, however, due to the possibility that use of the machines could again be questioned.
"We're not out of the woods yet," Weinland said. "The Legislature is still in session. That makes me a little nervous."
The decision will be the subject of a meeting between Weinland and the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Monday.
"I thought it was important to get that on the agenda as soon as possible," Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said. "Kay is still just a little bit gun-shy."
Despite the uncertainty, Stahoviak said, she is inclined to make good on the county's commitment to purchase the machines. She noted that an election committee made up of residents recommended the purchases to make sure voters could vote in a timely manner. The committee was formed after hours-long delays during the 2006 election, which led Coffman to place Routt County on his Election Watch List.
Stahoviak said this year, the county also will look to reduce waits by pushing for early and mail-in voting.
"I think it's important to offer voters the options we've been talking about," Stahoviak said. "Kay will still strongly remind people of the opportunity for everyone to do early voting if they want to."
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