Our View: Setback at ballot box

Routt County voters should expect more from election officials in the preparation of ballots

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Editorial Board, August through December 2010

  • Scott Stanford, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Blythe Terrell, city editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Rich Lowe, community representative
  • Sue Birch, community representative

Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or editor@steamboatpilot.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

— We were greatly disappointed last week to learn that an innocent, but crucial mistake on the mail-in election ballots at the County Clerk and Recorder’s Office could cost the county $25,000 to fix.

A coding error in the clerk’s office rendered 5,773 ballots already mailed to voters unreadable by election databases. The error was attributed to a single wrong keystroke. Voters may drive to the courthouse to exchange their old ballots for new ones, but many simply will allow elections officials to replicate their votes on a fresh ballot and hope for the best.

We, too, are hoping for the best but also are convinced that the citizens of Routt County deserve more consistency from County Clerk Kay Weinland in the management of elections. She is the elected official who ultimately is responsible for the election process.

We say that with the debacle of the 2006 mid-term election fresh in our minds. That was the year that the county put 35 new electronic voting machines to work for the first time at a cost of $250,000. Problems arose early on Election Day 2006. There weren’t enough machines at the eight voting centers placed across the county. Equipment malfunctions and election officials who weren’t sufficiently trained mired down voting lines as some people waited four hours to cast their ballots. Some did not vote until 11 p.m.

Their determination was heartening, but we also knew of many voters who left to begin a shift at work or look after their children without casting a ballot.

With oversight from the Secretary of State’s Office and a local committee, the clerk’s office seemed to have moved beyond its challenges. The 2008 presidential election went without a hitch. But even as that election unfolded, a change in the way Routt County voters cast their ballots was in the wind.

On Election Day 2008, we reported that 4,469 people, or 25 percent of registered voters, had voted early and 4,442 mail-in ballots had been processed as of the preceding Friday. The trend only has grown stronger since.

Just a few years after beefing up its stable of election machines, the county was on its way in early 2009 to its first all-mail election. A local citizens’ election committee unanimously approved the change, and the Routt County Board of Commissioners signed off on it in March. The 2009 election went smoothly, and that was reassuring. Few things are as important in a democratic society as credible elections. They are the essential underpinning of the smooth transition of power that has been America’s hallmark.

That’s why the job of the county clerk and election officials in that office is essential and challenging.

Leading up to and on Nov. 2, when the ballots in the 2010 election are tallied in Routt County, election judges will work in teams of four to replicate the ballots that contain the coding error. They will be checked and rechecked, and a video camera will record the proceedings.

While we’re convinced that this plan essentially is fail-safe, and the election results will be accurate, we can’t help but point out what already is obvious to county officials: It would have been far less trouble and less expensive to double-check the coding on the ballot form before it was sent to the printer.

We trust that will take place in the future. County voters have the right to demand it. After all, it is their $25,000 that could be squandered.

Comments

kathy foos 3 years, 5 months ago

I have to get my property taxes adjusted because of overcharges made in the countys favor for 2 years ,caused by a typo.Slow down and get the work done right.Make a back up plan for double checking vital things as in voting and charging property taxes.Mistakes happen to everyone,but the system has to be in place to totally get these things right ,no "almost" right.The legal issues of our homes are involved,and our voting rights..I agree with you pilot,

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jeff roman 3 years, 5 months ago

just another blunder that makes me sick about our local government.this mistake could have been next years concert budget(or any thing else but waste)

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Harvey Lyon 3 years, 5 months ago

A $25k error on a $80k budget is not a small mistake. Its about 8 years of my Routt County General Property Taxes that is slated for to Routt County. Government, and its employees need to be held accountable as do the voters who elect what are essentially managers of our funds. Many times we elect someone beacuse they haven't rocked the boat. But anyone who holds folks accountable and gets the job done will make enemies that wish to be less than professional. I'll watch to see how our Routt County Managers handle this. I'm glad Stmbt Pilot is on this one. I'd like to know the who, what, when and why. But more importantly, how do they assure this, and the many other things like this, just don't happen again?

I'm tired of the waste, fraud and abuse in Government, including Routt County, even if its a human mistake made by someone who should not have had the position in the first place. Why am I paying more in property taxes than I ever have before and Routt County is complaining of being broke? Waste, Fraud, Abuse and the inability to say "NO".

A quick check indicates roads budget has sky rocketed.....Personally, I'll live with the potholes in the roads for a year or two while those in the asphalt industry re-evaluate their worth....but I seriously digress even though in my personal experience every road contractor I know has plussed up in housing in recent years....new cars....got the lamb by the tail. Come on Routt County....roads are not rocket science neither is checking a "sample ballot".

Can you tell that this sort of "government error" really gets under my skin?

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Chuck McConnell 3 years, 5 months ago

Ok all of you people who are piling on -- insted of standing on the sidelines carping, get yourself down to the court house and volunteer to help solve the problem. This is OUR issue as citizens of the county. If you think the cost of doing this is a problem, take a few judge shifts and refuse the pay.

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Lisa Watts 3 years, 5 months ago

It is not the adversity that defines you; it is how you choose to handle it.

The low road of blame and criticism is a well worn path. And crowded. Because it is easy.

The higher road, the narrower road, most certainly the harder road is to acknowledge your mistake, roll up your sleeves and correct it.

Kay Weinland and her office have chosen the high road. She didn't blame the system, she didn't throw the person who stroked the wrong key under the bus, she didn't dodge and weave and try to deflect responsibility. When is the last time you saw an elected official do that?

This was an honest clerical mistake; the system is subject to human error and gee wiz, we are all human. It was not some blatent attempt to rob the taxpayers of this county. Not some empty campaign promise or attempt to favor a back door special interest who happened to donate to her campaign. Nor was it an intended mis-use of authority or funds. It wasn't even bad judgement which just about everyone in government or with a pulse is prone to make. I am quite positive the Routt County Clerk & Recorders office would not in any lifetime have wished this upon themselves or the citizens. It was a mistake. Unfortunate for sure, unnecessary additional cost, agreed. But a mistake waiting to happen if the system has no fail safes for human entry error. A hard lesson.

Of course; I have never made a mistake that cost an employer. I've never made a mistake that cost me. Come to think of it; I've never made an avoidable error...ever. I can see the Pilot hasn't or the folks blasting above obviously haven't either.

There are battles to pick with our elected officials folks. Personally; such obviously unintended mistakes to me shouldn't be basis for public flogging. Maybe that would be why absolutely NO ONE had the courage to oppose how many of our elected postions this year? Five of the seven by my count.

Interesting.

In resolution; there are 2 options: remove humans from the system. Or, close the clerical hole that allowed this and step up and help get this resolved as a community.

Oh, I guess 3 really. Complain and gripe anonymously or print public slams in the paper because you can.

As for me and other fine folks I am proud to stand with; (Republicans, Democrats and Unaffiliates alike), I've signed up for shifts. You folks just stay at your computers and carry on; I mean, no need to be part of a solution; it definitely takes a bit more effort.

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pitpoodle 3 years, 5 months ago

Citizens have a right to voice their complaints. If no one complains, public officials assume everything is fine. It's the Routt County way don't you know?

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