Our View: Setback at ballot box
Routt County voters should expect more from election officials in the preparation of ballots
October 24, 2010
Steamboat Springs — 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.
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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.