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November 17, 2010
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Crippled hand count and recount

Dear Editor:

Recent articles about the mysterious counting of write-in votes in House District 61 have been largely accurate but incomplete. Scott Condon's article focused on one of Aspen's citizen heroes with reportedly 33 mentions in one issue. Responsible citizens have for hundreds of years been quietly standing by to ensure the accuracy of election-counting procedures. While watching, I have noticed some important facts about counting and recounting not yet mentioned.

An unprecedented court-ordered count has already consumed the time and money required for a full hand count of House District 61. The public will not receive the benefits of election accuracy we should expect for our money. The court-ordered count is deliberately crippled. It is limited to solely adding counts to Curry's total. In Eagle during this "examination" judges noticed an uncounted vote for Roger Wilson - the box was fully filled in - but in pencil. It remains uncounted as probably others also are.

Election officials frequently complain that "hand counts" are inaccurate. I know that machine counts can't be accurate. Hand counts are crucial for equipment pre-election testing and auditing. Audits done properly will reveal that the machines are almost always somewhat inaccurate. Some voting machines and some officials are better than others at coordinating the machines and election judges to count voter intent correctly. Law includes a mandatory recount to cover the close elections where these details matter greatly.

Our recount law is substantially weaker than other states'. While they recount if the presumed victor's margin is within 1/2 percent of total ballots, Colorado recounts only when within 1/2 percent of the winner's count. This is usually half the margin other states use. In their terms, our law usually calls for a 1/4 percent margin to recount. But in this unusual three-way contest our recount triggers at the equivalent of 1/6 percent in Minnesota.

Unlike Minnesota, we recount almost always by machine. Election officials might find any excuse not to perform a hand count but they can't argue with a court order. Unfortunately this court order asks for a crippled hand count - one that does not revisit the machine-counted totals for Korkowski or Wilson or Curry for that matter. Machine counts and recounts can't correct all the intended votes that machines are not designed to find. Of the huge percentages of votes being marked at home there are increasing numbers containing strikeouts and written explanations. To vote properly, voters at home who make mistakes must obtain a replacement ballot. They will take an easier course. Because of efforts by mail-in voters to express themselves, recounts by hand within reasonably large victory margins are essential to correct election outcomes.

Our election law in Colorado remains weak because the public and legislators alike don't learn crucial facts even when the consequences are imminent such as they are today. Facts are hard to learn when officials are holding watchers at 6-foot distances, when Colorado's chief election official campaigned (unsuccessfully) on a platform that included closing off public access to anonymous ballots.

Harvie Branscomb

El Jebel


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The Aspen Times Updated Nov 18, 2010 07:00AM Published Nov 17, 2010 11:58PM Copyright 2010 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.