Colorado back to electronic voting |

Colorado back to electronic voting

Colleen Slevin
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” State lawmakers killed a proposal on Thursday that would have forced counties to conduct paper ballot elections this year, freeing them to use their controversial electronic voting machines.

The 8-1 vote by the Senate Appropriations Committee means the bill cannot be brought back this legislative session. Most lawmakers and Gov. Bill Ritter pulled their support from the bill on Wednesday in the face of stiff opposition from county clerks and Secretary of State Mike Coffman.

Colorado was one of five states considering moving to paper because of questions about electronic equipment. The reversal essentially puts the state back to where it was in December, before Coffman decertified most of the computerized voting equipment and optical scanners used in the state because of security and accuracy concerns.

Coffman recertified all of them by the beginning of March after lawmakers agreed to let him reopen the process, test different fixes and get input from clerks.

California and Ohio, meanwhile, have both moved away from using such machines. At a meeting in Denver on Thursday, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission voted to allow states that have decertified electronic machines to use federal funds to help make the switch to new voting systems, including buying more scanners to read paper ballots.

However, commission chairwoman Rosemary Rodriguez of Denver said the measure also lets states use the money to equip electronic machines with paper receipt printers and doesn’t endorse any voting system over another.

In Colorado, counties can now use their voting machines or paper ballots or a combination of both. Denver, the state’s largest county, plans to run paper ballot elections this year and Boulder County has used paper ballots for several years. But other large counties like Jefferson as well as many Eastern Plains counties wanted to use their electronic machines.

According to Coffman’s office, all but 10 of Colorado’s 64 counties have plans to at least offer paper ballots as a backup this year. Coffman urged them to consider the idea last year because of long lines of voters waiting to use the machines in Douglas County in 2006.

Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, the lone sponsor still standing behind the paper ballot bill, said voters should vote by mail or vote early to avoid potential mechanical problems with the machines or long lines brought on by the Election Day rush. He said he wasn’t a “conspiracy theorist” but still had concerns about the voting machines and wanted paper ballots for potential recounts and postelection audits.

“They’re like all computers. They work almost all the time,” Gordon said.

Coffman stressed that the machines are secure with the conditions he put in place in the second round of certification. But some lawmakers questioned whether he should have decertified them in the first place and accused him of flip-flopping.

“I didn’t know you could have waffles for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Sen. Steve Ward said of Coffman’s reversal. Ward, a Republican who’s running against Coffman in a GOP primary for Congress, has favored the use of electronic voting machines.

Coffman, who backed paper ballots after he first decertified the machines, said he had to decertify them under the strict limitations of state law and a court order from a 2006 lawsuit by voting activists challenging the machines. He said he vetted every decision with the attorney general’s office and did not communicate with county clerks about the first round of testing while it was under way, because of fears of another lawsuit.

“If I was going to err, I was going to err on the side of doing more rather than requiring doing less because there’s nothing more sacred than the right to vote,” Coffman said.

After he decertified the machines, Coffman said he immediately asked lawmakers for changes to the law to consider security fixes to protect the machines and for clarification that he could talk to the clerks. Lawmakers quickly passed a bill allowing that but also pushed ahead with a statewide paper ballot election.

Clerks opposed it even after Ritter offered to increase funding to nearly $11 million because they said it would force them to scale back convenience for voters, including offering fewer early voting locations. While voting machines can store dozens of ballot styles, using paper ballots would have required storing stacks and stacks of different ballots.

Jenny Flanagan, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, said her group would push for better postelection audits to help make sure that the machines are counting votes accurately. She said voter confidence in the machines has been damaged by reports of problems in other states like Ohio.

“It’s not that it can’t be done. But we’ve got to do more to prove that the results are accurate,” Flanagan said.

Some Colorado machines still don’t print a receipt so voters can check to see if their ballot was recorded accurately. A state law doesn’t require it until 2010 but Gordon said lawmakers could consider making that effective this year and giving counties money to pay for it.