Colorado clerks warn of long lines, delayed results with paper ballots
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER ” County clerks met with representatives of the governor’s office Friday to talk about their problems with a new plan to allow people to vote on paper ballots at the polls in this year’s elections.
Some clerks are warning it could result in long lines, late election results and potentially require them to spend millions of dollars on new equipment. The new plan was needed after Secretary of State Mike Coffman decertified most of the state’s electronic voting machines last month.
Larimer County Clerk Scott Doyle said no changes were made as a result of the meeting. While the majority of clerks still would prefer a mail-in election, he said they would cooperate with lawmakers to make the polling place plan work but would still point out any concerns they have.
Gov. Bill Ritter and legislative leaders from both parties agreed that opening polling places and providing paper ballots, in addition to allowing early and mail-in voting, would be the best way to make sure the most voters get to participate in what could be Colorado’s biggest presidential election.
Rio Blanco County Clerk Nancy Amick said the plan ignores the fact that clerks don’t know how many electronic voting machines they’ll be able to use, including the scanners needed to count all those paper ballots, because of the decertifications. Now that many counties have switched away from paper, she said, counts on the limited number of scanners could delay results.
“I think if you become another Florida, it’s not a good solution for the voter,” said Amick, head of the Colorado County Clerks Association.
Sen. Steve Johnson, R-Fort Collins, said lawmakers should heed the concerns of the clerks. Larimer County helped test a new statewide voter registration database last year and Johnson said it crashed on the day of the election.
“I think it’s going to be a disaster,” he said.
Lawmakers have proposed printing out sections of the database for each precinct so poll workers don’t have to go online to check information on the day of the election. The database was originally supposed to be ready for the 2006 election but work on it was delayed because the original vendor was fired.
Jefferson County Clerk Pam Anderson said printing out poll books could still pose a problem because clerks from all 64 counties would likely be logging on to get the most up-to-date information right before Election Day. Anderson expects about 100,000 ballots would be cast in her county on the day of the election which would be counted at a central location, rather than in the precincts, on the county’s scanners. The scanners are now decertified.
“It will be several days before we get results,” Anderson said.
Coffman is hoping to get legislative approval to retest the decertified electronic voting machines to see if they can be approved for use this year after problems are corrected. A vote on that bill was delayed Friday to allow more testimony from citizen groups critical of the machines. They want to make sure that the machines aren’t permanently approved in the rush to get them ready for this year’s elections.
At least one machine will be needed at each polling location to accommodate handicapped voters, a federal requirement.
Despite the clerks’ original opposition to the latest plan, Ritter’s spokesman Evan Dreyer said it’s time for clerks to work together with lawmakers.
“We are mindful of their concerns, but we’re growing increasingly disappointed that they are not turning their attention to work together to ensure the best possible election for the people of this state,” Dreyer said.
Dreyer said providing extra money for the clerks is being considered, but it won’t be needed if the machines are recertified.
A handful of counties, including Denver, disagreed with the mail-in proposal.
The elections are expected to attract many new and infrequent voters and Denver Clerk Stephanie O’Malley said that as many as 155,000 voters in her city wouldn’t automatically receive a mail-in ballot because they are considered inactive.
Eagle County Clerk Teak Simonton said clerks promised to send mailers to all inactive voters asking to reactivate them as well as launch a public relations campaign to make sure all voters knew about the mail-in proposal and pay for the return postage. Under that plan, even on Election Day, she said, voters could stop by drop-off sites and request and cast a ballot.
O’Malley feared that those proposed drop-off centers would be like the vote centers that led to long lines in the 2006 election in Denver. Vote centers allow voters to show up at any polling location to cast ballots, and in 2006 workers had trouble accessing the electronic database to check voters’ eligibility.
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