Colorado lawmakers consider spending nearly $11M on paper ballot elections
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER ” State lawmakers are considering spending nearly $11 million to switch to a mostly paper ballot election this year, responding to protests from the clerks that they were being forced to conduct an important presidential election on the cheap.
The figure is about double the amount Gov. Bill Ritter had originally proposed spending on the switch from using mostly electronic voting machines to mostly paper ballots, but most clerks still oppose the measure (Senate Bill 189).
With the primary election five months away, Rio Blanco County Clerk Nancy Amick said Friday that there may not be enough time to order enough paper ballots or more optical scanners to count them.
“We’re running into an election crisis in being able to change our election model at this late date,” said Amick, president of the Colorado County Clerks Association.
If clerks are able to get the ballots, Amick said that some counties would have to open fewer early voting centers because they would have to store and keep track off so many different ballot styles. Electronic voting machines are able to store different ballot styles for each voting precinct and special district. Voting centers would have to have copies of the variety of paper ballot styles for the whole county.
Ritter and legislative leaders want voters to be able to cast paper ballots at the polls or by mail this year because they’re not sure voters trust the state’s electronic voting machines, which have only recently been approved for use this year. They also fear activists could sue if the state allows the widespread use of the machines. Federal law still requires that one machine be made available at every polling place for handicapped voters and anyone else who wants to use them.
The majority of clerks want to be allowed to conduct a paper ballot election by mail, which would require printing fewer ballots, or to be able to use the electronic voting machines. Denver, meanwhile, plans to conduct a paper ballot election at the polls regardless of what the Legislature does.
Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer said the governor’s office and lawmakers would continue to talk to clerks about their concerns. He wouldn’t comment on whether using the voting machines was an option.
“I think it’s important to allow the conversation to continue so we can get to a place where we’re all comfortable,” Dreyer said.
Secretary of State Mike Coffman decertified most of the state’s voting machines in December but later recertified them with conditions after testing different fixes and talking to county clerks about their experience using the machines. He shut them out of the first round of reviews to avoid the appearance of being politically pressured to approve the machines, a problem raised in the 2006 lawsuit by voting machine opponents.
Coffman originally supported having paper ballots at the polls but has now joined the clerks association in opposing the plan.
Rep. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, wondered whether the bill was setting the state on track to have to pay for paper ballots each year even though counties have already purchased electronic voting machines.
Majority Leader Ken Gordon, the main backer of the paper ballot bill, said he didn’t have any long-term agenda to continue with paper ballots. However, he said that about $5 million of the $10.8 million proposed for the election would be spent on scanners, which could be used in future elections.
The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that a limited-liability company has proper standing to sue the city of Aspen over its affordable-housing fees.