County clerks want all-mail ballot after machine, database problems |

County clerks want all-mail ballot after machine, database problems

Colleen Slevin
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” County clerks asked state lawmakers Thursday to approve legislation allowing a statewide mail-in election this year, citing problems with both the state’s electronic voting machines as well as a new voter registration database.

Most of the state’s machines were decertified last month by Secretary of State Mike Coffman because of security and accuracy issues although lawmakers have fast-tracked a bill that would allow him to retest the machines after they undergo software upgrades and other fixes. The bill, which passed its first hearing Thursday in a House committee, would also allow the county clerks who run the machine during elections to participate in the testing.

Lawmakers have been meeting with clerks this week to discuss a bill on how to conduct elections. The clerks say there isn’t enough time to wait to see if their machines will be recertified because they need to prepare now for the August primary and November presidential election, in which voters will also pick a new U.S. senator. About 70 percent of the seats in the state House and Senate will also be decided.

“I want you to know that we are in harm’s way on this. We’re in the red zone,” Larimer County Clerk Scott Doyle told the House panel before the vote on the recertification measure (House Bill 1155).

Larimer County’s electronic voting machines have been certified in Colorado but rejected in other states, and Doyle fears a possible court challenge from voting machine opponents could stop him from using the approved machines.

In addition, the Colorado County Clerks Association said in a written statement that a new voter database shouldn’t be used statewide for the first time in this year’s elections, which are expected to see historic turnout. In a memo to clerks Thursday, Coffman said development fell behind schedule when the contractor was replaced before he took office, so it wasn’t available for testing in the 2006 election as originally planned. It was used in some counties in 2007 but primarily in mail-in elections.

Even though Boulder County relies mainly on paper ballots, Clerk Hillary Hall said she supports using the same mail-in method across the state because it will help all clerks educate voters on how the election will work. Without a uniform system, she said, problems with voting in one county could affect the overall statewide results in the Senate and presidential race.

It wasn’t immediately known if the handful of clerks who initially opposed a mandatory mail-in election would now support the association’s position. Association spokeswoman Janet Braccio would only say the majority of the state’s 64 county clerks endorsed the position.

Coffman said he has spoken with most clerks about the proposal but has asked any clerks who object to it to contact him by Tuesday before he takes a position.

“If I find them in strong support of a mail-in ballot election, I will strongly support them,” he said.

Coffman would rather have voters cast paper ballots in precinct polling sites but, in the memo, told clerks that “we have a set of unique circumstances before us that require a solution that may be less than ideal but nonetheless, necessary.”

Even if lawmakers end up requiring a mail-in election, Coffman told lawmakers that each county would have to have at least one approved electronic voting machine that can be used by handicapped voters and anyone else under federal law. The retesting bill specified that he can’t relax the standards and must justify any decision to recertify a machine.

The bill still must be approved by the full House before it can be sent to the Senate but sponsor Rep. Rosemary Marshall, D-Denver, said the bill will be moved quickly.

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