El Jebel gives electronic voting thumbs down
November 9, 2006
Eagle County’s top election official said she wants to avoid future delays like those that plagued polling places such as El Jebel in Tuesday’s election.Eagle County Clerk Teak Simonton said she wants to purchase additional electronic voting machines, which were put into service this year. Extra machines are needed in the busier precincts “and El Jebel certainly qualifies,” said Simonton.Voters waited up to an hour to cast their ballots at El Jebel, according to Ken Ransford and Jon Barnes, poll watchers for the Democratic party. Ransford said that created problems for some voters. One man had to leave to pick up his kids after school, according to Ransford. He was uncertain if that voter ever made it back to the polls.Another man tried to vote in the morning but left to go to work because the line was so long, Ransford said. That man returned at 7:02 p.m. but was turned away by election judges. State law mandates that people must be waiting in line as of 7 p.m.Ransford, an attorney, felt they should have made an exception since the man tried to vote in the morning but couldn’t remain because of the long line.The clerk’s office set up five electronic voting machines in El Jebel. Three to five stations were also used over the course of the afternoon to allow people to use the old system of marking a paper ballot, according to witness accounts.Barnes said more paper ballot stations were needed and could have easily been set up once it was clear people were waiting so long. Barnes estimated he saw 20 people waiting in line to vote at 3:30 p.m. People were taking eight to 15 minutes to complete their ballots, he said.Barnes felt the delay was “artificial” and could have been avoided with more paper ballot stations.”I didn’t see the logic of making everybody stand there 30 to 40 minutes to vote,” said Barnes. “It was a disincentive to vote.”He said he urged the election judges to establish more paper ballot voting stations since they had plenty of space. Judges said they were instructed to emphasize the electronic voting machines and that the paper ballot stations were only secondary.Ransford renewed the request to set up more paper ballot stations when he came to poll-watch at 5:30 p.m. Eventually, there were 13 paper ballot voting stations in use as well as the five electronic machines, he said. By about 6:30 p.m. the lines started disappearing.He credited the election judges for responding to pleas for more paper ballot stations, but also questioned why adjustments weren’t made earlier in the day. Like Barnes, Ransford suspects the lengthy delay discouraged some people from voting.”Why did it take so long to react?” Ransford asked. “The bigger issue is, we ought to be making it easier to vote, not harder.”Simonton agreed that “we need to re-evaluate” what is a reasonable amount of time for a voter to wait. But she was adamant that the proper solution is buying additional electronic machines rather than mixing electronic and paper voting. The duel system created headaches for the people counting the votes, she said.Other polling places in the middle and upper valley didn’t experience the severity of delays reported in El Jebel, and some voters complimented the electronic voting system.”It’s great. It’s cool,” said Missouri Heights rancher and former U.S. Congressman Mike Strang after he voted Tuesday on the only machine in use at the Carbondale Town Hall precinct. He said he found it easier to use than a paper ballot, particularly in that it allowed him to review his votes electronically before pushing the “cast vote” button, and then to see them on paper to make sure it was all correct.Others, however, were not so positive.”I won’t go through those self-checkout lines [in grocery stores] and I won’t [use an electronic voting machine]. I want to mark a piece of paper,” said Carbondale resident Brad Hendricks.An informal poll of voters leaving the polling places up and down the valley showed that most who picked paper ballots over the electronic machines did so mainly because using paper seemed to go faster.Poll watchers reported no major delays in Basalt. Two Basalt High School juniors, Jannae Swanson and Megan Southward, were available to help voters confused by the electronic machines.Donna Linnecke, the chief election judge at Basalt, added paper ballot stations as needed, noted poll-watcher Gerry Terwilliger. “I have nothing but praise,” he said.Linnecke noted that “our preference is for [voters] to go electronic,” just as it was in El Jebel.Pitkin County Clerk Janice Vos Caudill said election day went pretty smoothly, especially considering the turnout was about 52 percent.On election day, election judges at Precinct 1 reported that voters seemed happy with the machines.”It’s working out really well,” said Cindy Christensen, a precinct election judge, noting that even voters who were skeptical initially ended up voting electronically after learning that the machines all had paper backups to be used in recounts.Aspen Times reporter John Colson contributed to this report.