Garco election spawns ‘zombies’
Nail-biting elections remain alive and well in Garfield County thanks to the clerk’s reluctance to invest in the latest technology in voting machines.County Clerk Mildred Alsdorf and the staff and volunteers who helped her count ballots didn’t wrap up until about 7 a.m. Wednesday – 12 hours after the polls closed.Pitkin County finished at 10 Tuesday night and Eagle County released final results around 11 p.m.Garfield County had twice as many ballots to count as Pitkin County – 20,508 to 9,184. But Eagle County counted almost as many ballots, 18,457, in a fraction of the hours.But Alsdorf isn’t making the job any easier on herself by sticking with what may be an outdated technology and process of counting votes.In Garfield County, ballots from all the polling places for the 27 precincts are driven to the county courthouse and counted there.In Pitkin and Eagle counties, voters feed their ballots to machines at their polling places. After the polls close the results are sent via modem to the clerk’s office.Pitkin County Clerk Silvia Davis doesn’t have to wait for someone to drive in Election Day ballots from the farthest reaches of the county, like Redstone and the upper Fryingpan Valley, before she starts tabulating.In Eagle County, votes cast on Tuesday were counted at places like El Jebel and sent to Eagle via modem.Alsdorf said the last ballots in Garfield County arrived at her office at 9:30 p.m. That means her crew couldn’t even get started counting some of the ballots until Davis was nearly finished in Pitkin County. Alsdorf said she has been hesitant to invest in new voting machines because of questions about reliability. She said her office continues to monitor the technology and will upgrade when she feels comfortable with the equipment.The vote counting machines and modems used in Pitkin and Eagle counties are one option. Touch screens are another option some counties around the country have tried.For now, Alsdorf is satisfied with the tried-and-true vote counting machine which she purchased in July, an update of technology that’s been used for several years. “I think I have a very good piece of machinery for a central count,” she said.Ed Sands, a member of the Garfield County Democratic Party’s executive committee, said all-night tabulations are “annoying” but not really something that’s subject to a formal complaint to the state. He said it took the zip out of a campaign party Tuesday night when it got later and later and later without results.Alsdorf acknowledged she was criticized for the late reporting of votes. “I’ve had a lot of people asking why it took so long,” she said.She said the process involving central counting machines is simply time-consuming. The machinery is sensitive in some cases. For example, absentee ballots that were folded to fit into an envelope have a crease, and it takes time and special attention to feed those ballots into the counter.Alsdorf said she also should have started counting early and absentee votes earlier. Clerks can count those ballots before the polls close.A spokeswoman for the Colorado secretary of state’s office said it isn’t unusual for a county to count ballots into the day after an election – particularly when turnout is as heavy as it was this election.”They want it right rather than fast,” said spokeswoman Lisa Doran.But it is possible for counties to get it right and fast. All vote counting machines must be certified by the secretary of state’s office and by an independent testing company using federal government standards, Doran said.So machines like Pitkin and Eagle use have been certified.Doran said several counties in Colorado haven’t switched to the latest technology because machines that send votes via modem can cost at least $5,000 apiece.She noted that Garfield County wasn’t the only place where counting the votes dragged into Wednesday. Boulder County was still tabulating as of midafternoon, said Doran, and counting lasted into the wee hours of Wednesday morning in Summit County and areas around metro Denver.Doran said the secretary of state’s office had an observer watching the process in Garfield County, although not because of timing issues. The observer was there after miscounts affected two close races in Garfield County last year.If that observer witnesses anything that drastically slowed the counting process, it will be included in her report, Doran said.Alsdorf and her staff would benefit as much as anyone by investing in technology that speeds up the vote counting. Her employees had to staff the clerk and recorder’s office Wednesday after a long night of counting ballots.”We’re kind of walking around like zombies,” Alsdorf said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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