Gov. Ritter, Colorado lawmakers want paper election in 2008 |

Gov. Ritter, Colorado lawmakers want paper election in 2008

Colleen Slevin
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Gov. Bill Ritter and state legislative leaders from both parties want voters to be able to cast paper ballots in person in this year’s elections now that most of the state’s electronic voting equipment has been decertified.

Under a plan announced Wednesday, voters in the primary as well the November presidential election would be able to cast their ballots in polling places on Election Day or vote through early voting and by mail.

That’s the opposite of what a majority of county election officials and the secretary of state wanted, citing problems with the machines and concerns about a new computerized voter registration database.

But House Majority Leader Alice Madden, D-Boulder, said having a traditional election at polling places, in addition to mail-in ballots, was the best way to ensure that everyone who wants to vote is able to do so.

“My kids tell me that retro is in …. Sometimes just because something is old-fashioned doesn’t mean it’s wrong,” Madden said.

Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial, said voter turnout has to be the top priority despite the logistical challenges.

The majority of county clerks had asked for an election conducted mostly by mail although one dissenter, Denver Clerk Stephanie O’Malley, announced Wednesday that she planned to move ahead with a paper ballot election using combined precinct voting places partly because about 70 percent of the city’s voters went to the polls in the last presidential election. Denver’s elections director, Michael Scarpello, said Denver would likely order “fill in the bubble” paper ballots.

“No chads,” he said, referring to the problems in 2000 election in Florida that led to the push for electronic voting machines.

O’Malley doesn’t need legislative approval to carry out her plan. The expected bill outlining the plan unveiled by Ritter and lawmakers would require all counties to use paper ballots and offer both voting in person and by mail.

Under any plan, counties would still have to make at least one electronic voting terminal available at every polling place or ballot drop-off location for handicapped voters and anyone else who wants to use it on Election Day as required by federal law.

Ritter said trying to create a statewide mail-in system in a presidential election year would be like “building an airplane in the air.”

The database that clerks are concerned about has been tested in only nine of Colorado’s 64 counties, in smaller elections.

The solution to that problem is also old-fashioned. Ritter said printouts of all the voters who are eligible to vote in a certain precinct would be printed out for the November election so poll workers won’t have to go online to retrieve records on Election Day.

Secretary of State Mike Coffman, who didn’t attend the announcement, told lawmakers earlier in the day that Colorado could see its highest voter turnout ever in November and that polling places have “more points of failure” than a mail election.

In a written statement after Ritter’s announcement, Coffman said the decision rests with the governor and Legislature.

“Whatever the system, whether it’s a mail ballot election or paper ballots at the polls, I will work with the county clerks to make sure we are prepared for it and that it’s the best election in can possibly be,” said Coffman, who decertified most of the state’s electronic voting machines last month. He had to take a second look at them because of lawsuit challenging the reliability of the machines on the eve of the 2006 election.

A message left for the president of the Colorado County Clerks Association, Rio Blanco Clerk Nancy Amick, wasn’t immediately returned.

In a letter sent to lawmakers Wednesday, groups including Colorado Common Cause, the Latina Initiative and People for the American Way urged lawmakers to allow voters to vote in person if they want to, arguing that mail ballots could hurt those who move frequently or haven’t voted by mail before. They said that would mostly hurt minority, low-income and young voters.

Jenny Flanagan, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, acknowleged that a polling place election has its challenges, including finding enough polling places and election workers to handle the heavy turnout as well as count the paper ballots. She said the general public could help the county clerks by doing everything from volunteering to work at the polls to shutting down schools on Election Day so they could more easily serve as polling places.

“Our state is putting the voters first and that’s the most important thing we can ask for in an election,” she said.

One of the people watching Ritter’s announcement from the sidelines was Myriah Conroy, the lead plaintiff in the 2006 case challenging the voting machines.

The 36-year-old mother and former investment adviser said the plan was just what concerned voters like her were looking for. Even though the paper ballots will be counted by computerized scanners, Conroy said the paper ballots will provide a record that can be verified in post-election audits.

“This is an excellent day for democracy in Colorado for sure,” she said.

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