Senate committee backs paper ballots |

Senate committee backs paper ballots

Colleen Slevin
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” A plan to conduct this year’s election mostly by paper ballots passed its first test Wednesday at the state Capitol even though all of Colorado’s electronic voting machines have now been approved for use in this year’s elections.

Both Republicans and Democrats on the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee backed the measure (Senate Bill 189), sending it to the appropriations committee since it will require spending at least $5.2 million.

Most county clerks and Secretary of State Mike Coffman oppose the paper ballot plan. The clerks want to be able to use the electronic voting machines which Coffman decertified in December but recently recertified with conditions he says will make sure the machines are secure.

Gov. Bill Ritter’s chief counsel, Trey Rogers, said the state could be sued by voting activists if the voting machines are widely used in this year’s elections, just as they did two years ago. He also said there’s a concern that the public doesn’t have confidence in the machines since they were recertified after first being decertified.

If the state is sued, Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, D-Denver, said Colorado could be forced to switch to a paper ballot election anyway but much closer to election time.

“I think this is the most prudent thing to do and I think it’s the way to have the voters have the greatest confidence in the outcome of the election of Colorado,” Gordon said.

State lawmakers and county clerks still have to work out the details about how much it will cost. The clerks estimated that it would cost at least $11 million but Rogers said he thought they included some unnecessary expenses, including printing up to four times as many ballots as there were registered voters. Rogers also said about 10 counties had included the cost of new software required under Coffman’s order recertifying the machines.

If the state got rid of the extra expenses and abandoned a plan to pay $1.3 million in return postage for mail-in ballots, he estimated the cost at between $5.2 million and $5.4 million.

That’s still more than the $3.5 million Gordon had proposed spending. Bill backers hope the federal government will allow the state to spend some of the money it’s received to buy electronic voting machines and a new registration database to instead pay for a paper ballot election. They hope to have an answer later this month.

Under the pared down estimate, Jefferson County would be able to lease a third, large scanner to count ballots at a central location but no smaller scanners it wants to be able to count ballots at the polls. Clerk Pam Anderson said counting at the polls would provide faster results but it would also give voters the chance to re-vote if the scanner found they had voted twice in a race instead of once. Scanners are programmed to spit out so-called “overvotes” but if they’re counted elsewhere later, she said it would be too late to tell the voter.

Anderson said clerks are also in the best position to judge how many ballots they need. She said having leftover ballots would be better than not having enough for the record turnout of voters that’s expected.

“I don’t want to do this election on the cheap,” she said.

Federal law requires that at least one electronic voting machine be available at each polling location for handicapped voters and anyone else who wishes to use one. Under the bill, voters would automatically be given a paper ballot unless they specifically ask to use a voting machine.