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What’s up with tallies?

Donna Daniels

The glacial pace of vote-counting in Garfield County kept candidates, voters and the media in a state of suspended animation while most Colorado counties had election results late Tuesday night.

Garfield County’s unofficial final tally was not available until Wednesday afternoon.

Final unofficial results were released about 1 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, although the votes were tallied by 9 a.m.

Garfield County lagged far behind neighboring counties. Eagle’s unofficial results were posted on its Web site at 10:15 Tuesday night. Pitkin County’s final count came in at 12:15.

According to Deputy Garfield County Clerk and

Recorder Jean Alberico, what held the process up was the overwhelming number of votes cast. The unofficial total was 16,850, or 80 percent of the active registered voters in the county. Of those, 9,946 were absentee ballots.

What may have held up the process was the fact that the clerk’s office did not start counting the absentee ballots until 3:30 Tuesday afternoon, despite the fact that those ballots had been received prior to Election Day.

Staff were busy answering phones and waiting on people at the counter and could not get to the absentee ballot-counting until after noon, Alberico said.

The unofficial final vote tally for absentee ballots was received by the Glenwood Independent at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday.

And that fact has Democratic Party Chairman Leslie Robinson riled. On Nov. 2 Robinson sent a letter to Garfield County Clerk and Recorder Mildred Alsdorf requesting the absentee ballots be counted early. According to Robinson, who checked with the Colorado secretary of state, those ballots could have been counted up to 10 days before the election.

“In a recent newspaper article it mentioned that you will not be counting absentee/early ballots until the day of the election and thus, final results won’t be available until perhaps 3 a.m. the next day,” Robinson said in her letter. “I implore you to start the ballot counting sooner than that, as designated and approved by the Secretary of State, according to her election calendar.”

“I had the utmost confidence in the department, I felt secure there would be no leak” of election results, Robinson said Wednesday.

When the absentee count began Tuesday afternoon, the ballots were fed through the optical scanner, which was taking them two and three at a time because of the way they’d been creased when they were hand-folded into envelopes to be distributed.

Alsdorf defended the counting system, saying people prefer the paper ballots, which must be read by the optical scanner, over punch cards that can be counted quicker. “People like the paper ballot. With the punch card you have to make sure you punched the right one,” she said. And if the scanner fails, “we could sit down and count the ballots.”

Eagle County, for example, also uses optical scanners similar to Garfield County’s, but each precinct has a machine so the votes are not counted centrally.

Once the absentee ballots were counted the precinct count went more quickly, with the unofficial count completed at 9 a.m. Wednesday. But those results were not available until afternoon because the clerk and recorder’s office was closed until noon to give the staff a break, Alsdorf said.

The precinct ballot-counting also had a major glitch. Rather than counting by precinct, the ballots were tallied by “style,” that is, by specific ballot since there were 16 different ballots depending on what questions applied to which jurisdiction.

The company that manufactures the scanning machines sent what Alberico called a “precinct header” that would allow a tally by precinct and would appear on the printed election results report.

Apparently the header for Precinct 20 in Rifle did not work. Alsdorf also said she intends to recount all the ballots and votes, a process that will take about six hours and will be done today.

In the meantime, Robinson said she is considering sending a formal letter of complaint to the county commissioners. “This could have been all avoided if the (absentee) ballots were counted early,” she said. “I put the blame on the commissioners. They’ve underbudgeted Mildred’s department for years. We have one of the most antiquated (counting) systems.”

A prominent party member said Tuesday night that the Republican Party is planning to approach the county commissioners about the problem in the county clerk’s office.


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