Colorado Counties Moving to Paper in Wake of E-voting Decertifications

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County will conduct '08 election on paper ballots
By Katharhynn Heidelberg
Daily Press Senior Writer

Montrose, CO -- County residents can consider this year's election a warm-up for 2008's.

"We'll be using paper ballots," Montrose County Commissioner Bill Patterson said Thursday. "We'll be using it the same way we did it in 2007."

Several components of Montrose County's Hart InterCivic voting machines were de-certified by Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman last week. Coffman had required all four of the state's electronic voting equipment vendors to undergo re-certification in the wake of a 2006 court order stemming from a lawsuit over electronic voting machines.

Coffman de-certified some systems manufactured by three of the state's four vendors, including Hart. His report said some of Hart's equipment was conditionally approved for certification, if specified changes were made.

Hart spokesman Peter Lichtenheld previously said the company disagrees with the decision and may appeal. The company also questioned the process Coffman used.

The remedies called for were too expensive, Montrose County Clerk and Recorder Fran Tipton Long said Thursday, and that prompted her decision to use a paper ballot. (Long will retain a disabled access unit at each polling place; these are required by law.) She also plans to obtain a new, larger optical scanner that can count ballots quickly.

The scanner must be approved by the SOS and is expected to cost the county more than its current scanner, the price tag of which was $10,000.
If the new scanner is not certified, the county will resort to hand-counting, which will delay election results.

"But it's better than alternately having to buy DREs (direct recording electronic machines) that have been conditionally approved," Long said of scanner costs.

She was faced with a similar decision in 2007, when the state lagged behind in getting machines re-certified per the 2006 court order. The state said vendors had been sluggish in responding to requests for information.

Rather than spend money on machines that could be de-certified, Long decided to hold a paper-ballot election for 2007 -- and now, for 2008.

To bring equipment up to state re-certification requirements this time around, she would not only have to pay for upgrades, but also hire and train at least 10 more people. "One million dollars is a conservative figure," Long said of the possible overall costs.

"That's why I'm not willing to use an electronic machine at this time. I have full confidence in the electronic machines, but we are not going to expend additional taxpayer dollars," she said.

"It's not that their equipment is bad, it's that the state is looking at higher standards. But in doing so, they've really put a fiscal burden on the counties."

Long also said future elections were an issue, no matter how much money was spent on the current system. "We want something that's going to last for a while."

Coffman said in a Wednesday news release that he supported using paper ballots for the 2008 election, but he couldn't support allowing the all-mail election advocated by the Colorado County Clerks Association.

He said federal law still requires a handicapped-accessible voting machine to be available everywhere that voters are allowed to drop off ballots.

"No matter how the Legislature ultimately decides to conduct the election, we will still need some electronic voting machines," he said.

"Today, voters in general elections have the ability to either vote by absentee ballot or in person at a polling place. I think these choices ought to be preserved."

Long said an all-mail election would give counties breathing room.

"We need a time-out period, only for 2008, so that we're not rushed on picking equipment. We want something for 2008 and the future. We want to do this right and slowly," she said.

"I need to do what is right for our citizens. It's nothing we created ourselves; it's a reaction to what's been handed down by the secretary of state. I'm trying to take a proactive stance and not be sitting on the fence come Election Day."