Our View: Ensuring the right to vote | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Ensuring the right to vote

It is good to see Routt County moving forward with efforts to fix its election problems. The county has an obligation to make voting as simple and as convenient as possible.

Last week, a citizens committee was empanelled to examine what went wrong during the Nov. 7 general election and make recommendations on how to prevent such problems in the future. The bipartisan, 10-member panel includes election judges, party officials and residents from all areas of Routt County. Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland also will serve on the committee.

To review, Routt County used new electronic voting machines for the first time in this year’s general election. Between three and six machines were placed at eight voting centers throughout the county.

But there were problems from the minute the polls opened. More than anything else, there simply were not enough voting centers and not enough voting machines at each center. Equipment malfunctions, inadequate training of election officials, a ridiculously long ballot and no backup plan also helped create a perfect storm on Election Day.

The Steamboat Pilot & Today building was one of the voting centers. Everyone who voted here was forced to wait at least an hour; some waited as long as four hours. Many races already had been decided before hundreds of voters cast ballots. Sadly, many voters simply gave up and went home.

The same scenario played out at voting centers throughout the county.

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In hindsight, it seems the election night fiasco we experienced was entirely avoidable. Weinland kept predicting that things would go smoothly, but perhaps she should have known better. County commissioners were more focused on unfunded federal mandates and trying to save money than on making sure their constituents could vote conveniently and accurately. The media – including this newspaper – did not ask enough questions about these major changes in our election process.

In the weeks before the election, many predicted that it would be one of the worst election nights in history, rife with long lines and confusion because of the new voting machines. Shame on us for being warned about this mess and not doing more to prevent it.

It cost Routt County about $250,000 to buy 35 voting machines. We recommended previously that the county double that amount before the 2008 presidential election. The county also should add at least two more voting centers and consider extending early voting hours, including Saturday voting.

Finally, there needs to be a critical review of the training program for election officials. Following the election, we learned that many of the equipment malfunctions actually were the result of election officials’ inexperience with the new machines. Clearly, election officials need a better understanding of the voting machines and how they operate.

In a democracy, government officials have no greater responsibility than ensuring elections are fair, open and accessible. The bottom line? This year’s election was not nearly as accessible as it should have been. We hope that the citizens committee is able to act quickly and come up with recommendations that will fix the problem. But even if that fails to happen, the county must act on its own.

There is no excuse for the events of Nov. 7, 2006 to be repeated.