Paper ballot chances good |

Paper ballot chances good

Legislation introduced in response to electronic voting flap

Brandon Gee

— Top state lawmakers from the Democratic and Republican parties introduced a bill Tuesday that, if passed, would all but mandate a paper-ballot election for Coloradans in 2008.

The bill, which is backed by Gov. Bill Ritter and sponsored by the majority and minority leaders in both houses of the state Legislature, comes despite the fact that some Colorado counties have electronic voting equipment that could be used in the August primary and November general elections.

“What we’re saying is that the election is primarily going to be conducted by paper,” Sen. Ken Gordon, D-Denver, said Tuesday. “The confidence in the electronic voting machines has taken a hit. We’re trying to have an election people can have confidence in.”

The legislation is in response to Secretary of State Mike Coffman’s decertification or conditional certification of electronic voting equipment used throughout the state.

Routt County uses equipment made by Hart InterCivic. Coffman conditionally certified Hart electronic voting machines, but decertified the Hart optical scanners used to count ballots. Coffman since has reapproved some equipment but not any of the machines used in Routt County.

Routt County Clerk Kay Weinland called the prospect of a paper election “extremely unfortunate.” She noted the conditional certification of the machines Routt County voters would use to cast their ballots, and said meeting the conditions and conducting an election with those machines is “totally doable.”

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The bill introduced Tuesday allows electronic voting machines at polling places, but that is primarily to meet the Help America Vote Act, which requires an electronic machine be available for disabled voters. Other voters would have to specifically ask to use an electronic machine. Gordon said the bill would require county clerks to have enough paper ballots to accommodate expected turnout, and those ballots must be offered to every voter.

“What it does is it basically makes paper ballots the voting method of preference,” said Ben Marter, a spokesman for the Senate Majority Leader’s Office. “Because everyone who walks in the door will be offered a paper ballot, we’re hoping the majority of voters will use that method.”

Gordon said the bill is necessary because of the “crisis” created by Coffman’s decertification and because of the record turnout officials expect at the polls this year. Options such as mail-in, absentee and early ballots would be preserved if the bill passes. The legislation also includes a $3.5 million appropriation from the state’s general fund to defray the costs incurred by counties following the paper ballot system.

Rich Coolidge, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office, said Coffman likely will support the Colorado County Clerks Association’s stance on the legislation – which means he’ll probably be against it. The county clerks voted by an 85 percent majority at their winter conference to support an all-mail election in 2008.

Weinland said the hardest thing about the whole situation is all the uncertainty just six months before the primary election.

“It’s been a really slow, difficult process,” she said. “We need to be preparing for our process, and we don’t know what our process is. : We have just got to get some resolutions soon, or we are going to be in a real predicament.”

Further complicating matters is Colorado counties’ mandatory transition to a new statewide online voter registration system on which election officials still need to be trained.

Peter Lichtenheld, Hart’s director of marketing, said Coffman’s decertification has hurt the company’s business not only in Colorado, but also other states that have caught wind of the ensuing saga. On Tuesday, he said he is not in favor of the proposed legislation.

“The reality is when you go to a paper ballot system, you’ve gone one more step away from the voter,” Lichtenheld said. “A paper system adds another layer where error can happen and voter intent can be questionable.”