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Time for Pebbles?


There are three vintage McNulty ballot boxes sitting in plan view at the Adams County election center. Two are knee-high, wooden containers that one could imagine being crammed with hundreds of ballots picking the politicians of the 1950s, or perhaps even prior to that.

The other is a transparent box that conjures the same images of the olden days of voting.

There they are, sitting in the waiting area, simply as decoration in an otherwise non-descript Westminster office where people can get most of their election questions and requests taken care of. But, the way things are heading, those old-school vote collectors just might be taken out of retirement when primaries are held in August.

Or perhaps, state officials may just want to revert to the way the ancient Greeks used to conduct elections, by having voters place a stone in front of their favorite candidate. With the clock ticking toward the Aug. 12 primary that will include key congressional and senate races, county clerks are entering crises mode with fears that they may not have a solution to an electronic voting machine disaster, so any idea seems plausible. Secretary of State Mike Coffman decertified electronic voting machines in all but 11 Colorado counties in December. Karen Long’s Adams County office was one of the “lucky” 11, although her election division is far from being out of the woods. The certification of the 700 Adams County touch screen balloting machines came with a list of 40 caveats for approval, conditions that as of mid-January, Long hadn’t had the privilege of looking at yet.

Boulder County is one of the 51 counties in the state that is left scrambling—its centralized voting system didn’t pass muster. Everything from severe technical problems to glitches caused by condiment stains to paperwork holdups have sidelined the machines statewide. It could take months and hundreds of thousands of dollars to get certifiable machines in place—a tall task considering the short time frame.

If that isn’t bad enough, there is another giant hurdle facing officials even if the electronic voting machine debacle can be solved. Colorado is enacting a statewide, comprehensive database of all registered voters that, per federal regulation, was supposed to be implemented three years ago. No one really knows how that will work, either.

“The clerks are very nervous about that,” Long says. “It should be a grave concern.”

So, what will Election Day look like? It cannot get much worse than the 2006 election fiasco in Denver, when voters were forced to wait hours to cast their vote, can it?

Frankly, it could be much worse, unless county clerks, Coffman’s office or state lawmakers can find a realistic, stopgap solution. And quickly.

“Worst case scenario, if that equipment is not going to be certified, we have to find another way to hold an election,” says Long, who despite having her machines ready to go is still extremely worried about the other counties throughout the state. “We feel it’s important that we are all eligible to have good elections in this state.

“We’re all in it together.”

So state lawmakers are being pressed to help find a fix, starting off a busy legislative season by having to cram one more issue into a packed schedule.

“It needs to be the No. 1 priority,” says Sen. Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont. “Everybody in this building (the Capitol) is on the same page; we have to make sure the people of Colorado are confident that their vote counts.”

The best option seems to be switching to a mandatory mail-in vote, an almost unprecedented move for a national election, although common for municipal votes in Colorado.

The state’s clerks are behind that switch, since it will save time and money, not to mention avoid dozens of counties left to fight for possibly thousands of new voting machines. But Gov. Bill Ritter opposes, saying he’d rather go back to paper balloting and precinct voting centers.

Shaffer pitched another idea, in passing, to a Ritter staffer. He suggested a mandatory mail ballot with an opt out clause allowing for an in-person vote (the exact opposite of what is currently offered). He didn’t get much traction, but is still pushing for the mail-in voting.

“Frankly, that’s the best suggestion,” Shaffer says. “It addresses most of the issues that were raised…there is opposition because it’s a fairly radical idea.”

So Long and her fellow clerks are left in a holding pattern. That’s an uneasy feeling considering what’s at stake, which leaves the Adams County Clerk to nervously laugh at the situation. Despite that concern, she never wavers when asked a simple question: Should voters be worried?

Nope, she says. The concern is on their end, and one way or another, the clerks and the state will figure a way to hold an honest election. “We will take every step necessary,” she says.

Although it does seem a little weird to Long and others that we can’t tame technology enough to vote electronically.

“We’ve become advanced with some of the most stringent audit procedures in this county,” Long says. “To be at the point we’re at now, it does begin to paint the picture that we’re going backwards in elections.”

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