Challenging an incumbent in a primary election is a clear signal that A) the extreme fringe of the party is upset about said incumbent tracking to center or B) severe incompetence or grievous moral lapse has chummed the waters.
Because let’s face it, on the local level (at least in Boulder and Weld counties), political races are largely decided in the primary, with Republican Democrats coasting to victory in the General Election. But getting the votes counted has, in Boulder County at least, been fodder for some pretty audacious political theater of late.
The voting debacle began in 2004 when then Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Linda Salas was introducing a new, paper ballot system that used optical scanners to tally votes. There were all manner of open houses and public comments solicited before picking the new system. There was justifiable hew and cry about the newfangled touch-screen voting systems and their lack of security. (Full disclosure: I was the Media Information Officer for Boulder County at the time.) So it was decided that the county would use paper ballots that were scanned and tallied by computer.
Testing prior to the general election showed the system worked as advertised. But after the polls closed, counting slowed to a crawl. Among the chief problems were almost imperceptibly misprinted ballots, by the thousands, that were rejected by the computer as damaged or unable to be read. They had to be visually checked and the process slowed counting so much that a final tally wasn’t reached until three days after Election Day.
While every ballot was tallied, the delay led some boneheads to insist their votes didn’t count. Despite not being true, the outrage at it all led to finger-pointing and the inevitable formation of an Election Review Committee, one member of which was former Boulder County Democratic Party Chair, Hillary Hall.
The committee’s investigation gave Hall a Cliff’s Notes overview of how elections are run. Hall ran against Salas in the subsequent primary. Her campaign and printed materials blamed Salas for the debacle and concluded that, despite there being no problems or delays in the 2005 mail-in ballot election, she was unfit.
There was no second chance.
Hall won the primary and was unopposed in the general election. Call it karma or call it irony but 2008 was déjà vu all over again. This time Hall was, almost verbatim, saying what Salas had said four years earlier. “We will not sacrifice speed for accuracy:” check. “Pre-election testing and practice did not reveal these problems:” check. “Every vote was counted:” check. “I take full responsibility:” check.
The difference is that, for whatever reason, Hall was left to grade her own late homework, as opposed to having the Boulder County Commissioners appoint another Election Review Committee. (The problem was dust on the lens of the scanners. No, wait, it was an “incompatible device driver.”) Curious, too, that for all Hall’s talk of transparency and responsiveness, her report on her debacle took nine months to complete—sans public meetings—while the ERC—with its very public process—took only seven.
What’s most disappointing in all this is the lack of consequences; but perhaps some other opportunistic Democrat will follow Hall’s lead and, in turn, hold her accountable. Because as it stands, the double standard behind which she hides adds even more retroactive stink to the whole mess. Salas—a good, honest, experienced and capable public servant—was maligned in a crass power grab. But when the tables were turned, and the dust settled on an equally flagrant election foul…crickets.
The security in the county’s paper ballot system is fine, but the price is speed. If getting an accurate and secure vote tally takes more than a day, so be it. But if you launch a political coup against an official in your own party because of delays that were beyond their control, don’t spare the rod, or the rhetoric, when the karmic tsunami hits. There’s virtue in being consistent.