New software could fix problems
Due to the state’s decertification of Gunnison County’s electronic voting machines, the county election staff is left with unattractive choices about how to proceed with upcoming elections. The Colorado Secretary of State has decertified electronic machines throughout Colorado, and according to Gunnison County clerk Stella Dominguez, Gunnison County is among the 53 counties affected.
Dominguez told the Gunnison County commissioners at their January 8 board meeting that Hart InterCivic, the manufacturer of the county voting machines, is hoping to be able to rectify the issue with their machines soon. “They have a new version of software and they’re hoping the new version will be certified,” Dominguez said.
Secretary of state Mike Coffman decertified many of Colorado’s electronic voting machines for being error-prone and easily hacked. Three of the four voting equipment manufacturers allowed in the state were decertified by Coffman, affecting six of the most populous Colorado counties. Gunnison County’s Hart InterCivic eScan eSlate machines were among those affected by Coffman’s decision. EScan machines are used to electronically count paper ballots while the eSlates allow disabled voters to cast their ballot independently.
Gunnison County purchased the voting equipment in 2006 as required by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002. HAVA was signed into federal law to provide funds for states to replace outdated voting systems. Under the terms of HAVA, each polling location must have a direct-recording electronic system to enable disabled voters to submit a ballot without assistance. Gunnison County used federal money to buy six direct-recording electronic systems, along with eScan machines, from Hart InterCivic in June 2006 for $104,000.
Dominguez said it is still unclear whether the software will be certified or whether there will be enough time to install it before the next election, which is the primary on August 12. Therefore, Dominguez and her staff prepared several possible alternatives to electronic voting to present to the commissioners.
Most scenarios involve some form of hand-counting. Such plans are problematic, however, because they entail huge staff and time commitments. Because state law mandates two election judges from each party to oversee hand-counts in each precinct, Dominguez said such an option would require a total of 40 or 50 election judges.
County information and technology director Mike Lee said it will be a challenge to hand-count ballots. “We haven’t had a hand-count for a long time,” he said.
In order to speed up the process of counting ballots in case the eScan machines are not recertified in time, Dominguez and her staff have proposed one scenario in which all ballots are mailed. The advantage to a mail-in election, according to Dominguez, is her office can begin counting the incoming ballots before the actual election deadline.
Commissioner Paula Swenson said a large portion of ballots are already cast by mail, so such a scenario wouldn’t be that different from what voters are already accustomed to. “It was almost 40 percent in the last election,” she said.
County commissioner chairman Hap Channell said mail-in voting is more effective anyway. “The statistics show the turnout for mail-in elections is higher,” he said.
Another scenario entails mail-in ballots that would be counted by a central counter. The central counter is an electronic scanner that tallies paper ballots. It had been in use in Gunnison County until the system was replaced by the eScan machines.
However, because only one brand of central counter has been deemed still adequate by the secretary of state, Dominguez was unsure whether one would be available for sale or lease. Moreover, such a purchase is not in the county’s budget.
The least desirable scenario, according to officials, would be a hand-counted election from traditional polling locations. Such a scenario would entail a lengthy count process.
The commissioners agreed to write to the Colorado secretary of state to request authorization to hold a mail-in election in the event that their eScan machines are not recertified in time for the August 12 primary.