Friday, October 18, 2019

County Commissioners approve contract to implement new voting system

Joins a movement in Colorado to a uniform system

by Olivia Lueckemeyer

A move by the Gunnison Board of County Commissioners to approve a contract with Dominion Voting Systems furthers the initiatives of Colorado‘s secretary of state, Wayne Williams, who recently selected the company as the sole provider of the state’s unified voting system.

At a meeting on March 1, commissioners joined 24 other counties in Colorado by adopting Dominion as the county’s official voting system. Citizens participating in the primary for state-level contests in June as well as the general election in November will use the new technology to cast their votes.

Elections manager Diane Folowell explained that Dominion technology guarantees an efficient and transparent voting process, which is why the system has garnered widespread acceptance throughout Colorado.

“We haven’t heard any negatives on this, from either the vendor or the people who have used the equipment,” Folowell said. “Counties close to our size have used it and said we would love it.”

Although Colorado is a mail-in ballot state, residents of Gunnison County also have the option of appearing in person to vote. Those who choose to do so will use a digital touchscreen tablet called the ImageCast X to make their selection. Next to each booth will be an adjoining printer, which after each vote will print the ballot to be deposited by the voter into a ballot box.

“The importance of the system is it provides a paper trail so we can go back and rebuild an election if we need to,” Folowell said. “Also, the transparency; even though [voters] vote on a pad, they will see [their vote] printed on a ballot.”

All votes will be tallied by central-count high-speed optical scanners, which allow for more than 1,000 votes to be counted in five minutes. This is a significant improvement from the previous system used by the county, which prompted complaints from citizens in previous elections about slow turnaround of results.

“Up until now, the machines used were not equipped to handle such a high capacity of ballots,” Folowell said.

The switch to Dominion follows an initiative set forth by secretary Williams, who since his swearing-in last January has been adamant about transitioning Colorado to a single-vendor state. In doing so, Williams appointed a Pilot Election Review Committee to evaluate four different voting systems piloted in eight counties, four large and four medium/small. All committee members recommended Dominion with overwhelming support.

Gunnison County has signed an eight-year lease with Dominion, with an opportunity to cancel under certain circumstances. County manager Matthew Birnie said this is an action that will save money up front and guarantee up-to-date technology. As the product line is updated, so will devices in each county.

“From my perspective, the primary benefits of the lease are the greatly reduced upfront costs and the flexibility going forward if there are any problems with the system,” Birnie said. “We have experienced some problems with aging voting equipment in the past and under the lease, the vendor will replace equipment if it fails.”

According to Birnie, the additional cost of leasing over buying is approximately $3,056 per year over an eight-year period, however he says this amount will be more than offset by the elimination of the $9,672 annual maintenance contract with the current vendor.

Folowell encouraged residents of both Gunnison and Crested Butte to get to know the new system by attending a mock election on April 26. A morning session will be held in Crested Butte, followed by an afternoon session in Gunnison. Details on specific times will be forthcoming.

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