As state legislators wrapped up the first week of the 2008 session, the issue of what to do about the tens of millions of dollars of voting equipment that has been partially or fully decertified throughout the state looms large.
But an election official in Jefferson County — which faces the possibility of having to replace all its decertified voting equipment at an estimated cost of more than $14 million — says getting rid of the equipment and starting over is “not an option.”
“Throwing out this equipment is absolutely not an option,” said Josh Liss, Jeffco’s deputy of elections, “(in) Jeffco or anywhere else.”
Secretary of State Mike Coffman recently said he’d be willing to work with the state legislature to expedite the certification process, allowing some of the machines be used.
Liss said time is running out to figure out exactly how the county will handle elections this year.
Jeffco and many other Colorado governments were sent reeling by Coffman’s decision late last year to partially or fully decertify most of the voting equipment in the state. In Jeffco’s case, all of the county’s equipment was decertified, leaving it with no way to run an election, according to Liss. He said hand-counting hundreds of thousands of ballots is too time consuming and, more importantly, less accurate in the long run.
Liss said the county is going to appeal Coffman’s decision.
“It would be prudent for us, in the situation we’re in, to follow the process, which is to file a motion for reconsideration, and bring our case to the state to fight for the right to use our current voting system.”
Coffman said Jeffco’s equipment couldn’t run 10,000 paper ballots and reflect an accurate count in testing, and was susceptible to manipulation and disruption if a magnet were waved over the top of the machine.
“We know the systems can run 10,000 ballots,” Liss said. “We ran 95,000 in less than 11 hours in November of last year in the recount.”
The county couldn’t replicate machine disruption or failure with a magnet, Liss added. He said that he and Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder Pam Anderson are waiting to see the testing documents the state used and a videotape that shows the machine being disrupted with a magnet.
“Until we have that information, it’s really hard to lend any validity to (the state’s testing process), but we’re hoping to be able to get that done,” Liss said.
Liss said the legislature needs to give county leaders across the state some direction as to what form the elections will take this year — polling places, all-mail ballots or other alternatives — and what equipment can and can’t be used.
“Our hope (is the) current system will continue to be recognized as valid voting systems, and we’re given the option to conduct elections by mail,” Liss said, adding that “at the very least” the county has to use its optical scanners to count paper ballots and its disabled-accessible voting machines at every polling place as required by federal law.
Liss also said that spending more than $14 million on equipment that the county could possibly use just once because of even more changes expected in federal law is not a good use of tax dollars when the budget is beyond tight and there are several looming expenditures, including additions to the courthouse and jail.
“At the last minute, throwing in new voting equipment because of decertification would not only be an extra cost or burden to the taxpayers, it would probably kick something else off the list,” Liss said.
“We’re very concerned about that,” said District 3 County Commissioner Kathy Hartman.
To pay for all new voting equipment, the county would be forced to levy a “special assessment” — a tax — of $44 per voter, or $22 per county resident, Hartman said.
“We have no idea what we’re going to do,” Hartman added. “We believe our equipment accurately and adequately counts ballots.”
Hartman said she supports conducting an all-mail ballot, a change that would have to be approved in statute by the legislature, and a move Coffman opposes.
Liss said Anderson has been talking regularly with the Jeffco delegation to the statehouse about this issue for the last six months, and they are “getting the message.”
“I think that message has gotten across to the General Assembly that not only do we need a solution, we need a solution quick,” Liss said.
Contact AJ Vicens at firstname.lastname@example.org.