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Jeffco appeals decertification of voting equipment

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By AJ Vicens

Jeffco voting officials took another step in the fight to defend their voting equipment by appealing the secretary of state’s decision to decertify the machines.

“Since we were prohibited from participating in the testing process, we are still only getting small glimpses into what that looked like; however, under state law, we have to proceed with this appeal with what limited information we have been allowed to access so far,” Jeffco Clerk and Recorder Pam Anderson said after the appeal was filed Jan. 16.

Jeffco’s appeal says that the state testing board could not conduct adequate tests because of “inexperience on the part of its members and a breakdown of communication with the voting system manufacturer.”

The tests do not “justify a decision to decertify ballot counting equipment,” said Jeffco Deputy of Elections Josh Liss.

Additionally, county officials say they could not replicate a problem cited as one of the reasons to decertify the equipment. The state said the machines could be disabled by waving a magnet near them.

Liss said the county has used the equipment —manufactured by Nebraska-based ES&S — since 2002, and public pre-election and post-election audits are conducted and haven’t revealed any problems.

Anderson said Jeffco voters will bear the brunt of the fallout from the decision to decertify the machines.

“With less than six months before we are to have primary election ballots in hand, the state has told us to throw out our equipment and start over from scratch,” Anderson said. “That is not an option at this point, and I feel it would be irresponsible and may result in the disenfranchisement of Jefferson County’s voters to do so.”

Anderson and Liss estimated recently that it would cost more than $14 million to replace Jeffco’s voting systems, and even if there were money in the budget to do that, the new equipment might only be viable for a year or so, because of possible changes in voting regulations at the federal level.

The Colorado County Clerks Association has been pushing for an all-mail election this year, which would require changes in state statutes. The legislature, which convened Jan. 9, would have to make that happen.

At least one Jeffco legislator is supporting a bill that would allow counties to go through the certification process again after update software to prove the machines are safe and reliable.

“This bill will allow, without a diminishing of the standards, counties to take another shot at certification,” said state Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton.

Kopp said he fears that if the bill doesn’t pass, county officials won’t know where to go from here. There is also the chance that the bill could pass, but the machines still won’t measure up, and “they may wind up in the same situation except a month or more toward their election deadline.”

Kopp called it a “very prickly, complicated problem without any simple solution.” He added that he’s confident in Jeffco’s voting equipment.

“The equipment they have been using is exceptional, and the clerk and election officials have had a high level of confidence in the equipment,” Kopp said.

Secretary of State Mike Coffman announced in December that voting equipment in all but 12 counties did not pass a year-long court-mandated certification process. Clerks across the state were upset because they said they had used the equipment successfully in prior elections, and said they were not allowed to participate in a closed-door testing process.

County clerks have been pushing for an all-mail ballot, and Coffman announced this week he would support that, backpedaling from his position that paper ballots were the way to go.

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com.