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Voting equipment good to go, but critics still skeptical

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By AJ Vicens

It’s been an up-and-down year for election equipment in Jeffco.

In December 2007, Jeffco’s electronic voting machines were decertified, despite county officials’ contention that there was nothing wrong with them, and that it would cost too much to replace the equipment so close to a major election. Jeffco appealed the decision to the secretary of state’s office in January, and it wasn’t until March that the equipment was “conditionally” certified.

In between, there was plenty of political jostling at the statehouse, with solutions mired in partisan battles.

Voting officials have been urging county residents to become permanent mail voters in an effort to avoid most of the touch-screen voting machines and keep costs down. The county sent out a mailer encouraging voters to sign up.

“We’ve seen an overwhelming response,” said Josh Liss, Jeffco’s deputy of elections. “Over 78,000 people have signed up as a result of the mailing. Over 132,000 total registered voters have signed up to be permanent mail voters, over 53 percent of active voters.”

There are 250,621 active voters in Jeffco.

Liss and Jeffco Clerk and Recorder Pam Anderson have insisted that the county’s equipment is accurate, accountable and transparent, but some people still don’t trust the machines.

Bev Harris, founder of the national election watchdog group Black Box Voting, said the machines will never be reliable and the problem is bigger than officials will admit.

“What has happened is really important, but it’s already happened: These voting machines have actually changed the system of government,” she said.

Harris, who spent part of her childhood in Evergreen, said the country was founded on the principle of citizens being able to control the government they create. “With these machines, the government and the (machine) vendors say they can conduct votes in secret with a secret chain of custody. We’ve lost sovereignty because we can’t control it anymore. We haven’t lost the right (to vote), but we’ve lost access to our own system of government.”

District 3 County Commissioner Kathy Hartman said the machines are reliable and that allowing everybody who wants to watch the votes being counted would create security concerns.

“If we let everybody in, that’s how stuff gets unsecured,” Hartman said. “If you want to be in the room, you apply to be an election judge. We’re begging for election judges.”

Hartman said she understands voters’ concerns, but all-paper ballots require human judges at polling places to find the right ballot to hand to people based on where they live, a system she said is rife with problems. Anderson said recently that in a presidential election year, there could be close to 100 different ballot styles in Jeffco, depending on the number of special districts with ballot issues. The machines will pull up the right ballots, Hartman said.

Harris said that’s the problem. Humans end up relying too much on the machines.

“It’s the citizen controls that they took out,” Harris said. “The concept is that citizens own the government, and you can’t oversee something you can’t see. It is that principle that has been turned on its head.”

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.