Voting getting easier

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It passed with so little fanfare that most people didn't even notice that federal legislation has been enacted in the hope of increasing America's 37 percent average voter turnout rate.

But, Craig residents will definitely notice a difference in the Colorado's phased-in attempt to comply.

The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 had several goals, the primary one being to enable every American who can vote to vote.

HAVA reworks the nuts and bolts of federal elections, raising the accuracy and accessibility of voting machines, introducing provisional ballots to states without them, mandating accurate and comprehensive voter registration lists and tightening security at the polls to stop ballot fraud.

Last year, residents may have noticed an option for "provisional voting." Provisional voting allows all residents to cast a vote, whether they're listed as registered or not.

Of course, their vote may not be counted unless the local clerk and recorder's office verifies that the voter is registered elsewhere in Colorado or verifies there was a problem with their registration.

Moffat County Chief Deputy Clerk Lila Herod said 18 people took advantage of their new ability to vote provisionally in the county's 2003 election.

Last year voters noticed that they were required to have identification with them at the ballot boxes in an attempt to make elections more secure.

Herod said that probably partially contributed to the long lines at the polls. This year will be no different.

The biggest change Moffat County voters will notice this year is centralized voting. All precincts except those in Dinosaur, Brown's Park and Hamilton will be at the Centennial Mall.

Not only does Herod expect the change to alleviate some election day confusion, it will also help the county to comply with other HAVA requirements -- making voting booths accessible and providing Direct Recording Electronic ballot machines.

The machines, which must be installed by the 2006 election, will ensure voters with disabilities have the opportunity to cast their own vote.

"HAVA's really big on meeting accessibility requirements," Herod.

Carrying a price tag of $5,000 to $7,000 each, the machines will be able to record a vote from any person no matter what his disability. They even have a "sip and puff" option for quadriplegic voters.

Because they are the machines are so expensive, combining all polling places will save the county between $40,000 and $56,000.

Herod believes the county will be able to serve the entire disabled population by having two machines.

"That's one of the reasons we're combining the precincts," Herod said.

Nationwide, about $700 million will go toward replacing obsolete voting systems with touch-screen machines.

Herod said election officials seem to be fairly comfortable about the change, but that debate rages among special interest groups as to their reliability and security.

Though HAVA is working to make voting easier, Herod said other changes have had a bigger impact.

"I think absentee and early voting are the greatest things the state ever did," she said.

She said early and absentee voting accounts for a third of Moffat County's voter turnout and already 168 people have requested absentee ballots for the Aug. 10 primary election.

Thirty-seven have been filled out and returned.

Applications for absentee ballots as well as registration forms are available at www.co.moffat.co.us or at www.sos.state.co.us.

Moffat County's voter turnout is traditionally scattered, going from 10 percent in some elections to more than 70 percent in others.

With all the options available and the efforts election officials put into to making voting easier, Herod said she doesn't understand why a person wouldn't vote.

"With the new laws to make it easier to vote, there's not reason for anyone not to," she said.

Craig resident Norman Olsen has voted for more than 50 years. In that time, he's waited in a lot of lines, but he has no complaints about the process. "It hasn't ever been a problem," he said.

Despite his good experiences at the polls, Olsen thinks he'll take advantage of the opportunity to vote early and avoid any lines.

"It'll probably be a little easier," he said.

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