Coffman, legislators seek election solutions
County clerks fear voter confidence is shaken
Steamboat Springs — A day after Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman said voting equipment used in Routt County and throughout the state has been decertified, a leading state legislator expressed hope that some of the problems soon would be corrected.
The Legislative Task Force on Voting Equipment Recertification met for the first time to discuss how next year’s election will be pulled off in counties affected by decertification.
“I think it will work out, and the decertified equipment will be certified in a short time,” state Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial, said Tuesday. “I think he (Coffman) is working very quickly to come up with short-term solutions.”
Balmer, assistant House minority leader in the state Legislature, is co-chairing the task force along with state Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, a Democrat.
On Monday, Coffman, the state’s top election official, announced the results of a court-ordered recertification process of the state’s electronic voting equipment. Colorado’s 64 counties use equipment provided by one of four vendors. Routt County is one of 47 counties that use equipment provided by Hart InterCivic. Hart equipment also is used in nearby Eagle, Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Summit counties.
Coffman announced that the two Hart scanning machines used to count paper ballots have been decertified, while electronic voting machines and related software have been conditionally certified. The announcement has panicked county clerks statewide who are stuck with very expensive – and potentially worthless – election equipment less than a year before a presidential election.
Were an election held today, Secretary of State’s Office spokesman Rich Coolidge said, many counties would have no choice but to use paper ballots and count them by hand.
“Certainly the secretary does not want to get to that point,” said Coolidge, who noted that the federal Help America Vote Act requires counties to offer touch-screen voting for disabled voters. Coolidge said the federal Justice Department likely would sue counties if they cannot meet that requirement.
Balmer said county clerk representatives also were present at Tuesday’s task force meeting.
“They are quite concerned that the stories and publicity (Tuesday) have caused the public to be less confident in electronic voting,” Balmer said. “Everyone wants to see fair and accurate elections in 2008, particularly with the presidential election.”
Solutions discussed at Tuesday’s meeting included installing software patches to equipment that will allow them to be certified. Also, vendors such as Hart have since developed new versions of their equipment that have been approved in California, and Coffman requested lawmakers propose legislation that will give him the flexibility to accept that state’s certification. Otherwise, it could take months for Colorado to certify the new versions itself.
Balmer said the task force would bring forward such legislation soon.
“If their tests match what our tests need, the secretary wants to ask the Legislature to basically steal their data,” Coolidge said.
Coolidge said “everything is on the table” when it comes to avoiding a potential election crisis in 2008, but noted that even if the state uses certification data from another state, vendors still will have to cure the concerns raised by Colorado’s recertification.
“In order to meet the state certification, they need to address the deficiencies they had in our process,” Coolidge said.
Coffman won’t make his final recommendations for carrying out the 2008 election until after he meets with county clerks and vendor representatives in meetings today and Thursday. Routt County Clerk Kay Weinland, who said Tuesday she still is “very frustrated” by Coffman’s announcement, will attend a meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday.
In an effort to make coal more competitive against natural gas and renewable energy sources, two of the nation’s largest coal companies, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, have announced that they plan to combine assets in Colorado and Wyoming. Routt County’s Twentymile Mine would be managed under the new joint venture.