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Vote is on, so are fears

Criticism of county's new system remains as thousands vote

By Kate Larsen, Boulder Daily Camera Staff Writer
October 19, 2004

Eighteen-year-old Kelli Huls emerged from a voting booth at the Boulder County Courthouse on Monday with a smile on her face.

Huls and her grandmother, Neil Labadi, were among thousands who took advantage of the first day of early voting for this year's general election. Lines were steady throughout the day at four locations, county officials said.

"I just turned 18," Huls said. "I really wanted to vote — to try to make a difference."

Her grandmother voted early for different reasons.

"I wanted to vote early to avoid the rush at the polls," said Labadi, 55. "Then you can not pay attention to all the ads."

County officials said early voting, absentee ballots and higher pay for election judges may help expedite the tallying process come Nov. 2.

Boulder County lagged hours behind other Colorado counties in posting results of the Aug. 10 primary election. But officials have since allocated nearly $375,000 in hopes of speeding up the process.

"We appropriated a lot of money after the primary," County Commissioner Paul Danish said.

Election officials requested money for 375 new ballot boxes with wider slots, so ballots don't have to be folded, and pay for election judges was increased from $100 to $150 in an effort to get more help Nov. 2.

But accuracy is more important than speed, Danish said.

"This is not some sort of race to the finish line with who has the earliest returns," he said.

Boulder County may well be last to get results posted online, said County Clerk and Recorder Linda Salas.

New voting machines mean extra care will be taken when tallying votes. And the new system's counting mechanisms aren't connected online, to ensure a more secure result.

The $1.4 million system from Hart InterCivic replaced the county's punch-card voting machines this year. It requires voters to fill out paper ballots, which are then scanned into a counting system.

Some critics say problems with the new system are prevalent.

"We are very displeased that Boulder County's chosen to make their paper ballot not secret," said Al Kolwicz, executive director of Citizens for Accurate Mail Ballot Election Results.

He contends that a serial number on each ballot can be traced to a name.

Tracking the number to a name is "virtually impossible," said Jim Burrus, county spokesman.

The system is only accessible to a few county employees and is impossible to "hack into" from outside the elections' division offices, Burrus said.

If an employee were able to look up a serial number, he or she would then have to break into secured ballot boxes and sort through thousands upon thousands of ballots — kept in no particular order — to find the one matching the serial number.

Regardless of assurances from county officials, Kolwicz filed complaints with the Secretary of State's Office asking that Boulder's system be ruled illegal.

"The Constitution is very clear," Kolwicz said. "You may not in any way mark a ballot so that it can be re-identified."

County Clerk Salas said she hadn't heard "anything formal" from the secretary of state.

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