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Boulder ballots eyed

Officials, printers examine flaws that slowed vote count

By Berny Morson, Rocky Mountain News
November 9, 2004

BOULDER - A printing error that distorted bar codes on paper ballots is being blamed for delays that made this one of the last counties in the nation to report election results.

The county clerk's office and officials at a Denver printing company are examining flaws in thousands of ballots that slowed the vote count to a crawl.   
County Clerk Linda Salas said Monday the bad ballots were distributed at random, cropping up in some precincts, but not in others. The exact number of bad ballots is still unknown, Salas said.

"We want to find out what happened so we know, so that it won't happen again," Salas said.

The counting of votes cast in the election wasn't completed until late Friday night, causing what Salas said could be "a huge fortune" in overtime and other costs.

The delays have sparked angry calls, including some from people who accused the clerk's office of intentionally delaying results.

"Why would anybody want to go through this intentionally? . . . Nobody would want to do this so that people would get angry at us," Salas said.

Scanners rejected ballots with the bad bar codes, requiring election judges to tally those votes race by race.

Voting equipment was tested before the election. But the printing error occurred only on actual ballots that went to voters, not the test ballots, Salas said.

Adding to the delays were attempts to figure out why the scanners were rejecting some ballots. Technicians from Hart Intercivic, which makes the scanners, and Kodak, which makes the lenses, examined the machines before the bar code error - which was not visible to the naked eye - was caught, Salas said.

Eagle Direct of Denver, the company that printed the ballots, has contacted Xerox, which made the printers.

"We have a feeling it's mostly the machines," Eagle President Howard Harris said.

Xerox spokeswoman Kara Choquette said the company believes the bad ballots were printed by a second contractor that used equipment that either wasn't made by Xerox or wasn't maintained by Xerox.

Eagle and the county officials couldn't be reached following Choquette's statement, but earlier in the day they had made no mention of another printer being involved.

The bill for temporary workers and overtime for regular employees is still being calculated, but Salas said it will be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

A decision on whether to seek compensation from Eagle or Xerox will be made after determining exactly what happened and meeting with the commissioners and the county attorney, she said.

Harris said calculating how much of the delay was caused by the printer may be difficult.

He noted that write-in votes also caused the county's scanners to stop.

A write-in candidate for district attorney received more than 8,000 votes.

Boulder residents cast their votes on paper ballots, which were then tallied by the scanners. That system was ed last spring by the county commissioners amid concern from some residents that a purely electronic system would be subject to tampering.

Salas predicted counting would be slow, but projected results by the next day.

Salas said she would have hit that target if it weren't for the printing errors.

Al Kolwicz, a Boulder computer worker who has been critical of the clerk's office, said Monday he might have found the problem if he had been allowed to test ballots at random as he requested.

But Salas said that would have entailed pulling actual ballots intended for voters, rather than test ballots. No one was allowed to see those ballots before the vote, she said.

Counting votes in Boulder County

154,000 votes cast

87.4% voter turnout

100 people worked three days

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