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Election officials smart to test system

Editorial    Denver Post   09 February 2005

On May 3, Denver will unveil a network of vote centers in a test run for Election Day 2005 and 2006. The system may replace precinct voting.

Denver residents this spring will get their first taste of a voting system that foretells the end of precinct voting, a neighborhood-based network used here since the 19th century.

The Denver Election Commission was wise to reject an all-mail May 3 election in order to test a network of vote centers that likely will be expanded in November and then used for the general election in 2006.

With the proposed construction of a new jail and judicial center leading the ballot May 3, the city will use a combination of absentee ballots, early voting at vote centers, and conventional polling places.

So far, two issues are likely to be on the ballot: the $378 million justice center proposal, and a plan for Denver to provide fire protection for Glendale.

The election will cost about $400,000 more than an all-mail vote but will give Denver officials a taste of the vote-center system before the November 2005 election, when the commission plans to replace precinct voting with vote centers. A similar system was used last November in Larimer County, where voters were able to cast ballots at any one of 31 centers.

The commission last Friday voted 2-1 for the May election plan after Commissioner Sandy Adams ped earlier support of mail ballots. Commissioner Susan Rogers voted no. Adams said she generally opposes mail ballots but initially voted for them because there wasn't enough time to shift completely to vote centers. She changed her mind when Commissioner Wayne Vaden suggested using vote centers for early voting as a "dress rehearsal."

Vaden, who also is county clerk, said that in order to switch to vote centers, "we need to make some investments in technology and to get some stakeholder buy-in" ahead of the November election.

So, vote centers will be available for use April 25-29. Each of the city's 11 council districts probably will have one, although the final number hasn't been decided. On Election Day, all 322 precinct polling places will be open, and so will the vote centers.

For November, Denver plans about 35 vote centers, Vaden said.

He said vote centers will be more efficient than precincts because they will require fewer election officials and will allow the city to more economically comply with new federal rules about disabled access to polling places and machines. Vaden also feels centers will increase turnout. Poll workers at vote centers have access to a central, electronic registration database to verify voter eligibility.

It's good that the officials who run elections plan to learn the ropes with a relatively simple election and work out any bugs before a general election. But the city should finalize its May plans as quickly as possible and mount an information campaign to thoroughly educate voters about their options.

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