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Hart states its case
By RICHARD VALENTY Colorado Daily Staff Writer   07 February 2005

The Boulder County Election Review Committee heard system vendor Hart InterCivic's version of what could have caused slow 2004 election results last Friday - and as Hart and printing company EagleDirect trade jabs, ERC members are asking for all cooperation possible to prevent a repeat performance.

"Boulder County has had a really bad experience," pleaded ERC member Richard Harris after several hours of testimony.

Hart General Manager/Vice President Neil McClure, Elections Solutions Group Vice President Scott Flom and Print Services Vice President John Covell spoke to the ERC Friday. McClure led the group through a brief presentation on how the Hart "Ballot Now" system turns digital information into an analog paper ballot and turns it back into digital information again.

Ballot information is entered into Hart's Ballot Origination Software System (BOSS) and is transferred onto a memory card called a Mobile Ballot Box (MBB). The BOSS/MBB information then goes to either a Ballot Now paper-ballot system or a Hart "eSlate" Direct Record Electronic (DRE) system.

Ballot Now will generate either a post script or a PDF file of ballot information to be delivered to whatever printing company is used. The voted ballots are run through a scanner, and a digital image of the ballot is sent to a database if the system reads bar code information and "decides" a ballot is valid.

"Ballot Now does not tabulate the ballots," said McClure. "It converts analog information into a digital format."

The image then goes through Ballot Now Image Processing (BNIP) where the system searches for voter choices in a "target search area" based on the location of three ballot bar codes, or triangulation.

If the system finds ballots with overvotes, write-in ions or "damaged races" where an option box is not in the target search area, the system will flag the ballot and an election worker must resolve the ballot by viewing a projected digital image on a screen or wall.

After the ballots are resolved, the system creates a "cast vote record" and information is transferred back to the MBB. The card is taken to a card reader, and Hart software called "Tally" tabulates the cast votes.

However, the 2004 election process ground to a near-halt as the system found 27-28,000 damaged races, all requiring resolution. The Hart team said they believe improper paper "conditioning" practices, or making sure paper is at the proper temperature and humidity before printing, caused the anomalies.

Covell said printers should wait 72 hours after bringing paper from a non-air conditioned warehouse into a print environment before printing. Also, the county ballots were printed in two passes -once through an offset printer and once through a digital printer, and Covell said printers should wait at least 48 hours before doing the second pass.

McClure said ballots can twist if the paper holds too much humidity, and ERC member Michael Taylor said taking paper out of damp storage and printing it at high temperature could warp paper like deep-frying a potato chip.

McClure said the Hart system can read ballot boxes with vertical placement anomalies of up to 20 percent, but said improper conditioning could have caused "non-linear" anomalies in the paper.

After the meeting, Eagle President Howard Harris said he did not think paper conditioning was the problem.

"Paper conditioning is a well-known practice, and anyone who prints abides by very stringent regulations," said Harris. "We knew the print conditions, they (Hart) didn't and they didn't ask or talk to us. We did 48 hour conditioning, 72 hour conditioning and beyond."

ERC members asked if the Xerox DocuTech printers used to print the ballots could have been at fault, and while Flom said he didn't think so, Covell said most DocuTech machines are worked on "four to eight times per month" for preventative maintenance or mechanical problems.

"Around elections, maintenance workers are on 24-7," said Covell. "They are high maintenance."

McClure said part of the 2004 delay came because entire batches of ballots must be 100 percent resolved before they are released, and that Hart has never before seen an election where so much resolution was required.

"If you have a high error rate, you could reduce your batch size," said ERC member Paul Tiger, although County Clerk Linda Salas said more batches would require more reports to be generated.

Salas said she and other election officials brought up the issue that the Hart system might be slower than other systems before a purchase decision was made. She said the county also brought up the issue of using precinct-base scanners instead of relying on centralized scanners, but that solution would have been costly and "the public" opposed electronic equipment at precincts.

Davidson quipped that "the public" was actually only "12-15" citizen voting activists.

ERC chair Richard Lyons asked if there were any damaged races found during the pre-election Logic and Accuracy Tests (LAT), and McClure said there were none.

McClure also said the LAT process was stalled by citizen voting activists who intentionally mismarked ballots by circling boxes instead of filling them in or defacing bar codes.

"Several members of the public were compelled to prove the system didn't work," said McClure. "From my experience with LATs, that's not what an LAT is intended for."

Hart has already printed the ballots for the March 8 City of Boulder special election, but Covell said Hart did not take the November county job because he saw a "train wreck" of impending early October ballot deadlines coming.

"I made the decision as the requirements got bigger and the time window got shorter," said Covell.

This Friday's meeting will be held at the Commissioner's hearing room in the County Courthouse at 14th and Pearl Streets at 1 p.m. Lyons said he invited Tom Halicki, former county elections manager, but he declined, saying Salas and staff could answer any questions.

The Feb. 11 meeting will focus on county staffing and procedural issues.

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