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Voter reform plans have merit

Editorial     Denver Post   27 March 2005

Coloradans voted in record numbers last November despite worries about new voting rules, unreliable machines and other potential election flaws.

While problems proved to be few in the context of more than 2.1 million voters turning out, that doesn't mean election systems can't be improved.

Secretary of State Donetta Davidson and a group of lawmakers have plans to strengthen and clarify election rules.

Two separate but similar measures would require paper records to back up electronic voting systems, and propose making student IDs acceptable at the polls.

While there are legitimate differences among experts about the vulnerabilities of electronic voting, having paper backup records could be helpful in ensuring voter confidence.

Sen. Shawn Mitchell, a co-sponsor of one of the measures, notes, "Electronic records and microchips can be manipulated in ways paper can't. ... With a permanent paper record we can count actual physical votes."

Most Colorado counties still use scannable paper ballots, although there is a substantial percentage of voters in some larger counties with electronic systems. So, some counties will face increased costs for paper backup.

A key provision of the Davidson plan that we strongly support would require voter registration drives to register with the secretary of state and require all voter registration forms be turned in within five days to county clerks. Some people were disenfranchised last year after registering through such drives only to learn that forms never were turned in.

The key difference between the two measures involves provisional ballots. The bill by Mitchell and Sen. Ken Gordon would allow a voter who goes to the wrong precinct to cast a provisional ballot and vote in all races for which the voter is eligible. Many county clerks oppose the idea as costly because it would require multiple ballots be available at every precinct. The bill pushed by Davidson and sponsored by Sen. Ron Tupa and Rep. Al White would allow such voters to cast provisional ballots only for president, as required by federal law.

The Mitchell-Gordon bill should be amended to allow people who go to the wrong precinct to vote in all statewide races. We also encourage county clerks to continuing exploring alternative ways to avoid the wrong-precinct problem, such as vote centers.

Each of the bills contains provisions that have merit, and we hope the sponsors can find common ground. Colorado voters will benefit.

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