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Committee ready to write
By RICHARD VALENTY Colorado Daily    27 March 2005

The Boulder County Election Review Committee, formed to investigate delays or other problems with the 2004 county election process, decided last Friday it has gathered enough information to begin writing its final report.

The ERC has been meeting weekly since early January, and has accepted 38 documents from various entities into its records. All meetings have been public, and the committee took verbal input from local voting activists, voting system or printing vendors, county election staff and 2004 election judges.

On Friday, the ERC members used the testimony and documents to offer suggestions on the most important topics to be included in the report. After several hours of discussion, the team had accumulated 50 topics.

The report will include suggestions for improving pre-election activities such as voter registration or voter education, but ERC members were very clear that their major charge was to suggest ways to avoid delays in counting the next large election. Full precinct results from the Nov. 2 election were not released until Nov. 5.

"We wouldn't be here if they had finished the count Tuesday at 11 p.m.," said ERC member Tom Davidson.

Probably the single biggest problem in November was the presence of 13,000 ballots with "damaged races." The Hart InterCivic "Ballot Now" voting system could not process the ballots because option boxes on the paper ballots were located outside of system tolerances. Roughly 27-28,000 damaged races had to be visually resolved, slowing the process to a near-halt.

The ERC took substantial testimony from representatives of Hart and EagleDirect, the printing company that supplied most of the 2004 ballots, but it is unlikely the final report will include a definitive answer as to why the damaged races happened.

The ERC is unlikely to recommend that Boulder County should use a different election system vendor in the future, but the final report will contain a number of topics regarding Hart. Davidson said the system is basically slow, since estimates suggested the 2004 election would have taken 24-28 hours to complete under ideal circumstances.

ERC member Paul Tiger said Hart should have provided better customer service support to Boulder County. He also said part of the delay on election night came from the need to manually sort a number of ballots into sequential numerical order before processing them through the Hart system.

"Why the heck do people have to re-sort ballots when we have computers?" asked Tiger.

ERC members suggested county personnel issues such as staffing and training need strengthening. ERC member Michael Taylor said insufficient balances of Democrats and Republicans present to operate bipartisan resolution teams slowed the post-election process. Also, he said the county should consider separating ballot processing operations into "standard" and "anomalous" categories so staff could process the majority of normal ballots in a timely fashion.

Also, the ERC said educating voters on proper registration procedures, residency requirements and even on how to fill out a ballot correctly could speed the next process. ERC member Richard Harris said with the old county punch-card system, he knew if he didn't punch a choice properly his choice wouldn't count -yet some voters in 2004 didn't follow simple instructions of filling in a rectangle using black or blue ink.

"Voters have the responsibility to express intent according to the rules of the game," said Harris.

ERC member Jay Harbour said the fact that the county had 227 individual precincts in 2004 created logistical and staffing problems, and a number of speakers before the ERC suggested using a smaller number of regional voting centers in future elections.

But to citizen voting activist Joe Pezzillo, the solution is simple - scrap electronic systems and go back to hand counting.

Pezzillo brought sample ballots from the Swiss Voting System to Friday's meeting, and said if nothing else, a hand counted race won't be deemed a "damaged race" if the option box on the ballot is slightly out of tolerance.

"The more we entrust democracy to machines, the less people care," said Pezzillo.

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