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Commission approves vote centers

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


The Daily Sentinel

It?s time for Mesa County to think outside the ballot box when it comes to the way people vote on Election Day, county leaders said Monday.

The Mesa County Board of Commissioners gave elections officials the go-ahead to give voters a choice in where they cast their ballot.

That means, beginning with the August 2006 primary election, an Orchard Mesa resident could show up at a vote center on the Redlands and vote. That voter might otherwise be sent packing to his or her designated precinct polling place.

?You can?t go to the wrong polling place,? Mesa County Elections Director Sheila Reiner said.

Elections officials hope to minimize the use of provisional ballots by replacing the county?s 82 precincts with an estimated 22 vote centers throughout the county.

Someone who shows up at a polling place to cast a vote but is not on the list of people who may vote there may be allowed to cast a provisional ballot. Reiner said 46 percent, or 155 of the 338 ballots rejected during the 2004 general election, were thrown out because a voter voted in the wrong precinct.

That figure alarmed commissioners, who said they wanted to ensure every vote counts.

?Most people don?t know what precinct they?re in or where they go,? Mesa County Republican Party chairwoman Lois Dunn said.

Dunn joined three other Republicans, four Democrats and two unaffiliated voters in examining the use of vote centers.

Mesa County Clerk Janice Ward commissioned the 10-member task force, which recommended the county replace traditional polling places with vote centers, where any registered voter could cast a ballot. Each center would be connected to an electronic pollbook that would allow poll workers to know instantly whether someone had already cast a ballot at another center, voted early or used an absentee ballot.

Neither the task force?s recommendation nor the makeup of the task force flew with one member of the audience.

Grand Junction resident Cindy Espinoza questioned the objectivity of a group commissioned by Ward. Several of the GOP members, she said, were friends of Ward and couldn?t be trusted to deliver an impartial decision.

?These are not objective points of view,? Espinoza said.

Ward said she was disappointed someone would assume task force members couldn?t reach their own conclusions.

?It wasn?t about party buy-in,? County Commissioner Janet Rowland said in defense of the process by which Ward appointed the group.

Democrats and Republicans on the task force said they didn?t immediately embrace the change and acknowledged that not everyone in their respective parties backed the idea.

Kent Baughman, a former GOP candidate for the Mesa County Commission, warned commissioners about the cost of changing the way people in Mesa County vote on Election Day.

?There?s nothing wrong with the current system that we have,? he said.

The Help America Vote Act requires voting machines comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, including audio capability, and so far that requirement can be met only with direct-recording electronic voting machines ? the touch-screen machines.

The touch-screen machines to which many voters have become accustomed in Mesa County no longer meet new standards. Those machines don?t have what is known as a voter-verifiable paper audit trail, which legislation requires be in place for the November 2006 election.

Vote centers would not affect early or absentee voting.

Larimer County uses vote centers, with other counties around the state poised to adopt what Mesa County Democratic Party chairman Mitch Rothman said would put Mesa County ?ahead of the curve.?

?The concept of vote centers is not change for the sake of change,? he said.

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