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Phantom votes haunt Pitkin County election officials
November 3, 2005

By Allyn Harvey   Aspen Times

Pitkin County election officials counted approximately 1,200 phantom votes Tuesday night but it did not affect any outcomes of the election.

The miscount affected just one of the county's 10 voting precincts - but it did so in a big way.

On Tuesday night, election officials posted results indicating that 1,560 people voted in Precinct 5. On Wednesday, amended election returns showed 374 people living in Precinct 5 had voted.

Precinct 5 includes Maroon and Castle creeks, the Aspen Airport Business Center, Starwood and the Entrance to Aspen.

The problem does not appear to be related to the electronic voting machines, according to Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland. He said county election officials were looking at formulas used to set up the spreadsheet that tallied the votes from each precinct. Ireland said the spreadsheet formula apparently added votes cast by early and absentee voters to the votes from Precinct 5.

The reason the outcomes weren't affected may be tied to the fact that the phantom votes reflected the actual preferences of Pitkin County's electorate. The mistake does, however, affect vote totals in all the ballot questions and races that Precinct 5 voters participated in.

With Referendum 3B, the property tax increase to build a new middle school, the revised total released Wednesday indicates 1,691 people voted in favor and 1,269 against. That's far below Tuesday night's count that had 2,155 in favor and 1,698 against. Similar discrepancies were evident in the school board race and all the ballot questions, except for the Snowmass Village ballot questions and the Twining Flats Road question, which did not include Precinct 5.

A recount is possible if election officials can't pin down the exact cause of the problem. Pitkin County voters fill out paper ballots, which scanning machines at polling places in each precinct count.

Attempts to contact Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder Silvia Davis, who is responsible for overseeing elections, were unsuccessful Wednesday evening.

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