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Up to 30,000 ballots will be hand-recopied
Groups blast "potential for human error"
By George Merritt
Denver Post Staff Writer
Article Last Updated:10/27/2006 12:02:37 AM MDT

An editing mistake on Denver's absentee ballots has turned a little-discussed referendum on recall protections into an issue that could affect controversial statewide campaigns.

The concern is actually not with the mistake, but the solution: On election night, Denver plans to have election judges hand-copy as many as 30,000 voted absentee ballots onto new ballots.

The same process of "duplication" is a common practice in elections, but not on the scale Denver plans to attempt.

The idea has prompted "very serious concerns" from watchdogs such as Colorado Common Cause.

"It is hard to believe that this is the best solution," said Jenny Rose Flanagan, the executive director of the group. "The potential for human error is enhanced exponentially."

Although the misprint was the vendor's mistake, it is just the latest in a string of questions and criticisms that have dogged the Denver Election Commission since the 2004 elections.

On Thursday, the city auditor released a long-awaited audit that highlighted a number of those issues. It called on the commission to increase warehouse safety and security, develop a detailed operational plan, and increase written procedures in all areas, including staffing and training.

The audit did not question the commission's ability to run the November elections, but it did emphasize ways in which it could save money on staffing.

As for the absentee ballot misprint, commission officials said they usually have to duplicate only about 2 percent of the ballots, which would translate to about 1,400 this election.

Current plans would have election judges duplicating 20 times that amount.

"And they are going to be tired - this is the night shift on election night," Flanagan said.

After a reporter's questions Thursday, commission spokesman Alton Dillard said Denver is working with its voting machine vendor, Sequoia Voting Systems, to find another solution.

Sequoia officials could not be reached for comment.

The commission's complicated problems began when Sequoia sent out 44,000 absentee ballots with the "yes" and "no" answers transposed on Referendum F, making it easy for a careless voter to cast an undesired vote.

The commission noticed the problem and began sending out absentees with the "yes" properly placed above the "no."

The problem is, the scanners that count the vote cannot be programmed to read both styles, so election judges will have to copy that vote along with all the other votes on that page of the ballot - which contains all the state and local referendums and amendments.

While some are concerned about the potential for error, commission officials plan to have each ballot duplicated by a two-person team made up of a Republican and a Democrat.

And officials plan to have about 20 teams on hand - a major increase from other elections when there are usually just four to six duplication teams to deal with stained, torn or improperly marked ballots.

Still, some are concerned about the potential for increased mistakes or fraud, particularly for nonpartisan issues.

"When it comes to our issue, we generally don't trust government," said Mason Tvert, who is running a campaign to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. "This only raises more issues for us. I just hope it will be handled in a manner that honors the will of the voters."

Dillard said Sequoia has promised to cover any costs associated with fixing the ballot error. But asked why Sequoia was not supplying more machines to avoid the human duplication, Dillard said that was "a question for Sequoia.

"These are kind of large, expensive machines, and they don't just have a whole bunch of them sitting around," Dillard said.

Staff writer George Merritt can be reached at 303-954-1657 or gmerritt@denverpost.com.

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