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Vote scanners still face doubts  (CO)
John Ingold    Denver Post   17 February 2008

A state board says the Hart machines are too likely to count stray marks as votes, the same problem that got them decertified last year.

The machine used to count paper ballots in a large majority of Colorado's counties must overcome a sizable hurdle if it is to be recertified for use in this year's elections.

According to new reports released Friday evening by the state's voting machine testing board, the ballot scanning machines from Hart InterCivic continue to suffer from the same problems that led them to be decertified last year.

The machines, known as optical scanners, too often read stray marks as votes, even if they are just the tiny dots from somebody resting a pen on the ballot before marking a box, according to the reports.

The machines, which are used in 47 of Colorado's 64 counties, were re-tested this year as part of a sped-up recertification process with a software upgrade that was supposed to fix the original problem.

Secretary of State Mike Coffman will hold a public hearing Thursday on the recertification process for the Hart machines, as well as machines from two other companies that were decertified. He said he will announce his decision on whether to recertify the machines on Feb. 25.

"It is by no means a final decision," Coffman said of the testing board's report. "The final decision will be mine to make."

Recertifying optical scanners and especially Hart's optical scanners is critical to being able to hold an election in Colorado this year. Gov. Bill Ritter and legislative leaders intend to push a measure that would require a paper-ballot system for the election, after fears over the accuracy and security of electronic voting terminals.

If the Hart optical scanners are not recertified, counties would either have to buy costly new machines or count ballots by hand.

The testing board suggested two procedures for election judges and voters to carefully examine the ballots for stray marks before scanning them. Douglas County Clerk Jack Arrowsmith, whose county uses Hart machines, said those procedures mirror what his county already does to ensure accuracy.

"It looks like it's going to ask us to do some additional work, and I think we're going to be able to do that," he said.

Hart spokesman Peter Lichtenheld said the risk of counting stray marks exists with all optical scan systems but is minimal.

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