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'Missing' Denver mail ballots were never sent by vendor
Rocky Mountain News. October 25, 2008. By Myung Oak Kim

Denver election officials were breathing a little easier Saturday after they determined that 11,000 mail-in ballots they feared were missing were actually never sent by a vendor.

The U.S. Postal Service said Friday afternoon that its Denver mail processing facility received 10,364 ballots on Oct. 16 and delivered them within a couple days.

But the California printing company hired by Denver Elections said it delivered 21,450 ballots to the postal facility on that date.

The discrepancy prompted Denver Election Director Michael Scarpello to ask Sequoia Voting Systems to give him paperwork to prove that the Porterville, Calif., printing plant shipped the ballots.

"Certainly we're concerned and we're wanting to get to the bottom of it," Scarpello said Friday night. "I don't think we've seen overwhelming evidence to prove one theory or the other.

"My advice to people would be to hang tight for another couple of days."

That advice bore out on Saturday, when Denver Clerk and Recorder Stephanie O'Malley said the ballots in question were never prepared by the vendor because of a technical problem with a data file.

Those remaining ballots from the shipment are being prepared over the weekend and will arrive at the U.S. Postal Service's general mail facility on Monday, O'Malley said in a statement.

“We take this matter very seriously and want Denver voters to know that no one will be disenfranchised by this vendor error,” O’Malley said.

The deadline for mail ballot applications is Tuesday; the last ballots sent from the Elections Division will go out that night. Voters should see the ballots from the affected shipment by midweek, according to Alton Dillard, spokesman for the Clerk and Recorder's office.

Dillard said that election officials were on the phone with Sequoia officials Friday night into Saturday. "Our thing is when you find things like this happen, we go into solution mode. We spent probably the last day figuring out what was going on." By Saturday morning, Dillard said Sequoia found the problem, and "is accepting 100 percent of the blame in this situation."

Michelle Shafer, a spokeswoman for Sequoia, said in a statement, "Sequoia made an unfortunate mistake with a portion of Denver's absentee ballots that we produced and mailed. We are extremely regretful of this error and take full responsibility for it. We are working diligently this weekend on this matter and will have all of the Denver ballots in the mail this Monday."

In addition to the large batches of mail ballots prepared by Sequoia, the Elections Division has been sending small batches of ballots out daily after receiving applications.

The news comes amid mounting complaints by Denver voters who had yet to receive their ballots as of Friday despite computer tracking records that say the ballots were sent on Oct. 15.

Hugh Duval, 85, of southeast Denver, is one of these voters. He said he's been frustrated and worried about not getting his and his wife's ballots.

"It's kind of worn me down thinking I won't be able to vote," Duval said. "This is a mess."

The problem arose over a batch of ballots that were supposed to have been ped off on Oct. 15 at the Denver General Mail Facility at 7500 E. 53rd Place.

A spokesperson for Sequoia could not be reached for comment.

Postal Service spokesman Al DeSarro said Friday that his office has delivered all ballots they received.

Scarpello said he is certain that his office sent the correct number of voter files to the printer and the problem appears to be either at the printer or at the post office.

Denver elections workers and other metro area elections offices have been swamped in the last month processing tens of thousands of voter registration forms and mail ballot applications.

More than 180,000 Denver voters have requested mail ballots.

A record 1.5 million voters statewide have requested to vote by mail and that number keeps growing. Voters have until Oct. 28 to request a mail ballot.

Mail voting began Oct. 6. The largest wave of ballots were sent to voters around Oct. 8 and clerks have since been sending more ballots in response to additional requests.

In large counties like Denver, clerks send computer files of voter information to printing companies, either in Colorado or out-of-state. Several of the largest counties use Sequoia's California plant. The printer prepares the ballots and ships them to postal service processing facilities in Colorado for distribution.

County clerks save money on postage by sending mail ballots in large batches.

When early voting began statewide on Oct. 20, many voters showed at Denver polling places complaining about not receiving their mail ballots. County clerks have been making public pleas for patience.

Tom Auclair of the Rocky contributed to this story


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