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‘Phantom’ marks frustrate election workers (CO)
Longmont Times-Call. November 5, 2008. By Tony Kindelspire and Jason Gonzales

BOULDER — So-called “phantom” marks on ballots being scanned at the Boulder County clerk’s office turned Election Night into a nightmare for Clerk Hillary Hall and her staff.

“We have never heard of this before,” a frustrated Hall said at about 10:15 Tuesday night.

The scanning machines picked up paper-dust “phantoms” on certain mail-in ballots, requiring the ballots to go through extra scrutiny.

“It definitely has slowed it,” Hall said. “We have to go in now and take a look at every ballot, versus just the ones that we would have had to go back in and look at to check on an overvote or an undervote.”

Hall said that when the county ran tests of 10,000 ballots in the weeks leading up to the election, there was no sign at all that there would be difficulty with the mail-in ballots, which were requested in large numbers for this year’s election. Ten thousand is roughly 10 times the number that would typically be tested before an election, Hall said, but she knew that turnout would be extremely heavy this election and she wanted to be sure there were no glitches.

The dust problem is particularly frustrating because the county has run all-mail-in elections recently and had no problems.

Hall said that when the county first realized there were problems last weekend, extra election workers were brought in to help process the ballots, The important thing, she said, is to ensure the accuracy of the results.

“This is one of those things: Do you rush it through, or do you do it right and accurate?” Hall said. “And we chose to do it right and accurate.”
Michelle Krezek, one of the county workers brought in to help with Tuesday’s count, said election workers manning the scanners are taking extra steps — such as removing and cleaning the optical tubes inside the scanners — to alleviate the problem.

“We haven’t diagnosed it,” she said. “We know it’s an issue, but we’re not sure what’s causing it. ... The priority now is, let’s just get them processed.”

Hall said other techniques, such as changing the resolution on the scanners, also are being tried. She is still hopeful that a preliminary tally of Boulder County voting will be completed today.

The county mailed out 120,415 ballots to those who requested to vote by mail. As of about 11:45 p.m., only 28 percent of them — or slightly fewer than 34,000 — had been counted.

Workers first noticed the problem with the phantom ballot marks over the weekend.

“We noticed the impact of it Saturday,” she said. “But really, truly, Sunday was when we got the full implications of it.”

Hall projected that 170,000 of the 186,220 active voters in the county would participate in the election.

The difference this time, she said, is that the number of mail-in votes put her office in “new territory,” she said.

Hall said the dust problem has slowed ballot counting but her workers and volunteers were doing their best to work through the problem.

“We have had people here starting Monday, and we’ve been going 24 hours, around the clock,” Hall said.

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