The Daily Times-Call
Equipment has trouble reading folded ballots
By Brad Turner
BOULDER — Despite assurances that Boulder County’s $1.4 million ballot-counting system would operate smoothly in the upcoming election, the equipment will not be trusted to properly read ballots where a fold passes through a ballot item, elections officials said Friday.
Election workers discovered the glitch Thursday while running 429 ballots through Hart InterCivic scanners during a test, elections coordinator Josh Liss said Friday.
“Depending on how the ballot is folded, if the fold crosses an option box, it’s possible the machine could misread it,” he said. “I don’t think it’ll affect many votes.”
Folds running through ballot items caused the scanners to misread seven of the 429 test ballots incorrectly, he said.
For example, in ballot issues where a fold ran through a ‘yes’ option box but a voter filled in the ‘no’ box, Hart software interpreted the ballot as an overvote. In the actual election, the ballot would then be reviewed and corrected by an election judge, Liss said.
However, if a voter declined to vote on a ballot issue but a fold ran through the ‘yes’ box, Hart equipment would likely record a ‘yes’ vote, he said.
To fix the problem, election volunteers on Nov. 1 will flatten folded ballots and individually resolve ballots with creases passing through a check-off box, he said. Voters who fold their ballots irregularly will also have their submissions individually resolved, he said.
While nearly all of roughly 192,000 ballots printed for Election Day were manufactured and folded by Hart — at a cost of between $159,800 and $183,600, depending on how many ballots are needed — individual ballots are folded at slightly different locations on each sheet of paper, Liss said.
“They all go through the same folding machine, but it’s not totally precise in folding each one,” he said
Folded ballots were probably not a problem in previous elections tallied by Hart equipment, which officials purchased in 2004, he said.
A Hart representative could not be reached for comment Friday.
During the 2004 presidential election, Hart equipment rejected 13,000 of the 90,000 ballots cast because some ballots, supplied by Denver printing contractor EagleDirect, contained tiny variations in the location of each check-off box, officials said. As a result, officials had to hand-count thousands of misread ballots and the election tally dragged on for 68 hours.
However, County Clerk Linda Salas later stood by her decision to purchase the Hart tallying equipment in early 2004, and stuck with plans to use the system Nov. 1, arguing the system is well-suited to mail-ballot contests.
Voting activist Joe Pezzillo, who fought the county’s purchase of the Hart equipment and supported scrapping it after last year’s rocky election, said he is disappointed that a system that is supposedly ideal for mail-ballot elections cannot read ballots that are folded and mailed.
“This is what it’s good at. This is the kind of functionality we get when it’s working at its best,” he cracked. “This is the type of foible people encounter when they don’t know how to analyze a voting system for purchase.”
Elections officials tested the Hart equipment this week with sample ballots with the intent of weeding out potential glitches like the ones that caused problems last November, County spokeswoman Patricia Demchak stressed Friday.
The folding problem emerged during the test runs, she said.
Brad Turner can be reached at 720-494-5420, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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