Secretary of State Gigi Dennis might seek new machines in 10 counties after hand recounts changed two results last month.
By Karen E. Crummy and Michael McCollum
Denver Post Staff Writers
After a hand recount changed the outcome of two elections last month, the Colorado secretary of state may order 10 counties to get new voting machines before next year's high-stakes gubernatorial election.
Secretary of State Gigi Dennis wants "assurances from the manufacturers that there won't be any problems next year," said Dana Williams, a spokeswoman for Dennis.
The state will "then decide if we should continue using the machines," Williams said.
At issue are the Optech III-P Eagle machines, sold by Election Systems & Software and Sequoia Voting Systems.
A post-election audit in November led Dennis to order a hand recount in the 10 counties that use the machine. In at least two counties - Clear Creek and Chaffee - the recount changed the outcome of races.
Election officials around the country have reported problems with the machines.
On Friday, Detroit officials ordered a recount of about 230,000 ballots cast in the Nov. 8 election. Allegations of voter fraud and procedural mismanagement, including the operation of the Optech machines, have been cited.
"The machines have a history of significant problems," said Bev Harris, director of blackboxvoting.org, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group dedicated to tracking voter problems.
Michelle Shafer, spokeswoman for Sequoia, said many of the problems occur when mail ballots are fed into the machines.
"They are meant to be used in a controlled environment, like in a precinct, where people use the right pencils and pens," she said.
When voters mail ballots, they often use a different color of ink or circle names, she said, leaving the machine unable to read them.
Megan Tauton, the elections clerk in Elbert County, said that's what happened with the few discrepancies she found between her county's hand count and the automatic tabulations.
During the manual count, the county was able to discern voter intent, something the machines can't do.
"The computer only reads properly filled out ballots," she said.
The majority of the 10 Colorado counties said they had faith in their voting machines and that the difference between the hand count and the scanning was insignificant.
"We just had a few differences, mainly with people not following directions," Huerfano County Clerk and Recorder Judy Benine said. "We've used them for seven years, and we haven't ever had a problem with them."
But election officials in other counties said they had no confidence in their machines.
In Chaffee County, Hugh Young was declared the winner of a Salida City Council seat after the hand recount determined he beat incumbent Ron Stowell by three votes. Stowell had been declared the winner by three votes.
Clear Creek County found 97 votes that had not been included in the initial machine vote. A ballot question regarding a local school district initially won by six votes but after the hand recount lost by 18 votes.
"I have no confidence in the machines, and we're looking to have them replaced," Clear Creek County Clerk and Recorder Pam Phipps said.
In Park County, the outcomes remained the same, but "quite a few" undervotes appeared during the recount, Clerk and Recorder Debra Green said.
The 13-year-old machines, she said, are worn out.
The secretary of state's office says it understands the concerns, which is why it is looking into the matter.
"We would rather be safe than sorry," Williams said.
The 10 counties that had hand recounts are Bent, Chaffee, Clear Creek, Custer, Elbert, Fremont, Huerfano, Park, Pueblo and Sedgwick.
Staff writer Karen E. Crummy can be reached at 303-820-1594 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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