Rocky Mountain News


Paper nightmares

What Colorado's in for if state can't certify election machines


August 31, 2007


It's almost unthinkable: a big, big election in Colorado and no electronic voting machines to record votes. In other words, picking a president, a U.S. senator, seven House members, and deciding who-knows-how-many other issues all with paper ballots.


But that's just what Colorado's county clerks - and voters - might have to do in 2008 if the state can't recertify the machines its counties rely on to quickly and accurately reflect the will of the people.


And you thought our last election was a mess!


The problem, it seems, lies with the four vendors who supply electronic voting machines in Colorado - Premier Election Solutions, Hart InterCivic, ES&S and Sequoia, although at least two of them deny that they've been foot-dragging.


Under the terms of a 2006 court order, the Colorado secretary of state is required to retest and recertify voting equipment before the next primary, general or statewide ballot election. The biggest test will of course come in November 2008 when Coloradans will select successors to President Bush and Sen. Wayne Allard, as well as elect a new representative in the 2nd Congressional District (where Mark Udall is moving on to run for the Senate), just to mention three of numerous important races.


After rules to assure the security of voting equipment were finally put in writing in March, the vendors were told to submit equipment for testing. Secretary of State Mike Coffman originally anticipated that the testing and recertification process could be completed by July 1.


But the vendors balked, according to Coffman, who insists that "they have been slow to cooperate in getting us the documentation, hardware and other necessary information that we have requested."


Finally, on Wednesday, Coffman issued an ultimatum to the vendors: Fully comply by Nov. 16 or their machines won't be certified for use in the 2008 general election.


If all four vendors fail to meet the deadline, and assuming Coffman is serious, that would put Colorado's county clerks in quite a bind.


Coffman suggests that certified optical scanners used by the clerks to record absentee and mail-in ballots might be pressed into service. Alternatively, they might be able to lease other certified electronic equipment, though in a national presidential election, availability would very much be a question.


But neither option seems likely to be adequate, at which point a paper ballot might become inevitable. In that case, Coffman says, his office "will be fully engaged in assisting affected counties to find solutions."


Now there's optimism for you. But we're betting Premier Election Solutions, Hart InterCivic, ES&S and Sequioa will all ante up. If they didn't know Colorado considered them late to the party, they certainly know now. And which of them, after all, would want to be the odd company out, a cloud of doubt lingering over its nationwide (and even worldwide) business?


And why should they be worried? Certainly the state will protect their proprietary interests.


Unless, of course, they fear their machines won't pass muster. In that case, we can understand how they might prefer a degree of awkward suspicion over damning certainty.


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