Digging a little deeper into why the US Justice Department will be watching over the Denver elections on November 7th, may stem from a mistake printed on about 44,000 absentee ballots.Sequoia, Denver’s voting-machine vendor, sent out 44,000 absentee ballots with the “yes” and “no” answers transposed on Referendum F, making it easy for a voter to miscast a vote on the measure pertaining to recall-election rules.
The Denver Election Commission noticed the problem and sent out 30,000 corrected ballots. Commission officials had been concerned that their machines would not be able to tally both ballot styles on election, so they originally planned on a “duplication” system in which two judges – one Democrat and one Republican – would hand copy each of the up to 30,000 corrected ballots.
Duplication is an approved process to correct small numbers of absentee ballots that have problems such as miscellaneous markings or smudges. It takes two trained election judges — one to read off from the old ballot and one to transcribe it to a fresh ballot — about one hour to transcribe five ballots. Therefore, it an estimate of over 750 teams of two trained judges, or over 1500 people in all, would need eight hours to process 30,000 ballots.
Amongst concerns that duplication could also lead to fraud and perhaps that someone from the DEC finally put a pencil to the number of judges needed to complete the task, DEC reversed itself and has recently decided to set up ballot scanners that can read two kinds of ballots – the ones it sent out early with a printing error and those that have been corrected.
Lisa Jones, one of the DEC’s community “watch-dogs,” is very concerned about the process. “Remember, there are several versions of the ballot floating around out there — 44,000 incorrect ones that are white and around 30,000 correct ones that are white with a green stripe. Sorting them into two piles (correct and incorrect) won’t necessarily be easy,” she said.
Jones continued, “The problem is not with the scanners, which record the votes, but with rebuilding the election file. The totals taken from the scanning machines at various intervals must be combined into one big election file, and there is only one certified way to process this file. Meaning, there’s only one way to count the votes,” she said.
“Combining different codes for “yes” and “no” on the same question may not give an accurate count. The DEC has reversed their bad decision to recopy ballots, but is their new solution any better?” Jones asked. “I suspect the DEC is flying by the seat of their pants, reacting rather than thinking things through. As usual,” Jones asserted.
On Election Day, the delay of Denver ballot count could put many statewide race results “on hold” and therefore, more scrutiny will be on how DEC decisions were made. Fasten your seatbelts; it could be a bumpy ride.