Flecks of dust are Boulder County’s hanging chad

The counting has been slow-going in Boulder County due to an odd snafu — dusty ballots streaking optical scan-machine lenses, resulting in erroneous vote tabulations.

Celebrations at dozens of local races from state House races to school levies were tempered last night when online election results came to a screeching halt around 9 p.m. Boulder County officials then began manually counting ballots.

According to the Daily Camera, only 37 percent of the ballots casts had been hand-counted by weary Boulder County elections workers by 9 a.m. this morning.

The slow counting has been caused by tiny flecks of paper dust caught in the folds of ballots.

The dust, which sticks to the lens of the Kodak scanners, can cause a faint streak to appear vertically down a scanned ballot. If the line runs through an empty box, the software used by the county, created by Hart InterCivic, may read that as a “yes” vote.

To remedy the problem, teams of two — one Democrat and one Republican — were visually scanning each ballot, checking for streaks and making sure the machine captured the voter’s real intent. The process may delay a final tally of votes well into today — or later — according to county officials.

“We have to check — we’re going to look,” said County Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall. “We’re not going to leave it to the machines.”

The latest snafu is reminiscent of the 2004 general election when Boulder was one of the last counties in the nation to report election results after Hart Intercivic scanners rejected ballots with a minute printing error, imperceptible to the human eye, resulting in 100 election judges hand-counting thousands of ballots over three days.

Ironically, Boulder County Clerk & Recorder Hillary Hall was swept into office in 2006, largely based on widespread dissatisfaction with former clerk Linda Salas‘ leadership on its elections systems — brutally characterized by the Daily Camera as “mired in confusion, poor communication and bad decisions.”

An updated tally of votes is expected at noon today.