March 28, 2013
Colorado Springs runs things its own way when it comes to city elections.
Unlike November’s presidential ballot and other elections of regional concern, city-only elections, like the April 2 ballot that will decide six city council seats and a pair of ballot measures, won’t attract the prying eyes of state overseers.
Colorado Springs has a city charter under the home rule provision of the state Constitution. That means city laws about municipal matters supersede conflicting state laws, so municipal elections that don’t have state or national candidates can be run the best way the city deems fit.
Instead of submitting an all-mail ballot election plan to the Colorado Secretary of State, for example, Colorado Springs submits its plan for approval by City Council.
“Colorado’s form of home rule provides that in matters of ‘local and municipal concern,’ and elections are one of these areas, home rule municipal practices and ordinances prevail over conflicting state statutes,” said Geoff Wilson, general counsel for the Colorado Municipal League.
Colorado Springs has tested its election equipment, said City Clerk Sarah Johnson. The city can choose its equipment for municipal elections, and the ballot scanner that counts votes has been used since before 2009, with no record of problems or error, Johnson said.
One Colorado election activist, Marilyn Marks, isn’t satisfied with the way Colorado Springs is running its April 2 election.
Marks said she has been interested in election reform in Colorado since she lost an Aspen mayoral race in 2009 and learned more about the state’s election processes. She works with Citizen Center, which fights for election reform, and she has been involved with numerous lawsuits about election issues around the state.
One of Marks’ biggest concerns is that Colorado Springs’ ballot counting machine is not on the Secretary of State’s list of certified election equipment.
Uncertified equipment could be detrimental to the accuracy of election results, Marks said.
“Why would they want to use uncertified equipment?” she said.
The scanner, a DS850 from Elections Systems and Software, was tested Monday by three logic and accuracy judges, all city employees, who each voted a set of 36 test ballots. They calculated the results by hand before they fed the ballots through the machine, which was accurate every time, Johnson said.
The city also uses a signature-verifying machine which has been used nationally for years and proven to work well, Johnson said. If the machine can’t match a signature, though, an election worker will manually inspect the signatures.
“People’s signatures change over time,” Johnson said. “There’s always an element of human review.”
Wilson, who has worked for the Municipal League for more than 20 years, said certification processes can be very expensive and he does not believe cities need to burden their taxpayers with the extra costs. Voters should rest assured that the equipment that tallies their votes will count them the right way.
“There isn’t a big record of election abuse in Colorado,” he said. “Every other year, scores of jurisdictions of all types conduct elections all across Colorado and have been for decades. And through all of that time, I don’t remember seeing anything in the way of serious systemic problems in the way we run elections in this state.”
Andrew Cole, spokesman for the Secretary of State, said cities across the state all have different ways of doing municipal elections.
“We don’t have any reason to believe that Colorado Springs isn’t following the law,” he said.