March 17, 2009
State lawmakers are set to pass a bill today that backers say will make it easier for Colorado residents to exercise their right to vote.
El Paso County's top election official says it will throw counting ballots into chaos.
HB1186 would allow voters with mail-in ballots to hand them in at any polling place in their county on Election Day, ironing out some of the wrinkles in how Colorado's counties handle ballot returns.
Mail-in ballots are meant to be mailed, of course, but some counties allow procrastinators to hand-deliver their mail-in ballots. El Paso County mail-in voters who wait too long to send them for them to arrive by Election Day can hand-deliver them until the polls close, but only at the county clerk's three offices in Colorado Springs.
Rep. Claire Levy, the bill's lead sponsor, said it will make voting easier. "For those who wait until Election Day to complete their ballots," she said, "HB1186 offers convenience and clears up confusion."
El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Bob Balink, whose office conducts elections in the county, called on Gov. Bill Ritter on Tuesday to veto the bill when it lands on his desk.
Noting that a majority of voters now use mail-in ballots, Balink said polling places weren't equipped or staffed to handle them.
"People are very concerned to get them back to us before we start counting," Balink said of mail-in voters. He predicted chaos if the law passes and the attitude of mail-in voters becomes "don't worry about it, you can show up on Election Day at the polling place."
His elections manager, Liz Olson, said another election judge would have to be posted at each of the county's 187 polling places, and estimated the cost at $40,000 per election.
Nancy Doty, the clerk of Arapahoe County, estimated the cost in her county at $80,000.
Balink also said the extra work could jeopardize same-day reporting of election results.
"It didn't prevent same-day reporting in Denver, Boulder, Jeffco or Adams," said Morgan Carroll, the bill's Senate sponsor. "Many counties did this within their existing means and found the impact to be minimal on inconvenience, but everything to people who want to exercise their constitutional right to vote."
"Mr. Balink is exaggerating the consequences of allowing mail ballot voters to drop off their ballots at Election Day polling locations," Levy said. "The city and county of Denver allowed voters to do exactly what HB1186 allows and reported no problems with implementing it."
Alton Dillard, a spokesman for the Denver clerk and recorder's office, said that in the November 2008 election the only extra cost was for another set of ballot boxes, for a total additional expense of $2,960.
"The experience was actually very smooth," Dillard said. "There was all this panic that the whole world was going to be waiting on us, and we were actually the first county finished with our count that night."
Denver, El Paso and Arapahoe counties all have voting populations of similar size.
"Voters in El Paso County should not be disenfranchised simply because their clerk can't find a way to accept a ballot turned in by a voter on Election Day," Carroll said.
"It is their job, first and foremost."
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