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El Paso County clerk says Colorado's new election law will be costly

May 22, 2013

El Paso County will feel the pinch before the year is out from an elections bill that will kick in July 1.

As a result of House Bill 1303, the upcoming November consolidated election in El Paso County will cost more, it will be tougher to find election judges and the likelihood of fraud will be higher, said Wayne Williams, El Paso County clerk and recorder.

In the General Election in 2014, the impact will be more severe, Williams told the El Paso County commissioners on Tuesday. While the election in 2013 will cost an additional $134,212, in 2014 the county is looking at a whopping increase of almost $700,000.

Most of the costs for this year's election will be borne by school districts with upcoming board elections because counties bear the initial cost, then bill the jurisdictions.

In the General Election, however, the county's costs will soar.

"It's going to be a challenge," Williams said after the meeting.

"My biggest concern is the potential for fraud under the new requirements," he said.

HB 1303, also known as the "Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act," was signed by Governor John Hickenlooper on May 10.

Among provisions, Williams told commissioners, it provides mail ballots for all elections, requires polling centers for early voting and on Election Day, requires separate ballot drop-off locations and drops the state residency deadline from 29 to 22 days.

The biggest costs for 2014, will come from providing and manning 23 voting locations, additional ballot dropoff locations and providing Internet connectivity at each site, Williams said.

"Cost is something that we will have to comply with and coming up with the money will be challenging and will impact other county services," Williams said. "It can be done. It's not as much of a concern as the integrity issue because that's something that there is no present fix for."

Fraud could increase because voters can "go from site to site and vote at each of them," he said. "If they give a different Social Security number and different date of birth, they won't be caught. The system does not have the capability to verify those data points."

Mike Beasley, the lobbyist behind the legislation, disagreed.

New technology and Internet access at each site will "make sure that every voter on election day casts a legally eligible vote," he said.

"I know there is a lot of concern and anxiety about fraud, but we're confident that high technology is there that in fact will preclude that," he said. The bill brought heated debate on the potential for fraud during the legislative session.

The reason for the uptick in costs in El Paso County, he said, is because the county has fewer voting centers than other large counties and mails out fewer ballots.

"They do the basic minimum, compared to Jefferson and Arapahoe counties," he said. "They lag by several years what other big counties are doing in terms of the demands of their voters. It's not a bad thing. It's a policy decision that folks have made."

Williams, however, said El Paso County has simply been more efficient than other large counties.

El Paso County voting sites are open longer, for instance, than voting centers in Jefferson County, he said. They are also in better locations, such as shopping malls, while Jefferson County, he said, places its voting centers in government offices.

"We tried to make it so that our sites were efficient and more friendly to voters," Williams said.

Mail ballots, he added, "are simply a voter choice."

"People in El Paso County enjoy voting more in person than other suburban counties," Williams said. "We respect that choice."

Williams said he also is concerned about the county's ability to attract judges in future elections.

Under the bill, judges must be Internet savvy, know how to type and are required to undergo background checks. They also must be available for longer stints, Williams said.

"It's one thing to ask judges for a day, it's another to ask them to be available for three to four weeks," he said.

At least part of the solution to the spiraling costs may lie outside county offices.

Williams said he plans to seek help from businesses and organizations that might serve as voting centers or ballot drop-off points at no charge to the county.

Chief among them: Walmart stores. They're open 24 hours, are easily located and might want to draw additional traffic.

"I use that as an example," he said. "I have not talked to them. I will at some point."

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