Thursday, November 30, 2000
Steamboat Springs Routt County Clerk Kay Weinland says she has always had faith in the county's vote counting machine. Now she has confirmation of its degree of accuracy.
The election recount in Routt County over the race for State Board of Education turned up a discrepancy of just a single vote out of more than 7,800 ballots cast.
Democrat Jared Polis was declared the ultimate winner Nov. 28 in his race against incumbent Republican Ben Alexander for his seat on the board of education. Polis was the apparent winner on election night with a 1,211 vote margin that represented a margin of .157 percent.
State law allows apparent losers by less than .5 percent to ask for a recount, and Secretary of State Donetta Davidson followed up on Alexander's request for the same.
Alexander picked up more than 1,100 votes in the recount, but he only gained a single vote in Routt County when the local recount was conducted Nov. 20.
"With that level of accuracy, I was thrilled," said Weinland, a Republican.
Statewide, Polis appeared to have won by a count of 1,200 on Election Day. Locally, the count was 4,114 to 3,751 on Nov. 7. When the recounts had been completed all over Colorado, the final count was 767,561 votes for Polis to 767,471 for Alexander.
In retrospect, Weinland has an idea of where the additional vote for Alexander in Routt County came from.
"I think I know exactly what happened," Weinland said.
On election night, Weinland said the ballot count in Precinct 1 totaled 725, one ballot shy of the 726 that had been issued to voters in the precinct. The ballots in Precinct 1 were recounted on election night and once again the final tally came up 725.
The election tally here wrapped up at about 1 a.m. on Nov. 8, and Weinland said she went home thinking some voter must have accidentally left the voting place with the first page of the two-page ballot.
Now that the recount has turned up an extra vote for Alexander, Weinland theorizes the two parts of the ballot were stuck together during the first two passes through the ballot counter on election night. They came unstuck during the recount.
Weinland is aware that in light of the events surrounding the presidential recount in Florida, some of her constituents may have questions about the way ballots are counted here and whether there were any irregularities.
Weinland said she is baffled by press reports that refer to ballots having been thrown out in Florida.
"We don't throw out any ballots," Weinland said.
There may be cases, however, where voter errors nullify their single votes in individual races. But even when that happens, the balance of the ballot and the votes cast on it are preserved, Weinland said.
As everyone who cast a vote here on Nov. 7 knows, Routt County does not use the "punch ballot" that has generated so much controversy in Florida. Instead, the voting machine operates by voters blackening an oval next to the name of the candidate of their choice. The oval must be blackened with a graphite pencil.
The instructions on the ballot given to Routt County voters tell them what to do in case they make a mistake, Weinland said. The instructions directed voters to "X" out their mistake and then indicate their correct preference.
Ballots that were corrected were "kicked out" by the vote counting machine on election night, Weinland said. That's when the resolution board went into action. Democrat Veronica Blake and Republican Elizabeth Mann scrutinized the handful of ballots that were kicked out by the machine to confirm the intent of the voter. In the case of mistakes that had been X-ed out, they simply used White-Out to cover up the error, and the ballot was recounted.
In the case that a voter may not have followed instructions, and marked two candidates for the same office, without X-ing out a mistake, the resolution board can't determine the intent of the voter, and that vote for that race is not counted. However, all of the other accurate votes on the ballot do get counted.
In some cases, Weinland said, voters pull a ball-point pen from their pocket or purse and use it to mark the ballot instead of using the graphite pencil provided in the voting booth. In those cases, it's easy for the resolution board to determine the intent of the voter, and they simply mark over the ballot, using a pencil to cover the ink.
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