SAGUACHE — After considering a presentation by County Clerk and Recorder Carla Gomez and a Secretary of State’s Office (SoS) representative, Saguache Commissioners agreed to purchase new ballot election equipment for the county Tuesday.
The County Regulation and Support Manager with the election division of the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, Dwight Shellman, explained to commissioners at length why the equipment was needed, how it would benefit the county, the advantages of operation and the necessity of purchasing it prior to another general election.
The SOS and the state legislature have ruled that the state must go to a uniform voting system over the next several years in order to better safeguard Colorado elections. Colorado has chosen the Dominion system as the best of three options available. The new system also will eliminate steps for county clerks that make elections more time-consuming and difficult to manage.
Shellman said already 52-55 of Colorado’s 64 counties are in the process of purchasing the equipment and this applies even to those counties like Saguache that are facing financial straits. “A lot of counties with fiscal problems have bitten the bullet — nearly all on the east side [of the state] will change [to Dominion] this year as well as many on the Western Slope,” Shellman noted.
Colorado’s voting set-up has some unique features that make a uniform voting system necessary in this state, Shellman explained. Nearly 90-95 percent of all voting in the state is now done by mail, so to address the challenges this method poses, counties must use equipment that can better determine voter intent.
The Dominion system is set up to do this, he said, and can operate on an off-the-shelf scanner that later can be used for other office applications. This is important because Colorado is one of the few states that has legislated ballots as public records. If clerks have to go back to the ballots to copy them for any reason — say to meet a Colorado open records request — the process will be much simpler for the clerks and the software that comes with the system will make it easy to export the files.
The system also will make random audits much easier, drastically cutting down the time and effort necessary to satisfy this Colorado election requirement, Shellman observed. Now that Colorado has gone to open primary elections there is also a learning curve that will need to be met, he added.
Federal money is available to help with the purchase, Shellman told the board. If the county signs on this year the state will pay $8,000 — about half the training costs. County Co-Administrator Lyn Zimmer-Lambert estimated that over an eight-year period, the cost to the county would run about $159,000.
Commissioners inquired about the possibility of delaying the purchase for financial reasons, but Shellman reminded them that this is a matter of coming into compliance with state law, and “the county must conduct elections according to the law.” Commissioner Jason Anderson replied that he understands it is the county’s responsibility to follow election law, but feels the SoS and the state do not appreciate the financial situation of the county. Commissioner Ken Anderson agreed.
Shellman advised that while the county can postpone purchasing the new system, eventually it will become unavoidable and the $8,000 to offset training costs will only be available this year. Training is going on for the system in Alamosa next week and Clerk Gomez was also eager to take advantage of this rather than going all the way to Denver.
After considering the matter briefly, commissioners voted unanimously to approve the purchase. Gomez commented following the meeting that she is “really pleased with the decision so I can now move forward and prepare for our elections.”