Beware the perils of electronic voting machines!

Sec. of State gives the all-ok; Saguache County election problems the result of computer errors

by Lisa Cyriacks

On Friday, November 5, Melinda Myers, Saguache County Clerk, conducted a re-tabulation of the ballots from November 2.

Myers defended the decision to re-tabulate the vote, citing a malfunction of the voter software in the newly acquired ES&S M650 vote counting machine. She said the company that supplies the County’s voting equipment and printed the ballots initially sent the County the wrong ballot styles. The company then lent the County a laptop and software to deal with that error.

Winning county seal design

Saguache County Seal

Election officials used that software Tuesday night/Wednesday morning and printed their reports. But Myers said that when election workers came back the next morning and tried to break down the numbers by precincts, they got different totals.

Results released early the morning after Tuesday’s election showed Republican challenger Steve Carlson leading over Democrat Linda Joseph for the County Commissioner seat, and Republican challenger Carla Gomez ahead of Democrat Melinda Myers in the County Clerk’s race..

Unofficial results from the November 5 re-tabulation reversed the two hotly contested local races.  In the meantime, there were also 84 provisional ballots to be verified and counted, plus six ballots requiring signature verification.

On November 15 and 16 a technician from ES&S (voting machine manufacturer) along with two representatives from the Colorado Secretary of State’s office reviewed the 2010 Saguache

General Election.  Media observers from the Center Post Dispatch and the Pueblo Chieftain forced the issue of being allowed to observe with a phone call from Colorado Press Association attorney Steve Zansberg contacting the Secretary of State’s office.  On Monday, ballot boxes were opened and the number of ballots counted verified, but no races were re-tallied by hand count or machine tabulation.

The discrepancy in vote tallies from Nov. 2 to Nov. 5 was explained in a report from ES&S technician, Tim King: “The cause was loading of their Polling Places (Election Day) into the mail-in group in replace mode. By replacing the totals in those two precincts, the numbers went down for the group.”

“Other than the one error loading the wrong group totals into the mail-in group, I did not see any procedural issues in my review of the ERM system log. My only suggestion is to print the final reports on the 650 itself and use those to verify that the reporting software totals match,” King stated.

Provisional ballots were counted on Tuesday, November 16.  Only 72 of the 84 proved to be valid.  Four of the six ballots requiring signature verification were also counted.  These totals were added to the November 5 totals.  The Secretary of State determined that there was no need to overturn the results from November 5 since the election was conducted according to acceptable statutory requirements.

The Election Canvass Board, required by statute to do the final certification, met for the first time on November 19, also the deadline for certifying the results.  There remain some unresolved questions regarding additional conditions imposed by the Secretary of State to be met specifically due to the ES&S M650 machine, and how a written complaint from a registered elector should be handled.  It is not clear at the time of this printing when the election will be certified.

The Secretary of State determined that there was no need to overturn the results from November 5 since the election was conducted according to acceptable statutory requirements.

The mandatory recount, due to the closeness of the race, for the Northern Saguache County Ambulance District has been scheduled for November 29 at 8am. Linda Joseph and Melinda Myers have decided to ask and pay for a recount of the Commissioner and Clerk and Recorder races. These will be conducted along with the mandatory recount for the Northern Saguache County Ambulance District.

Unofficial results for local close races:

County Commissioner

Linda Joseph – 1204

Steve Carlson – 1178

County Clerk

Melinda Myers – 1227

Carla Gomez – 1166

Center School 3A

Yes – 475

No – 284

Moffat School 3B

Yes – 497

No – 230

Northern SC Library District 5A

Yes – 832

No – 564

Northern SC Ambulance District 5B

(qualifies for an automatic recount)

Yes – 472

No – 471