Glitch steams some voters

A glitch with the statewide computer voter system about 15 minutes before the 7 p.m. deadline to vote sent some voters home frustrated on an Election Day in which turnout surged across Mesa County.

The glitch also revealed a fault by which it might be technically possible for a voter to cast more than one ballot, elections officials acknowledged.

Canvassing later this month would reveal whether a voter cast more than a single ballot, Mesa County Clerk Janice Rich said Tuesday night. If that happened, “We will catch you,” Rich said.

Less hypothetical was the frustration felt by voters at the fairgrounds on Orchard Mesa, voter Chris Boelke said.

Boelke said he waited almost two hours when, about 6:45 p.m., “one of the ladies stood up and said our computers are completely down.”

That meant elections judges had to go to paper poll books to verify voters.

“At that, we lost about three-quarters of the room,” Boelke said. “It just made me sick.”

That’s the time that Mesa County suffered a problem with the statewide computer system, forcing vote centers in the county off their electronic connection and back to the 20th century technology of paper lists.

All that on a day in which “there was more action in every vote center than there was in the presidential” election of 2008, Ward said.

As of midnight, the clerk’s office reported it had counted 53,479 ballots in the 2010 election, a turnout of 74 percent. That’s below the 92 percent turnout of 2008, but more than 70 percent of voters cast early ballots two years ago.

It didn’t help that Election Day 2010 was apparently busier than the election day of 2008, Ward said.

The move to poll books was approved by the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, but one Grand Junction elections attorney, Erik Groves, lodged a complaint at the voting center at the Goodwill Retail Center, 630 24 1/2 Road, where some voters were waiting in line for 90 minutes or more.

Paper poll books had been updated as of the afternoon, Groves noted, so any threat to the integrity of the election was minimized.

In 2008, the county was operating on its own system, one that has since been supplanted by a statewide network.

The full extent of the network glitch wasn’t immediately clear, but the Secretary of State’s Office sent an e-mail to elections officials at 7:40 p.m. telling them the state’s Internet portal was down across the Front Range, making the network inaccessible to officials.

Mesa County became aware of the technical issue nearly an hour before, when the system went down at the county’s vote centers, Ward and Chief Deputy Clerk Sheila Reiner said.

The statewide system wasn’t the only problem voters encountered, Mesa County Democrats Chairwoman Martelle Daniels said. “We heard about problems from the moment the polls opened,” she said.

Many voters complained about long lines at the vote centers and slow response times at the touch-pad machines, Daniels said.

The system was slow all day long, Rich said.

The process of handling voters who had to report changes of address before they could vote, as well as those who had not dropped off their mail-in ballots until Tuesday, also gummed up the process, Rich said.

The glitch did show in what Groves stressed was an “extremely hypothetical” possibility, a voter could have cast a ballot that was logged by the statewide system after the paper poll books were updated. Once the system broke down, though, the same individual might be able to vote again because the first ballot would not have been logged onto the paper system.

While it would be possible to catch the double voter, it would be impossible to remove the illegal ballot from the mix.

“You can’t unscramble the egg,” Groves said, noting he was making no allegation of double voting.

Still, Rich said, the window for any trying to double vote was about 15 minutes.

Voters can be prosecuted for casting more than one vote and punished with as many as 18 months in jail.


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