News Column

Counting Ballots Is a Process

Nov. 2, 2012

Bob Stephens, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

Three dozen workers are spread around the big room, each handling one mail ballot after another, minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day.

It's a mundane process, but important. What's marked on those ballots could change lives and will decide important issues.

Those workers have been processing thousands of returned mail ballots each day for more than two weeks. They're at the Citizens Service Center, working temporarily for the El Paso County, Colo., elections department.

The county mailed 217,509 ballots to voters -- almost 70,000 more than in the 2008 presidential election -- and 118,767 were returned by mid-morning Thursday.

It takes about an hour for each ballot to circulate through the room, with workers performing separate tasks. A perforated part of the envelope is removed to expose the signature, the envelope is opened, the secrecy sleeve removed, the ballot removed from the secrecy sleeve. The signature is verified, the ballot checked and counted, all by different people.

Watchdogs are welcome in the room, said county Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams.

"And anyone can come and watch them work through the windows here in the hallway," Williams said. "That's why we put the windows in here. We want this to be a transparent process. It's our goal to make sure this election is conducted with integrity."

Democrat Mike Maday was observing workers one day last week. He's also checked out the four early voting sites while monitoring county employees and election judges.

"Mike's been our voter protection coordinator," said Christy Le Lait, executive director of the county Democratic Party. "We've been working closely with Wayne and his office and I think we're all working well together."

Williams added a fourth early voting site at The Citadel mall, Le Lait said, which pleased the Democrats, as many of their party live closer to that site than the other early voting sites at Chapel Hills Mall, Citizens Service Center and Southeast Branch of the clerk's office at Airport and Powers.

"I think the county clerk's office has been great at responding to whatever has come up," Le Lait said.

Le Lait expressed concern about the number of voters expected Tuesday at south central voting locations, and the possibility of long lines at Victory World Outreach and the Zalman Center. Her fear is that not enough voting equipment or personnel was assigned to those spots, and long lines could discourage voters.

Williams said the number of voting stations for people using paper ballots and those using touch screens "are based on projected turnout using the number of likely voters in each precinct. We received no concerns back from either party with respect to these allocations."

Le Lait said it's best to vote before Tuesday.

"The best thing we can do is get people out to vote early," Le Lait said. "We've encouraged them to do mail voting and early voting. Then if there's a problem, there's time to fix it. Plus, it's better than being stuck in line at 7 o'clock on Tuesday night."

Mail ballots have been counted but won't be tabulated until Tuesday. So not even Williams knows who the early leaders are.

Mail ballots can be mailed back or dropped off at 10 county locations, including a 24-hour drive through drop box at Citizens Service Center.

FINAL DAY TO VOTE EARLY

Friday is the final day for early voting at four locations in El Paso County. Citizens Service Center and Southeast Branch of the county clerk and recorder's office are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. while voting at Chapel Hills Mall and The Citadel mall is 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Mail ballots are due at the clerk and recorder's office or at dropoff locations by 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Polling places -- there are 112 in the county -- will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

DROPOFF LOCATIONS FOR MAIL BALLOTS

--Citizens Service Center, 1675 W. Garden of the Gods Road(24-hour drop box)

--Southeast Branch, southeast corner Powers Boulevard and Airport Road

--Downtown Branch, 200 S. Cascade Ave.

--North Branch, northeast corner Union Boulevard and Research Parkway

--Chapel Hills Mall, north side near JC Penney

--The Citadel mall, southwest entrance

--Colorado Springs City Clerk's Office, 30 S. Nevada Ave., Suite 101

--Fountain City Hall, 116 S. Main St.

--Palmer Lake clerk's office, 42 Valley Crescent

--Brown Transportation and Environment Complex, 3275 Akers Drive



Source: (c)2012 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) Distributed by MCT Information Services