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By the numbers 

ACLU raises questions about city election results

Confusion and errors in official reports about April's city elections in Colorado Springs have prompted a civil-liberties group to call for a fuller accounting of how many people did, and didn't, receive and cast ballots in the mail-in election.

The Colorado Springs chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has been seeking answers to what it calls "troublesome" inconsistencies in election reports and tally sheets since June 4, when the organization sent a letter to the city asking for an explanation.

Bill Hochman, chairman of the ACLU chapter, says he doesn't believe any election outcomes were affected by what seem to be mostly "small arithmetic errors." However, "There's just a number of inconsistencies in the tally sheets, and that's disturbing," he said.

City Clerk Kathryn Young, on the other hand, says the city's numbers do add up -- with the exception of one line-item adding error, which didn't carry over to the bottom line.

"Errors do happen," Young said. "We're not perfect."

Hochman points out that several numbers in the city's election reports don't seem to add up or match official statistics:

Officially, the city issued ballots only to "active" voters -- people who had voted in the 2002 general elections. However, while Hochman claims there were 138,473 "active" registered voters in the city prior to the April election, the city issued ballots to 141,614 people.

The total number of ballots that were scanned is listed as 82,463, while other figures suggest it should be 82,479 -- a difference of 16.

A "daily totals" report from the city suggests that 81,691 scanned ballots were accepted. However, 81,709 ballots were counted in the election -- a difference of 18.

"Obviously these various reports are inconsistent and confusing," Hochman wrote to the city.

Changing numbers

Young, however, says ballots were issued to voters based on databases from the county clerk's office listing which voters were registered as "active." Those numbers change from day to day, and the city obtained freshly updated numbers the day before ballots were sent out, Young said.

The city did make a mathematical error in stating that 82,463 ballots were scanned, Young concedes. The correct number was 82,479. But the error did not affect the total number of votes that were reported as counted.

Finally, the difference between the "daily totals" and votes that were reported as counted is due to four ballots that were later discovered to be duplicates, and 14 ballots that were not initially counted, Young says. The 14 ballots were later found in a tray in the city clerk's office. Young reported the incident to the City Council in May and included the ballots in an "amended" election report.

However, the amended results continue to show an apparent discrepancy of 18 votes. Young could not be reached at press time for an explanation.

Reasonable access

The ACLU has not yet received a response to its letter, though Young said this week she plans to respond to the organization.

Meanwhile, the ACLU is also asking that a local organization, Citizens for Accurate Mail Ballot Election Results (CAMBER), be given reasonable access to election records in an attempt to verify the city's numbers.

CAMBER, which opposes mail-in elections, asked the ACLU for assistance after the city told the group it might charge more than $2,000 for electronic copies of election records.

"It is the position of the ACLU that these charges are unreasonable and unnecessary, " Hochman wrote.

Young said she has since asked the city attorney's office for an opinion on what the city should charge. The city attorney told her the city has no established policy on what to charge for electronic records.

"Your guess is as good as mine," Young said.

-- Terje Langeland

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