No margin for errors 

More near-misses and mistakes highlight election-related pressures

With election day less than two weeks away, troubling news keeps emanating from the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office.

The office recently put out a call to the local Democratic Party to come up with about 50 more election judges, so each party would have about the same number of workers helping out on election day.

That's fine, but several Democrats say they already had checked a box on their registration forms saying, "Yes, I want to be an election judge."

"I never heard anything," says Ken Lingle, a social worker. He plans to call the clerk's office about the job, which pays $100 for a day's work.

Others, after making mistakes on their mail-in ballots, are receiving strange advice. Though the law allows voters to request fresh ballots, Sue Scott, a longtime educator and school administrator, says she had to fight for a new form.

An employee in the clerk's office, Scott says, advised her to circle the right response with a note saying, "This one." That would trip up the computer that scans the ballots and prompt an employee to duplicate her form.

"Why would I trust someone else to duplicate my ballot?" Scott asks, sounding outraged. "How many other voters were given the same advice?"

County election manager Liz Olson could not be reached for comment.

Republicans and Democrats alike have put heavy emphasis on voting early. By Monday, the clerk's office had issued about 144,000 mail-in ballots, nearly 70,000 to Republicans and 37,000 each to Democrats and unaffiliated voters. Mail ballots can still be picked up in person through Oct. 31, meaning thousands more will likely choose this method.

More than 1,500 people voted on the first day of early voting on the county's touch-screen machines at Chapel Hills Mall, the Citadel mall and Centennial Hall. More than 30,000 county residents voted early in the '04 presidential election.

Say 180,000 residents vote early or by mail; that'll leave close to 200,000 who could show up to vote on Nov. 4. Lines could be painfully long, given it can take 30 minutes or more to read this ballot, not to mention time spent weighing decisions.

That's why Scott's and Lingle's experiences hint at possible problems come election day. There'll be plenty of people wanting a new ballot after making a mistake in the voting booth.

It could get messy. Take Precinct 332 in Fountain, which has swollen to more than 2,500 voters. The law requires one voting booth for every 400 active registered voters, so Precinct 332 could score five or six booths, depending on how many of its voters are considered "active." (Each polling place, which can combine several of the county's 387 precincts, will also have one touch-screen voting machine.)

Even if only 500 voters show up there Nov. 4, that translates to between 80 and 100 at each booth. If each takes 20 minutes to finish the ballot, this election could be measured in days rather than hours.


Mailing it in


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