The 2009 election is less than a month away, and a host of improvements have been rolled out in the Boulder County clerk and recorders office to address glitches encountered in last years general election.
And while turnout will not be as big as it was last year, when presidential candidates were on the ballot, the Nov. 3 election could see a bump in the number of Boulder County residents who vote compared to the last off-year, 2007.
That is due to the spike in voter registration in anticipation of last years landmark election, when about 90 percent of the countys eligible voters submitted ballots. This year, that number may only be 50 percent, but that turnout would best 2007 numbers, when about 40 percent of the electorate cast their votes, Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall told Boulder Weekly.
This fall, as in 2007, only mail ballots are being accepted. And like 2007, there is no state ballot question to be decided, which Hall says typically means about a 10 percent dip in turnout. But she said that there may be more mail ballots submitted than in 2007 because last year voters were permitted to sign up to receive mail ballots in every election, so there may be some carryover from the huge 2008 turnout.
In 2004, she says, only 15 percent of voters cast mail ballots.
In 2007, that number rose to 40 percent. Last year, the figure soared to 67 percent.
Clearly, the ballot-counting process will be much more manageable than it was last year, but election officials still enacted new safeguards in the way that ballots are processed. Last year, an incorrect driver file in the ballot processing system caused scanners to pick up faint bits of toner and dust particles on the ballots, which could have caused ballots to have been misread or rejected. Election officials caught the problem and visually inspected every ballot, delaying final results by a few days.
After the election, the county hired Applied Trust Engineering Inc. to study what went wrong, and after a nine-month investigation, the county issued an Election Process Improvement Report on Sept. 18. In addition to checking, updating and verifying scanning equipment and software prior to the election, the report calls for more pretesting, such as running test scans of ballots to calibrate settings and ensure that no extra marks are showing up. Hall says that, for the first time this fall, her office even sent a test batch of folded and sealed blank ballots through postal machines to see if the mailing process produced any issues related to ink transfer or fold lines. She says the ballots came out clean and could be scanned with no problems.
Oct. 5 was the last day of voter registration. Hall told Boulder Weekly that ballots will be mailed to at least 183,000 Boulder County residents Oct. 13-16.
She said that in an off-year election, her office typically brings in 10 to 15 temporary workers in the weeks preceding the election and hires another eight to 10 the week of the election. Staffing for a mail-ballot-only election, she says, is a far cry from the hundreds of volunteers needed to staff polls during a presidential election. Hall said the plan is to have all ballots received prior to election day counted the day before, a goal that was accomplished in 2007. Then election workers will just have to worry about processing ballots received on election day. The public can observe the ballot counting on election day at the countys main election office at 1750 33rd St., Suite 200.
More information is available at www.voteboulder.org, where voters can read the Election Process Improvement Report, check to see if they are registered to vote, or confirm that their ballot was received.