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Douglas County is one of eight counties that will be testing new voting machines this election season.
The effort is part of an attempt by the Colorado secretary of state's office to possibly unite all of the state under one system. As part of that initiative, four small counties and four large counties, including Douglas, were asked to pilot next-generation equipment.
The other test counties are Adams, Denver, Garfield, Gilpin, Jefferson, Mesa and Teller. They will be trying out four different vendors.
According to the secretary of state's office, the upgrades to newer machines will cost about $10 million to $15 million and the counties will be dividing the cost, if the program moves forward following the test period. There is no charge to the counties during the test period.
Douglas County will be testing the Hart Verity system. The system offers a number of ballot setup, operational and audit advances over the previous Hart system, which the county had been using.
“Like the other seven counties, we are about to discover how each of the vendor's products perform in battle,” Douglas County Clerk and Recorder Merlin Klotz said.
The new systems differ from previous systems in that instead of accumulating data on an electronic storage medium at the polling place, devices at polling locations are required to print a paper ballot that looks exactly like the mail ballots.
This ballot may then be forwarded to central processing or field-scanned to an electronic medium. This approach gives voters an opportunity to look at their ballots and confirm that markings are as intended before submitting them.
As for 2016, Klotz said the county may return to the previous Hart system or possibly continue to use the Hart Verity system now being piloted.
That decision depends on a number of factors including the secretary of state, satisfaction with Hart Verity performance and cost.
Secretary of State Wayne Williams has said he plans to choose one new system to unify the state behind, based on the performance during the test run in 2015.
Klotz said the move to a single system across the state may pose some challenges.
“Can the same system used by Douglas be cost-effective for Sedgwick with only 2,500 residents?” he asked. “Can Colorado risk reliance on the financial health of a single vendor for the execution of elections over the next 10 to 20 years? Would a single vendor hold Colorado hostage on cost of acquisition and support?”
According to Klotz, the county has been extremely happy with the current Hart system, but it is approaching end of its life cycle.
“We may by choice, or choices made by others, find ourselves with a new system in the future,” he said.
While most voting is done by mail-in ballot, Douglas County does offer several places to vote in person on Election Day. For more information, go to www.douglas.co.us/elections
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