Residents Seek Return to Traditional Hand-Counting of Election Ballots

Ballot counters sort through paper ballots from Farmington during a recount of the District 2 state representatives race at the New Hampshire Legislative Office Building in Concord on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

County Leaders Stand Behind the Clerk’s Office in Endorsing Current System

Rick Langenberg

Just as election 2022 has officially kicked off, concerns continue to mount over the validity of the forthcoming Nov. vote,  with some vocal citizens seeking a return to the traditional hand-count system used in the past.

Moreover, they cite an outright  mistrust of the current election process, especially with the reliance on electronic voting machines and the Dominion products.

However, elected officials, while acknowledging that problems  have occurred in certain parts of the country, are standing behind the work of the clerk’s office in assuring a fair and accurate election.  In addition, they argue that returning to a hand-count would confront many hurdles and bring human error into play.

This debate hit center stage again at last week’s county commissioners meeting, on the eve of the Nov. 8 election countdown, with ballots officially mailed out to registered and active voters on Monday.

Resident Tim Northrup continued his campaign against the Dominion voting systems and the electronic machines that tabulate results. He mentioned a plethora of problems across the country and even in parts of Colorado. “The voting machines are not transparent,” said Northrup. “The voting machines are not accountable.”

He noted that many people just don’t trust the current system and are worried about a fraudulent election with fixed results. “I believe that county (citizens) want the truth,” said Northrup, who has appeared on a regular basis to address the commissioners on this issue.

The resident expressed confidence that a simple solution can occur to fix  this perception of a faulty election system: “We count the ballots.”

Unlike several previous meetings, Northrup had the support of other Teller residents, who took to the podium, and echoed similar views.

“Your heart is in the right place,” said one resident, when addressing the board. But at the same time, the resident accused the commissioners of not abiding by the “will of the people.”

They sought to have a hand-count of the ballots, even if it was part of a back-up plan, to garner more confidence in the final election vote from the public.

The commissioners lauded the residents for their passion regarding this issue, but stood behind the current system and believe the election is in good hands, under the control of the clerk’s office.

Deputy Clerk Stephanie Kees, who will become the Teller County Clerk and Recorder next January, stressed that the process has gone through much review and considerable testing and has emerged as a highly regarded and trusted voting system.

The commissioners agreed, even if they had problems with certain aspects of the voting process.

Commission Vice-Chairman Erik Stone voiced previous concerns about “ballot harvesting” and certain aspects of the mail-in process. He touched on these issues slightly at last week’s meeting, but mainly told the group that returning to a hand-count system would create more problems than It is worth.

War and Peace Ballot

And with Teller voters facing a virtual “War and Peace,” epic ballot with a record lineup of ballot issues and races, such a hand-count process would involve hours of work and may be next to impossible. In fact, preliminary estimates indicate that a hand count may require  the review of close to 1 million tallies (on various state and local ballot issues, and various questions and election contests).  Plus, Stone fears the intervention of Uncle Sam if the current Dominion system is gutted in favor of something else in the 11th hour.  “I don’t want the federal government involved.” said Stone.

Commissioner Bob Campbell, who worked previously as a volunteer in the clerk’s office, stated that in reality, many advances have occurred with the software used to tabulate the votes.  “It is a tough battle,” admitted Campbell, who remains convinced that the county clerk’s office is following the best voting procedures available to them.

Commission Chairman Dan Williams pleaded with the residents to “trust the system we have.  We are doing it right.”

Williams said his big concern with local, state and federal elections involves candidates and ballot issue proponents not willing to accept the results and the end of a tradition of “losing with grace.”    “I would like to return to that,” explained the commission chairman.

He believes better education on how the process works is the answer, along with informing citizens about the many safeguards put in place.

Stone cited the importance of having more “local control” in the running of elections.

Lack of Trust in Voting Machines

That is fine and dandy, noted the citizens who spoke at last week’s meeting.

But it doesn’t address the crux of their main complaint:  many people in Teller County don’t’ trust the validity of elections. As a result, they continued to urge the county to consider a hand-count system.

“They don’t trust the Dominion machines,” said one resident.

Northrup agreed and mentioned problems with under-voting and the possibility of the reprogramming of the machines. .

The commissioners thanked the citizens for their comments. But at least for the election of 2022, they want to keep the status quo election system in place. They indicated a willingness, though, to review any further legislation that could improve the current voting system.