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Party representatives put election equipment to the test ahead of June 25 primary

La Plata County Logic and Accuracy test found machines compliant
Representatives from the Democratic and Republican parties tested the voting equipment that La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Lee, right, will use in the June 25 primary during a Logic and Accuracy test at Lee's office on Tuesday. Dale Ruggles, left, is the Republican Party’s representative. (Reuben M. Schafir/Durango Herald)

Voters do not always follow directions.

Some fill in the bubbles next to a candidate’s name in red ink. Others cross out a bubble and fill in another, or try to vote for two candidates in one race. Some will sign their name on the ballot itself instead of the envelope, and some have even written notes to election officials.

Craig Larson and Dale Ruggles, the respective representatives of the Democratic and Republican parties, did all those things and more on the 25 ballots they each filled out as a part of the La Plata County Logic and Accuracy Test, held Tuesday by Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Lee.

The test is legally required before elections. It gives members of major parties, as well as the public, an opportunity to ensure the efficacy and accuracy of all the equipment that voters and election officials will use to vote and tabulate ballots. And it lets everyone experience what actually happens when voters go awry with pen and ballot.

“I know these guys – they’re going to test every piece (of equipment), which I totally support,” Lee said. “They're going to test it all.”

In a room filled with voting equipment, Larson and Ruggles used ballot marking devices – computer screens that are disconnected from any network – to “vote” on test versions of the ballot that voters will receive in advance of the June 25 primary.

Republican Dale Ruggles, left, and Democrat Craig Larson ensure the votes counted by the tabulation equipment match those they counted by hand. (Reuben M. Schafir/Durango Herald)

They filled out 25 of them at home, often replete with common errors made by voters, and then duplicated those 25 ballots on the marking devices.

Both the paper ballots produced by the ballot marking devices and the ones filled out at home were then sent through the tabulation system. Ballots with errors are sent for review by a bipartisan team of election judges.

In an isolated room with its own server, hardwired computers and a dual camera system, the judges review problem ballots to decipher the voters’ intent in a process known as adjudication.

If a voter fills in a bubble by mistake, draws an “X” over the bubble and then fills in a bubble by the name of a different candidate in the same race, the system might see that as an “overvoted” race, in which someone tried to vote for two candidates. The ballot would be flagged for adjudication, where the judges would try to interpret the voter’s intent.

From left, Democrat Greg Westerwick, Recording Manager Arielle Ferguson and Democrat Craig Larson test voting equipment at the Clerk and Recorder’s Office on Tuesday. (Reuben M. Schafir/Durango Herald)

Once the errors are addressed and votes have been counted, Larson and Ruggles sat down to compare their hand-counted tally of how they had voted at home with the number of votes determined by the computer.

As the two men cross-referenced their tallies, they found inconsistencies. They sifted through the pile of ballots to find the causes.

In some cases, the “voter” had filled in a dot, but put the marking so far below the oval that the system did not mark it as an error and failed to even see the vote. Those ballots would have been pulled for adjudication and likely duplicated with a proper vote before being tabulated, Lee said.

The other cause of inconsistencies came from human errors made when Larson and Ruggles counted ballots by hand – something that Colorado does not do in live elections.

Election judges use software in a secure room on separate computers to adjudicate ballots on which voters made errors that prevent the tabulation software from counting them. (Reuben M. Schafir/Durango Herald)

Across the country, Republicans in particular have called for ballots to be counted by hand and alleged that electronic voting machines are being used to rig elections.

Hand counting would “eliminate all the argument that the machines are doing something,” Ruggles, a Republican, said.

But, he recognizes the impracticality of a hand-count.

“Machines are far more accurate and faster,” he said.

Election officials have come under increasing scrutiny as some sects of the electorate question the integrity of their work. In response, Lee has tried to invite doubters and critics into her office to observe the systems at work.

“I don't think at this level, especially under Tiffany's watch, that there's anything illegal happening here,” Ruggles said. “I think if it's happening, it's happening at a much higher level.”

After three hours of rigorously trying to confound the process, Larson, Ruggles and Lee signed their names to a document certifying that the specific devices and systems to be used in the June 25 primary passed the Logic and Accuracy test.

Ballots will be mailed to voters June 3.


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