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Publish Date: 3/4/2005

Voting commission hears complaints
One man shares vision of new election machine


LONGMONT — A mixture of poll watchers and voting activists shared their thoughts on Boulder County’s botched November election with the Election Review Committee at a public hearing Thursday night.

Retired electrical engineer Ivan Meek went a step further. The Louisville resident has designed his own voting machine and presented rough sketches to the committee at the Longmont Senior Citizens Center.

Meek said his design would comply with federal voting requirements and work better than the $1.3 million ballot-counting system the county purchased from Hart InterCivic last year.

“The Hart system is hopelessly incompetent,” he told the ERC. “You have to scrap it.”

The nine-member ERC is meeting weekly to discuss why the Hart equipment performed poorly. Volunteers counted votes for more than three days after the polls closed Nov. 2.

The Hart system is again being used to tally votes in Boulder’s mail-ballot city election, which ends Tuesday.

Meek suggested using non-copyrighted software to operate his machine and establishing a nonprofit organization to build the machines.

“It’s going to be in the public domain,” he said. “There won’t be any patents.”

The machine, which Meek developed with help from other voting activists, would understand runoff voting, be accessible to blind and deaf voters and cost less than half of what the county paid for the Hart system, Meek claimed.

Some members of the ERC appeared to be surprised by the amount of information Meek presented.

“We received quite an education tonight,” ERC chairman Richard Lyons said.

Other people who attended the meeting shared stories about what irked them during the election.

Sally Martin, who spent part of Election Week “resolving” ballots that had been rejected by the machines, said she had no idea why Hart’s equipment failed to read so many ballots.

“In most cases, it was very obvious to me what the voter intended,” she said. “I don’t know if it was a printing error or a pencil mark.”

In previous meetings, the ERC blamed Eagle Direct, the company that printed the ballots, for the large number of ballots rejected by Hart’s optical scanning software.

Poll watcher Joan Foutz suggested that some ballots may have been rejected because of errors by voters who did not follow instructions on their ballot.

“The average American doesn’t read,” she said. “Have you noticed? They don’t read instructions.”

Thursday’s session was less intense than a previous public hearing in Boulder, in which one speaker ripped up her ballot for the Boulder municipal election to protest the use of computer tallying systems.

The committee will continue to meet weekly and hopes to have a final report, including suggestions for improvements, by April 15. The next meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. March 11 at 1750 33rd St. in Boulder.

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