County Clerk Carla Gomez chats with Canvass Board members Richard Drake, Randy Arredondo and Greg Terrell last Friday.
Photo by Teresa Benns
SAGUACHE — The door was open to the commissioner’s room last Friday during the canvass board audit of last month’s primary election and the atmosphere was causal, a definite change from the election audit in November 2012.
The audit was organized and the proceedings went smoothly as clerk’s assistant Rene Hazard led canvass board members through the audit process.
Democrat chair Randy Arredondo, Republican Chair Richard Drake and Libertarian Greg Terrell sat on the canvass board.
Arredondo noted that of the 2,856 registered voters in the county, only a little over a third voted in the election, most by mail-in ballot. Twelve early votes were cast in the election and 214 voters came to the polls.
In looking at the low precinct returns, Arredondo commented that primary elections should all be mail-in elections. Clerk Carla Gomez agreed, commenting that regular elections allowing polling place votes, “cost a lot of money. More and more people are voting by mail. I like to go to the polls also but we’re seeing more and more mail-in requests.”
Observer Lisa Cyriacks told Gomez that perhaps “the two parties should consider just how valid primary elections really are.” Arredondo responded that the state would have to change the rules to allow for this.
When asked why so many provisional ballots came from Prec. 5, Hazard explained that the precinct ran out of ballots and so they took some “off the bottom.” Also several voters in Prec. 5 came to vote without their IDs, she said.
An earlier primary this election year also polling places changes from redistricting also factored in, others observed. Three provisional ballots were spoiled, and 13 returned mail-in ballots were rejected. A total of 1,339 ballots were mailed out. Nine votes were sent overseas to military and other voters but only one was returned.
Mail-in ballots were processed in batches of 25, Hazard said, a number she feels is “manageable.” The ballots are first opened, then laid completely flat to slide smoothly through the M100 machine.
Drake noted that the votes across the top of the unofficial returns were not even, as should be the case if redistricting is done properly. Cyriacks reminded Drake that at the last meeting where county commissioners discussed redistricting, commissioners did agree to revisit the issue in the future if questions arose.
Cyriacks raised a question concerning the security system and Gomez explained that there are cameras in the commissioner’s room, a camera in the vault, a camera in the clerk’s office and cameras in the lobby. There is still no camera, however in the “pocket office” between the commissioners room and the clerk’s office. Even this year the pocket office was used by Hazard and Gomez to tally precinct totals some argue should have been tallied by counting judges.
“We check every day to make sue it’s recording,” Gomez said. “This camera will even pick up people in the dark,” Hazard added. A new security camera system was installed in the clerk’s office in 2011, following the 2010 election, while Melinda Myers was still in office as county clerk.
“All this is a pretty intense process,” Gomez continued. “People don’t realize what it takes to do this, to reconcile everything. The paperwork we generate is incredible.”
Overall, the voting process went well with everyone doing his or her part, according to Hazard. “Hand counters did a good job and so did the polling place people,” she said. Many of the practices taught volunteers by the El Paso County Clerk’s Office were used during the primary election to good effect, others noted.
“I heard before that the county sometimes had trouble finding judges, but I had stacks of volunteers,” Gomez noted. “I have quite a pool now and want only transparency, openness and efficiency.”
The final count proceeded and went well with only a few reading errors encountered by Arredondo. These were noted and corrected. Only one ballot with an oval not completely filled in was discovered and Gomez said it was successfully reconciled.
Precinct tallies were published and available Tuesday and canvass board members agreed they saw no problem with the numbers.
The audit appeared to go smoothly with none of the tension and micromanagement that participants complained about in the 2010 audit. Cyriacks and others did note however that there were problems with undervote and overvote reporting, also encountered in 2010; not all the judges selected for the counting were those trained for the 2011 citizen recount or by El Paso County and were not as experienced as they could have been and the problems with clerks office counting final tallies versus judges counting these should be addressed.
“These are all issues that can be discussed and addressed in the general election,” Cyriacks said. She expressed the hope that if mail-in ballot elections become more commonplace, procedures for gathering and counting the ballots, also mailing out the ballots, will be tightened.
Gomez announced that a report on the election will be released soon and a list of questions frequently asked by voters will be answered in the report.