15 minutes with Nancy Doty

Posted 4/15/09

Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder Nancy Doty has been among the staunchest supporters of direct-recording electronic — or DRE — voting machines. …

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15 minutes with Nancy Doty


Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder Nancy Doty has been among the staunchest supporters of direct-recording electronic — or DRE — voting machines.

The computerized machines have been controversial. In 2006, a lawsuit successfully challenged DREs' reliability and susceptibility to fraud. Denver District Judge Lawrence Manzanares called then-Secretary of State Gigi Dennis' certification process for DREs "abysmal" and ordered 11 pages of new security procedures.

Now state legislators have introduced a bill that would phase-out DREs entirely by 2014 and move Colorado toward an all-paper election system.

House Bill 1335 is the result of a recommendation made this year by the state’s Election Reform Commission. The body recommended that the state require all counties to switch to all-paper voting within five years.

The bill would also temporarily recertify existing DREs in Colorado. The previous certification had been set to expire this summer. If the bill passes in its current form, as counties needed to replace their DREs, they would need to do so with paper-ballot systems to receive required certification from the Colorado Secretary of State. All DREs would have to be phased out by 2014.

Colorado Community Newspapers recently spoke with Doty to get her reaction.

CCN: You objected to legislators placing the changeover to paper ballots and the temporary recertification of the DRE electronic voting machines in the same bill.

Doty: They get us to go along with the certification, and at the same time we have to go along with the paper ballots. I don’t like it because it’s going to require us to switch to a paper-ballot based voting system whenever we have to switch out our equipment.

CCN: You completely stand by your DREs?

Doty: Yes, that lawsuit was all regarding security of the equipment. It had nothing to do about the accuracy of the equipment.

CCN: Security should be a concern in running elections, though, right?

Doty: Yeah, but that has all been addressed.

CCN: Have you in the course of all this ever had a reason to reconsider your support for DREs?

Doty: No, I believe they’re accurate. There’s not one instance that I know of where a voting machine has been tapped into on Election Day.

When these guys talk about compromising our election, they’re doing it in a vacuum. They’re not considering the entire election process. You need to consider that we have seals all over these machines. There are four poll workers at each polling site — two different parties that are watching the polling process. They wouldn’t allow someone to come in and manipulate the machines. We have video cameras so we watch everything that goes on.

We’ve never had someone who tried to do it — never.

CCN: Some are concerned that these machines could be manipulated in the event of lax security. Is it possible that not all county clerks in Colorado are as careful about security as you have been in Arapahoe County?

Doty: We all operate under the same laws and rules. They do the same thing, and you have to submit your election plan to the secretary of state’s office and you outline all of those issues.

CCN: Which method do you think is more susceptible to malfeasance, DREs or paper ballots?

Doty: Paper, absolutely. You lose paper ballots. It’s been done. You could have people marking them differently. Let’s say there’s a race for president. You didn’t like how that person voted. You can draw another line there and have an over-vote and it doesn’t count at all.

CCN: But as you say, clerks would have both a Democrat and a Republican overseeing the process.

Doty: It doesn’t happen because we have a Democrat and a Republican on teams that are involved with every single step of the process. My question is, why are we trying to fix something that ain’t broken?

Another point is our election costs are going to go up exponentially because paper ballots are expensive to print and it takes longer to process. There are many more steps involved. Our DREs can handle an infinite number of voters — infinite isn’t quite the number, but a lot of voters.

Thousands and thousands of those blank ballots get destroyed after Election Day because they weren’t needed. I don’t know how many people are going to show up on Election Day.

And then early voting is another issue. I have eight early-voting locations in my county. I have 340,000 voters. I have to plan for those voters going to any one of those eight locations and vote early. Think of the number of paper ballots I have to have if I can’t use my DREs.

CCN: Can you wage a guess about how much more expensive you think it would be to use paper ballots?

Doty: I’m going to say a million more dollars per election. I can give you a very good cost comparison. Arapahoe County’s general election in ’08 cost $1.3 million. Denver County has about the same number of voters that we do. They use paper and theirs cost $2.7 million.

CCN: Are there other variables between the two systems?

Doty: That’s the main difference that I’m aware of.

CCN: Are there any upsides to going paper?

Doty: (laughs) I’d be open to hearing about them. I don’t see one. Think of all the thousands of trees that are going to be killed.


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