Colorado, Denver, And Mail Ballots: One City's Experience

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Sequence of known mistakes


The November 7, 2006, election in Denver, Colorado, was an unmitigated disaster brought about by incompetent and arrogant election officials and inept and slovenly voting machine manufacturer. These were not a single incident or mistake but a sequence that made the looming disaster evident to anyone with election experience. But the train wreck could not be stopped and despite the numerous warning signs the Denver City Council put off taking any action until the derailment in November 2006.

Below are just the known problems with the absentee ballots. Problems with Denver's voting centers are tabulated separately.

June 10, 2006 — The Denver Election Commission announced it had lost the voter records for more than 150,000 voters, anyone of which can now be used to obtain an absentee ballot, as well as for other identity theft.

June 26, 2006 — The failure to meet the HAVA mandate that Colorado have a functional statewide voter registration database by January 1, 2006, was underscored by the failure of gubernatorial candidate's petition. 9,219 of the 21,094 signatures he submitted — a full 44 percent — were rejected primarily because of errors in the Sec. of State's database.

October 11, 2006 — Sequoia Voting Systems, Denver's voting machine contractor, had to send letters to 44,000 voters warning of a mistake on absentee ballots after it's discovered that the "yes" and "no" boxes on a ballot question are transposed.

October 12, 2006 — Sequoia miscalculates return postage for thousands of absentee ballots. Instead of the correct 87 cents, the postage is listed as 63 cents.

October 31, 2006 — A race for an open seat on the Regional Transportation District Board of Directors was omitted on absentee ballots. The Secretary of State's Office is blamed for the error but city election officials acknowledge their failure to catch the omission.

November 11, 2006 — Denver risks jumping out of the frying pan into the fire if it switches to absentee ballots.

November 14,2006 — Ballot bar codes were wrong and 70,000 ballots had to be hand sorted and one of two optical scanners being used to count absentee ballots broke down.

January 17, 2007 — Rocky Mountain News columnist received three ballots to unknown parties at his home and questions the integrity of any election with such poor voter registration records.

January 22, 2007 —Because of the debacle in the November 2006 election Denver decided to compound their errors by holding a mail ballot election in January 2007 calling for reform of their election commission. That was so badly executed the post office complained.

January 24, 2007 — Denver election critique delivered by post office. Post office's letter blames voting firm. Even the mayor's ballot went to the wrong address in the mail-in balloting that is supposed to fix Denver's election problems.

And after it was all over the voter turnout, long trumpeted as a major reason for mail ballot elections, was a meager 20%.

March 28, 200 7 — Voters' list idles 100,000. First voters are disenfranchised by massive foul up by Denver experimenting with vote centers. Then voters disenfranchised by that disaster are not sent ballots in next city election.


Denver Election Commission loses voter records by Alan Gathright and Lou Kilzer


© 2006 by Alan Gathright and Lou Kilzer, Rocky Mountain News

Sensitive data for 150,000 residents at risk

June 10, 2006 — The Denver Election Commissioner has lost sensitive information for more than 150,000 voters — about 42 percent of those registered in the city — that could be exploited by identity thieves if it fell into the wrong hands.

What has some election commissioners fuming is that the filing cabinet containing the microfilm with voter registrations from 1989-1998 vanished during a February move to a new office building, but top officials say they only learned about it June 1 st .

And they heard about it from City Councilwoman Judy Montero, who demanded to know why an Internet blog was reporting "that confidential data about Denver voters has been compromised."

"We' re taking this very seriously," commission spokesman Alton Dillard said Friday [now that the horse is out of the barn]. "We' re conducting a full investigation having to do both with trying to locate the information and to find out essentially who knew what when. We will get to the bottom of it."

The missing records could be an identity thief's dream, because they contain voters' names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, signatures, and addresses, according to a Friday statement on the commission Web site.

At this point, officials don't know if the voting information inside the 500-pound filing cabinet was stolen or simply misplaced when the agency moved to the city's Minoru Yasui Building from its old headquarters on West 14th Avenue.

Police haven't been called in yet, but Dillard said staffers are scouring every inch of the commission's new and old buildings and its warehouse — all of which are heavily secured. Officials also are questioning the bonded moving company that handled the relocation.

Dillard said it is possible that the microfilm was consolidated into other cabinets and boxes. Also missing is a box containing early voting signature cards, which contain voter names, birth dates, addresses, signatures and, in some cases, the last four digits of Social Security numbers.

The missing records are just the latest in a series of commission controversies.

Before last November's election, a clerical error forced the agency to pay $43,000 to re-mail a voters' guide, and City Council members blasted the agency for turning in a $3 million 2006 budget to fund two elections using polling places, when the commission was really driving toward a change to voting centers.

There was a leadership void at the agency when the records went missing because Executive Director Karon Hatchett resigned under criticism in January.

City Councilman Doug Linkhart said the discovery of the missing records "is not really surprising because the incompetence over there has been really consistent."

"I don't know how you misplace a filing cabinet," he said.

Linkhart added that he was glad that the commission has a new director, John Gaydeski. But he said he still finds "it hard to have faith in the commission."

He also said that the possibility of identity theft is a concern.

The missing records were first revealed May 31 on the Web blog under the headline, "Sad for Denver Voters."

Lisa Jones, who runs the site, said Friday that rumors about the missing files had been around for months, and she believes the commission was aware of the loss since at least April.

Jones, a former temporary commission worker during the 2003 mayoral election, said, "If a credit card company let such information out, people would be pissed off."

The loss, she said "is really huge."

Jones said she was surprised that officials are saying they only recently found out about the loss, but added, "What else are they going to say."

But Dillard insisted that top officials learned about the lost files only within the past week and that they' re trying to determine if lower-ranking staff knew about the situation earlier. [And we have to ask how the integrity of any subsequent mail ballot election can be guaranteed after the loss of these voter records?]


Colorado voter database under scrutiny after candidate's petition signatures cannot be verified


June 26, 2006 (AP) — When Secretary of State Gigi Dennis tried to verify that Donald Tebow had signed a petition to put GOP gubernatorial candidate Marc Holtzman's name on the August primary ballot, she couldn't find his name in her computer. She struck him off the list.

Her clerks couldn't find Tebow because they couldn't find Tebow's address in their system. They listed it as 1010 Haman Place in Longmont. Trouble is, Tebow lives at 1010 Harmon Place.

The 82-year-old Tebow says he wasn't trying to hide — he has been registered to vote in Colorado for 60 years and was easily located in the Longmont phone book.

The Colorado governor's race is now a two-man fight between Republican Congressman Bob Beauprez and Democrat Bill Ritter. Marc Holtzman hoped to challenge Beauprez, but the secretary of state said he failed to gather enough valid signatures from around the state to make the primary ballot.

Holtzman challenged that decision in court and lost. But his case has raised a host of questions about the state's database of 2.9 million registered voters — a database required in every state under the Help America Vote Act: What happens when the state starts using its computer system to check voters on election day? What happens with the certification of ballot measures? What about the secretary of state's ability to compare records with other databases, including motor vehicle registrations?

Observers say it will cost a lot of money and time to get the elections database where it needs to be.

Thousands of signatures submitted by Holtzman were rejected because state officials couldn't match the names with voters in their system. According to a review by The Associated Press, some of the problems can be traced to simple typos and bad addresses, while elections officials concede there is a problem matching up computers at the state level with those in 64 far-flung counties of Colorado.

Justin Levitt, spokesman for the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University law school, said he wasn't surprised by the problems in Colorado. He said many states are having problems complying with new federal requirements to compile a database of registered voters.

According to Levitt, Colorado needs to tighten quality control or voters could be denied the right to have their ballots counted and petitioners like Holtzman could be improperly denied access to the ballot.

Independent pollster Floyd Ciruli, who said he relies on voter information from the secretary of state to make his living, said the state's rapid growth over the past decade and changes in rules because of the presidential election stalemate six years ago has produced "a very flawed election process."

Ciruli said county clerks can't even agree on how and when to purge their databases of inactive voters, leaving scraps of computer data that clog the system and create conflicts.

In Holtzman's case, the AP review showed that 9,219 of the 21,094 signatures he submitted — a full 44 percent — were rejected. Of those, the names of 2,619 could not be found in the state database and 897 names could not be found at a specified address. [Any election, but especially mail ballot elections are, at best, only as good as the voter registration database. The pathetic performance of the Sec. of State's database in this case does not promote confidence in future elections.]


Absentee-ballot mistake found: answers transposed on Referendum F: clarification to be mailed out by George Merritt


© 2006 by George Merritt, Denver Post

October 11, 2006 — The first round of absentee ballots sent to Denver voters has a mistake on them, putting the Denver Election Commission on the defensive once again.

The commission Wednesday said 44,000 residents started receiving ballots that transposed the voting boxes for Referendum F. The mistake was made by Sequoia Voting Systems, the vendor for Denver's voting machines, the commission said.

"This is really not good," said state Sen. Paula Sandoval, a supporter of the ballot question affected. "I was hoping this would be one of the less controversial ballot questions, but this really complicates things." ["Not good" is an understatement.]

Referendum F would remove deadlines for elected officials who are protesting recall petitions. Whereas every other ballot question lists the voting options as "yes" above "no," the Referendum F ballot question has them reversed.

"It's a concern," said Denver Election Commission spokesman Alton Dillard. "You have to worry about voters falling into a routine and not noticing."

Dillard said proofs of the ballot that were sent off to Sequoia for printing did not have the problem. And he said Sequoia has agreed to mail letters alerting voters. "The DEC is not at fault for this error, and we will not incur one cent of the cost to get it fixed,"

Election Commission officials were able to put a separate concern to rest. When held up to a light, the "no" box for retaining Judge Johnny Charles Barajas appears to be filled in because of a black stripe on the other side of the ballot. [Two days after the election Baraja's rear ended a truck turning right on Federal Blvd. while he was traveling west on 26th Avenue. On January 3, 2007, Barajas pled guilty to careless driving and driving while ability impaired (DWAI). Charges of driving too closely, DUI, and driving w/o proof of insurance were dismissed. He was sentenced to pay costs of $969 and 45 days in jail, but 40 days were suspended.]

Commission officials ran a test sample Wednesday to make sure the optical scanners did not detect the stripe as a vote. [One test sample is completely inadequate for this kind of problem.]

A test ballot, witnessed by reporters, did not register a vote. [Note that experts were not invited to the monitor or setup up the test. This was simply a dog-and-pony show.]

Commission officials have tackled several concerns since this spring, when they revealed they lost the personal records of thousands of voters in a move.

That led to a City Council task force that considered — but later decided against — revamping the commission. [After the November election the Denver City Council would reconsider and hold a special election in January 2007 to get rid of the Denver Election Commission.]

In the August primary, a series of problems with new Sequoia electronic voting machines led to more training for election judges. [Blame everyone but the election officials and Sequoia, who are at the root of the problem.]

Officials also opted not to use equipment called "card activators" because problems in the primary led to voters' being issued the wrong ballots. [One more disastrous decision.]

Still, Election Commission executive director John Gaydeski said Wednesday that he is confident the coming election will go smoothly. He and the commission are encouraging people to vote absentee because of a lengthy ballot.


Staff writer George Merritt can be reached at 303-954-1657 or


Ballot postage problem revealed by George Merritt


©2006 by George Merritt, Denver Post

October 12, 2006 — The return envelope sent out with Denver's absentee ballots instructs voters to affix postage that's 24 cents less than the mailing actually costs.

Denver Election Commission officials said the mistake will not affect the delivery of the ballots. But it does mean Sequoia Voting Systems — a vendor selected by the commission — will have to reimburse the U.S. Postal Service for the difference.

As of Wednesday, the Denver Election Commission said about 44,000 ballots went out to residents. Each of those had a return envelope that instructed voters to include postage for 63 cents.

But the 2.3 ounce package costs 87 cents to mail — 24 cents more than the instructions indicate.

The issue is the second major mistake to surface since voters began receiving ballots this week.

Another mistake led to the "yes" and "no" vote options for Referendum F to be flipped.

Commission spokesman Alton Dillard blamed both problems of Sequioa Voting Systems — the vendor Denver chose for its voting machines as well as ballot printing. "It looks like Sequoia has given us bum information again," he said today. [Surprisingly, he didn't blame the voters.]

Apparently, the postal miscalculation was made because of inch-wide, perforated tabs across the top of the ballots. Sequoia officials calculated the postage based on the weight of the ballots without the tabs.

But nowhere — in the voting instructions or on the ballot — is there an indication that voters should remove the tab.

The issue will not keep mailed ballots from getting to election commission.

"No ballot will be refused," Dillard said. [Leaving the door wide open for fraud.]


Blunder by Secretary of State detours voting for RTD by Kevin Flynn


© 2006 by Kevin Flynn, Rocky Mountain News

Supplementary ballot for board seat being sent to 4,820 voters in southwest Denver

October 31, 2006 — The battle among four candidates for an open seat on the Regional Transportation District board of directors is the banner race this year for the public transit agency.

But you wouldn't know it in far southwest Denver.

Because of an error by the Colorado Secretary of State's Office, the contest doesn't appear there on absentee ballots or voting machines.

To make up for the oversight, the Denver Election Commission is being forced to mail out new supplementary ballots, featuring only the race for the District N seat on the RTD board, to the 4,820 registered voters in five precincts.

Although Secretary of State Gigi Dennis' office takes the fall for the gaffe, city election officials also missed the omission.

It was caught last week after early voting had begun.

"The secretary of state certified the ballot for Denver County without that race on it," said Alton Dillard, spokesman for the Denver Election Commission. "The special mail ballot we're doing just for that race will be tabulated on Election night."

Dana Williams, spokeswoman for the secretary of state, said the root of the error happened two years ago, when the precinct lists for the 15 RTD districts were updated.

"Unfortunately, the list did not have updated information about the five precincts falling in Denver," Williams said.

The patchwork solution is the latest misstep that Denver voters will have to work around.

The election commission's voting machine supplier, Sequoia Voting Systems, mistakenly printed most of the absentee ballots with transposed "Yes" and "No" boxes for state Referendum F, which changes how recalls are conducted.

On most ballots, "No" appears above "Yes," the opposite of the usual style and different from all the other ballot questions. Others were sent with "Yes" above "No."

Because of the mistake, Denver election workers will have to separate the absentee ballots to avoid incorrectly counting the results.

Sequoia also printed the return envelopes for absentee ballots with the wrong price for postage — 63 cents, as opposed to the correct 87 cents. The Postal Service has said it will deliver all the ballots, and the city will ask Sequoia to pay the difference.

For the RTD District N race, the special ballots were mailed during the weekend to Denver voters in the five precincts generally bounded by Quincy and Belleview avenues, Wadsworth Boulevard and Kipling Street.

That little sliver of Denver has long been attached to RTD's south Jefferson County seat, which extends to Conifer and Evergreen. The number of Denver voters is small potatoes compared with the 114,000 Jefferson County voters eligible in District N.

Incumbent Stephen Millard is term-limited. All four candidates — Bruce Daly, Bob Hoban, Rich Mahan and Don Moore — live in the mountain areas.


Mail ballots not the answer


© 2006 Rocky Mountain News

In the wake of the November 7, 2006, election fiasco in Denver, Colorado, the Rocky Mountain News published the following editorial

November 11, 2006 — Denver risks jumping from the frying pan into the fire if it switches from voting centers to an all-mail ballot for May's election.

Election Commissioner Susan Rogers suggested this switch at a special city council meeting Thursday called in the wake of the voting fiasco two days earlier. Fortunately, some council members were openly skeptical.

"We' re opposed to an all-mail ballot," councilwoman Jeanne Faatz said, the "we" in this case referring to her constituents.

We hate to remind the public of old bad news, but the Denver Election Commission junked plans for an all-mail ballot as recently as last year because it couldn't get its act together regarding the database that would be used for signature verification (what is it with the commission and technology, anyway?). Signature verification is critical. It is required by state law, and is one of the few barriers against fraud in mail balloting.

Nor does the Election Commission's handling of absentee ballots this week spur confidence in the prospect of an all-mail ballot. Absentee ballots are a form of mail ballots, after all, although they are sent only to voters who request them. Yet as we wrote this editorial Friday afternoon, those ballots were still being scanned at commission offices, three days after the Denver polls closed. They' re probably being scanned as you read this.

Yes, long lines at voting centers are unacceptable. But we'd very much like to know an election's results sooner than the weekend after the polls close — thanks very much. [And all those millions of dollars for electronic voting equipment were supposed to provide virtually instant results. Instead, reporting delays have gotten worse.]

As recently as four years ago, Colorado voters rejected a proposed state law that required all-mail ballots in every election. Mail ballots had been legal for years in nonpartisan elections such as May's municipal contests, but the defeat of that amendment proved that many voters prefer to cast their ballots the traditional way. Or maybe they recognize — with good reason, in our view — that of all possible voting methods, mail ballots carry the greatest risk of fraud.

So what should Denver do? Fix the present system. Take a hard look at Election Commission personnel in charge of planning, training and technology. Reconsider whether the city's comprehensive relationship with Sequoia Voting Systems is beneficial.

Election Commissioner Sandy Adams insists the city cannot return to precinct voting because too many of the locations lack unassisted handicapped access. If that is so, the city has its work cut out for it given the inadequate preparation this time around. Adams tells us, for example, she still has no clear idea what is the proper way for poll workers with laptops to close out a registration check and thus prevent a server overload — as reportedly occurred Tuesday — even though she took the training several times.

Adams is a bright woman. If she was confused, it' s no wonder that many other election workers may have been as well. Fortunately, May is still six months away, time enough to work through this week's problems without Denver resorting to what would amount to yet another election experiment. [Instead, the Denver City Council voted to hold an all-mail ballot election in January 2007.]


Big bar code backfire by Ann Imse


© 2006 by Ann Imse, Rocky Mountain News

Misprint blamed for days of hand-sorting absentee ballots.
Optical scanner breaks down

November 14, 2006 — Denver is still counting votes a week after the election because bar code misprints on 70,000 absentee ballots required five days of hand-sorting of 23 ballot styles.

Ballot styles vary because voters live in different legislative and congressional districts. With correct bar codes, scanners would have sorted the different ballot styles automatically as they were counted.

Sequoia Voting Systems misprinted the bar codes and mailed out the absentee ballots directly to voters under a contract with Denver.

The Denver Election Commission learned that the Sequoia scanner could not sort ballots when it tried a test count October 19 th , election commission executive director John Gaydeski said Monday.

Because the commission had been mailing absentee ballots for nearly two weeks, it decided it would have to hand-sort them.

Gaydeski knew about the problem with the October 19 th test but didn't learn that it was because of a Sequoia misprint until Monday afternoon, six days into a vote-count debacle that has left several races undecided.

The mayor's office was not informed, his spokeswoman Lindy Eichenbaum Lent said Monday evening.

Gaydeski found out after the Rocky Mountain News asked him why Jefferson County managed to count 100,000 paper absentee ballots by 12:30 AM Wednesday, five and a half hours after polls closed, and Denver is still working on the same job with 70,000 absentees one week later.

Sequoia's vice president of communications, Michelle Shafer, did not return four calls and pages seeking comment.

Gaydeski said that the election commission's now-suspended technology chief, Anthony Rainey, discovered the problem and informed his bosses when he tried to count a test-pack of absentee ballots October 19 th . Rainey is now on investigative administrative leave.

Rainey was in charge of voter-registration computers that slowed to a crawl on Election Day, causing hours-long lines that prevented a number of citizens from voting.

Another reason for Denver's slow count is the size of its ballot, twice as many pages as Jefferson County's.

The Voting Rights Act requires bilingual ballots if more than 5 percent of the voting-age population speaks another language, so Denver's ballot questions were printed in Spanish and English.

That, and a few more judicial races, made Denver's ballot spill onto two sides of two pages. Jefferson County's English only ballot had only two sides of one page to count.

For five days in Denver, 14 poll workers in a cramped backroom bumped into each other, sorting the first page of each ballot, with candidate names, into 23 boxes in a row against the wall, supervisor John Mills said. The second page had to be sorted into two types.

Many Denver voters also had a hard time following directions for marking their ballots. They used red ink not read by scanners, markers that ran through to the other side, and circled or X'd their choices, instead of drawing a narrow line to connect two arrows, poll workers said. Other voters changed their minds and scribbled their intention or political commentary on the ballot.

As a result, 5 percent or more of the absentee ballots are being transcribed by poll workers onto clean ballots, so they can be scanned by the Sequoia machines.

Some "look like people's pets filled out their ballots," said Rocky Rushing, the commission's staffer in charge of the absentee count.

Optical scanner breaks down


Temporary election staff began feeding absentee ballots through the scanners eight days before the election, though they are not allowed to look at the count until the polls close.

But the scanning was interrupted on Election Day when one of two machines broke down in midafternoon.

That one was fixed and a third loaner brought in by Sequoia Thursday morning.

Denver had counted 22,679 absentee ballots by just after midnight election night, the same time Jefferson County completed counting all of its 107,944 absentee ballots.

Jeffco elections chief Susan Miller said that only a few hundred of her absentee ballots remain outstanding, awaiting signature and other verification.

Denver finished the hand-sort Sunday, and had 62,309 absentee ballots counted by Monday afternoon. But it did not expect to finish counting the remaining 3,820 absentee ballots Monday night because they were being transcribed, spokesman Alton Dillard said.

State law requires all absentee ballots to be counted by Thursday.

Another 3,000 provisional ballots are still be checked for the voter's validity.


The vote's in the mail by Vincent Carroll


© 2007 Rocky Mountain News

January 17, 2007 — Denver's crack Election Commission had three ballots mailed to my house this month, spurring a search in the attic for any freeloader who'd escaped our notice. My wife and I still have no idea where the third voter lives - he apparently occupied our place in the early 1990s - but are sorely tempted to fill out his ballot, sign his name and return it with the others.

We won't, of course: It would be a serious offense. But the experiment also might be useful: Would the phony vote be detected? Would we be contacted by an election official, or detective, demanding an explanation?

My beef with all-mail elections has always been, in part, this problem of mass mailings to people who voted in the past but who, for all anyone knows, may have hightailed it to Tibet. The Postal Service is supposed to divert such deliveries, but of course it doesn't catch them all.

To obtain an absentee ballot, you must ask for one. But in an all-mail election, the ballot simply shows up at your house.

Or at someone else's, as the case may be.

Yes, Oregon has proved that all-mail voting on even a statewide basis is possible without an outbreak of scandal. But election officials there do have an advantage over their counterparts elsewhere: They specialize in that form of election - indeed they don't hold any other kind. So their workers are better trained to match every signature on a mail ballot with one on file.

Even so, there's no telling how clean their elections actually are, according to John C. Fortier, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of the book Absentee and Early Voting. "While Oregon's signature check is more thorough than other states'," he writes, "it is not clear if fraud involving forgeries and impersonations would be detected."

Forgetful...and petty

A little over four years ago, Colorado voters rejected a plan for an Oregon-like all-mail election system. The Rocky Mountain News opposed Amendment 28. The Denver Post favored it.

Why recount this history? Because the Post seems to be suffering from a case of amnesia.

In its lead editorial Tuesday, the paper mocked the instructions on the mail ballot for this month's charter election in Denver as "confusing," "awkward" and even "baffling" - when in fact they are mostly the sort of standard procedures necessary for any such ballot.

What was the Post thinking: That with all-mail elections, voters could use a felt-tipped marker to scrawl "Here's one for Kerry" on a dog-eared postcard and that election officials would accept it as valid?

In its pettiest jab, the paper even complains that the 63-cent postage needed to return the ballot isn't "handy" or divisible by 39 (the amount of a standard stamp).

Well, if the postage isn't "handy" and voters don't want to use two standard stamps and thus waste 15 cents, they can drop off their ballot for free at one of 12 locations around town or use a "drive-thru" location on Election Day.

What's baffling is that anyone considers this task a mind-bending challenge.

Must not have been trying

A lawyer for Benon Sevan, the former United Nations honcho in charge of the notorious oil-for-food program for Iraq, has dismissed the bribery and fraud charges filed this week against his client as trivial and baseless, according to news reports.

We'll see about baseless. But the lawyer has a point about trivial. After all, the U.S. attorney of the southern district of New York has accused Sevan of pocketing a mere $160,000 in illegal commissions. Given the magnitude of the oil-for-food fraud - perhaps the greatest scandal in the history of humanitarian aid - you've got to wonder at the lack of ambition of a scoundrel whose shakedown doesn't net him millions.


Vincent Carroll, editor of the editorial pages, writes On Point several times a week. Reach him at


Denver's voter registration list in question by George Merritt


© 2007 by George Merritt, Denver Post

The election commission cites rushed mail-in voting and inactive names on rolls after November woes.

January 23, 2007 — The United States Postal Service has chastised Denver for its handling of this month's mail- ballot election.

Secretary of State Mike Coffman's office Monday received a letter ripping Denver and its election vendor Sequoia Voting Systems for poor design, addressing issues, and sorting errors.

Post office district manager Dean Granholm said that as of January 17, 2007, the addressing problems had resulted in $11,000 in extra cost for the city of Denver because of ballots being returned to sender. "Denver City and County did not provide the communication needed to achieve success," he wrote.

Coffman's office said in a letter that it was "deeply concerned" about the ballot mailings. [But there is little doubt that Coffman and state senator Ken Gordon are pushing for statewide mail ballot elections.]

More than 10 percent of the nearly 300,000 ballots sent out for Denver's January 30, 2007, mail-in election were returned, calling into question the accuracy of the city's voter registration list.

About 30,000 ballots sent to Denver voters have been returned as undeliverable, commission spokesman Alton Dillard said. An additional 3,500 ballots were sent out to wrong addresses — an error the commission blamed on a vendor. [Sequoia Voting Systems. The Denver Election Commission is noted for blaming everyone but themselves.]

Dillard said the delivery problems stem from the rush to schedule the mail-in election and the decision not to purge the rolls of inactive voters after the November election.

Dillard said election officials updated voter databases as recently as December, but "January is the time we used to do that more thorough scrub — not to conduct elections."

Dillard said the number of returned ballots also calls into question the "magic number" of people who elected not to vote as a result of long lines and computer glitches in November. In looking at voter turnout for similar even-year elections, multiple media outlets estimated that up to 20,000 voters either left lines without voting or never turned out on November 7, 2006.

Uproar over the mishandled election led to calls for a new system to oversee elections, and eventually, the current mail-in election, which would scrap the election commission and create an elected clerk and recorder position.

One sticking point, however, was that in a normal mail-ballot election, ballots are sent to "active voters" — those who voted in the last major election. City officials decided to buck that system to prevent a sort of double punishment for voters who could not vote in November.

Former election Commissioner Jan Tyler, who opposes the election, cited the erroneous mailings in a complaint filed Monday in Denver court asking a judge to stop the balloting.


Denver election critique delivered by post office by George Merritt


© 2007 Denver Post

Post office's letter blames voting firm.
Even the mayor's ballot went to the wrong address in the mail-in balloting that is supposed to fix Denver's election problems.

January 24, 2007 — The company hired to provide ballots and equipment for Denver elections is again facing criticism - this time for its handling of an election that was supposed to be a chance at redemption.

In the November election, mistakes at Sequoia Voting Systems led to improper postage and transposed "yes" and "no" answers on absentee ballots that in part led to a lengthier counting process. The company was also faulted for an overwhelmed computer system that led to long lines at the polls.

Councilman Charlie Brown suggested in December that this month's mail-in election on the fate of the Denver Election Commission was a chance for Sequoia to say, "Cowboy up, and let's go."

But election officials said errors at Sequoia this time around have led to thousands of ballots being mishandled: About 3,500 ballots were incorrectly sent to residential addresses rather than mailing addresses, and about 1,200 voters who live outside of Denver did not get their ballots.

Even Mayor John Hickenlooper's ballot was sent to the wrong place because of confusion over a change of address.

Now the U.S. Postal Service is blasting the vendor.

"Sequoia is a low-cost, low-quality, out-of-state election mail vendor," U.S. post office district manager Dean Granholm wrote in a letter to Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman.

"Our locally documented cases over the last two years show that every mailing prepared by Sequoia had mail design, sortation, or preparation issues, regardless of the amount of prework and information the Postal Service provided them."

In a five-page response, Sequoia officials disputed Gran holm's claims and detailed their communications with the post office leading up to the mail-in election.

"At absolutely no instance during the process to produce and mail ballots for the January 30, 2007, election," Sequoia spokeswoman Michelle Shafer wrote, "did anyone from your office have any communications with us that would indicate that you have any concerns whatsoever with our processes."

Election commission executive director John Gaydeski told City Council members Tuesday that the mistakes are symptomatic of a rushed election.

Outrage over problems in the November election led city officials to push for an overhaul of the election commission — and fast.

During an emotional meeting the day after Christmas, the council voted 7-6 to hold the election.

They approved it over the objection of City Council president Michael Hancock — who called the election "a bad idea" — and the mayor.

Despite some errors at Sequoia and about 30,000 ballots returned undelivered, election commission officials said the ballots will be counted correctly. Gaydeski still flinched when asked by a council member if he anticipated smooth sailing from here on out.

"That's a bold prediction," he said, before half-joking that he had not expected such sharp criticism from the post office. "I don't know who is going to write me a letter."


Staff writer George Merritt can be reached at 303-954-1657 or

And after it was all over the voter turnout, long trumpeted as a major reason for mail ballot elections, was a meager 20%.


Voters' list idles 100,000 by George Merritt


© 2007 Denver Post

Only those on "active" list automatically get mail-in ballots for Denver's May election

March 28, 2007 — The Denver Election Commission has scrubbed more than 100,000 residents from the active voter list since November, creating one of the smallest such lists in recent years.

The move was in compliance with state regulations, officials said, but it is significant as the city heads into its first municipal all-mail-ballot election.

The change does not purge registered voters. However, only "active" voters will automatically receive ballots when the city sends them out early next month. Active voters are people who voted in the last general election — in other words, last November.

Councilman Doug Linkhart took issue with the move Tuesday, given what he called "extreme problems" during the November election. "To slap people in the face once in November, and then to come back and slap them again by not mailing them a ballot — I think that's too bad," Linkhart said during a meeting with Election Commission officials.

Denver voters stood in line November 7, 2006, for up to three hours, primarily because of problems with the software used to check in voters. The trouble was a major factor in the successful campaign to scrap the Election Commission in favor of an elected clerk and recorder.

The May 1, 2007, municipal election will be the last run by the commission. Voters will elect a clerk and recorder as well as council members, the city auditor and the mayor. The last day to register to vote is Monday.

Linkhart suggested the city mail ballots to the 287,000 active voters from the November election, instead of the updated list of 184,000.

But Election Commission executive director John Gaydeski said Denver's voter list needed to be updated. "We had 52,000 ballots returned as undeliverable" in the January special election, he said.

Election Commission operations manager Matt Crane said the commission sent out about 117,000 cards to registered voters who did not vote in either November or January to see if they want to remain "active." About 7,000 people responded.

Assistant City Attorney David Broadwell said the commission had followed the law. "Everybody who was on that voter registration list in November who didn't vote got a card saying 'you've been moved to inactive and if you want to restore your status, come back in and tell us that,"' he said.

He noted that any registered voter who does not receive a ballot can request one. But he acknowledged that he, too, had been curious about the low number of active voters. He said the 184,000 ballots "may be the least number that we have mailed out in a mail-ballot election."


Staff writer George Merritt can be reached at 303-954-1657 or



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Added November 11, 2006

Last modified 6/14/09