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Computer glitches and election chaos

Virus-infected computers spark disenfranchisement fears


Department of Motor Vehicles customers wait to obtain - licenses and register to vote on Monday, one week after - a computer virus shut down the states license system. - DAN WILCOCK
  • Dan Wilcock
  • Department of Motor Vehicles customers wait to obtain licenses and register to vote on Monday, one week after a computer virus shut down the states license system.

The virus that crippled Department of Motor Vehicles license computers this month arrived at an inopportune moment. With hundreds, maybe thousands, of DMV visitors registering to vote each week statewide, a week of closed DMV branches so soon before the election made some who monitor the democratic process nervous.

"If someone went to get an ID last week and was thwarted [from registering to vote], it's possible they were discouraged from voting," said Pete Maysmith, executive director for the election watchdog group Colorado Common Cause.

Obstacles to voter registration before the Oct. 4 registration deadline are a serious problem in the upcoming election, Maysmith says, but that's just part of the potential chaos. He says his No. 1 concern lies in new polling place rules.

Voters on Nov. 2 are now required by state law to show identification, most commonly state driver's licenses, before voting. If proper identification, which can include a Colorado ID, passport, utility bill, bank statement, government check or ID and pilot's license, is either not shown or fails to match the registration rolls, the voter must cast what's called a "provisional ballot" that's counted after registration can be verified.

But how much of a provisional ballot actually counts and whether the provisional ballot contradicts the new state law requiring identification remain unanswered questions.

Amid spiraling confusion, Colorado Common Cause filed a lawsuit this month against Colorado Secretary of State Donetta Davidson to overturn the identification requirement as unconstitutional and an unfair "poll-tax" imposed on poor people and students less likely to have valid identification. The suit also seeks to make it easier to vote on a provisional ballot. Davidson pledged to announce revised and clarified election rules this Thursday.

DMV locations statewide reopened Monday and people who register to vote there on or before Oct. 4 will be allowed to vote as long as they show proper identification, says Marguerite Duncan, El Paso County's election manager. People can also register at the Clerk and Recorder's office downtown at 30 S. Cascade St. or in the satellite offices in Widefield/ Security and the Citadel Mall. Voters unsure of their registration should call the election department at 575-8683.

"There's always a way to vote if you're registered," Duncan said. "It's the people not registered to vote we can't do anything for."

The DMV, for its part, questions whether its computer woes would have any effect on the public's ability to vote. "There're so many places to register to vote," said DMV spokeswoman Diane Reimer. "So there's no reason to complain about not being able to register at the DMV."

But Maysmith said the downed computers and delays in obtaining identification could have an effect. "Not enough people in this country vote," he said. "The more impediments that are thrown in someone's path, whether it's a downed computer system of a de facto poll tax, [the more it] discourages voting."

-- Dan Wilcock

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