Matt Smith enters the polling place for Kiowa County Precinct 2 at the Eads… (Doug Pensinger / Getty Images )
LITTLETON, Colo. -- Election officials in Colorado are feeling the heat of a closely contested presidential race that could make their state pivotal in determining the winner.
Polls in the last week have classified the state as a tossup that could give either Mitt Romney or President Obama nine electoral votes, not a big haul by historical standards but potentially enough to put one of the candidates in the tight race over the top.
As a result, a lot more eyes than normal are watching the state, particularly the crucial Denver suburbs where independents hold power.
“We know that we are in a closely contested race and we take it seriously,” said Andrew Cole, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office. “We think we are well prepared to run a good election.”
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The office called in a team of attorneys and had them ready by 7 a.m. in case of any last-minute lawsuits, such as demands by one party or another to keep polls open later. The office won one suit in recent days when a judge threw out a complaint by activists that the county was not adequately protecting the anonymity of mail voters.
The state also has a new tabulation system that will electronically tally the votes from the 64 counties across Colorado, which use six types of voting technology. In the past, those votes had to be manually tabulated in Denver, but now a secure system will allow each county to electronically transmit the data.
The outcome in the state will hinge on a few key counties that are closely contested, none more than Arapahoe County.
The county has 132,000 registered Democrats and 119,000 Republicans, but 133,000 voters who are not affiliated. Its voters are younger, better educated and have higher incomes than average.
“We have been planning this for a year,” said Nancy Doty, Arapahoe County clerk and recorder.
For the first time, the county has eliminated precinct voting centers and set up 32 centers that allow any registered county resident to walk in to cast a ballot.
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Doty said a lot of eyes will be watching the new system. She has signed certifications for several hundred poll watchers, though only one poll watcher per party can actually monitor activity at the vote centers at any one time.
The county has scheduled a midnight shift of more than two dozen poll workers to tabulate the vote, even though it should have significant number of votes counted by the time polls close.
Doty said her office has received 210,000 mail ballots and expects to receive 295,000 by the time polls close at 7 p.m. local time. Only 55,000 votes are expected to be cast on election day.
By contrast, Denver County is expected to give Obama an edge, but nonetheless officials are taking pains to avoid any kind of dispute.
“Everybody feels the heightened scrutiny, that is for sure,” said Alton Dillard, a spokesman for the clerk and recorder. “Things are going very smoothly here in Denver, so far.”
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