House Leads, Senate Lags

By Caddie Nath, STATE BILL COLORADO

 

DENVER — Modernizing Colorado politics is said to be a priority for legislators, although more so for Colorado’s House than for its Senate.

Unlike the House, Senate proceedings aren’t televised, and votes in the chamber are counted the old-fashioned way: by voice. While the House has a big screen that lets observers see votes, the Senate has … nothing. And a system to help count votes, live in the House, isn’t yet working in the Senate.

The vote-counting system, built by LVW Electronics of Colorado Springs and costing more than $530,000 to design and install, will allow both chambers to continue to use their traditional voting methods — push button in the House and voice in the Senate. It updated the aging technologies that were in operation.

In the House, the system includes two large projection screens that display the votes of each representative on each bill. There’s also a new sound system.

The decision was made to install the new system in the House because of recurring problems with an outdated system in place since the 1970s, House Chief Clerk Marilyn Eddins said. With the new system, voting in the 65-member House takes on average about 20 seconds — half the time it takes in the 35-member Senate.

“Our old system … was breaking down occasionally, so we worked out a way to get money to install a new system,” Eddins said. “We had to do that.”

The new system has been operational in the House since the beginning of this year’s session. There have been a few software problems, such as a morning session when House Speaker Terrance Carroll had to audibly call out his votes.

“There have been some minor glitches, which you can expect whenever you have new technology, but [the new system] makes us more efficient,” Carroll said. “It needed to be upgraded.”

In the Senate, LVW’s vote recording system hasn’t been tested and consequently isn’t yet operational. It’s intended to replicate and upgrade an older program that was developed in-house.

Improvements have been made to electronically record votes, allow vote counts to be printed and allow data to be imported directly into the daily Senate Journal. The new system also will allow each legislator’s voting record to be imported into a database, a feature the old system did not have.

The Senate will not have a large screen projecting votes and will not vote electronically, Secretary of the Senate Karen Goldman said.

Addressing the issue, Senate President Peter Groff said, “The Senate has always been a more traditional body. It is smaller so there really isn’t any need to have a Jumbotron. We just don’t think it’s necessary.”

The House has also leapt technologically ahead of the Senate by implementing a live television feed of floor sessions onto the web and on Comcast Cable Channel 165.

The project, dubbed “The Colorado Channel,” began broadcasting at the start of the 2008 legislative session. It was the pet project of former Speaker Andrew Romanoff. Romanoff and his fellow representatives raised $260,000 of private funding and in-kind donations from Denver, the Gay and Lesbian Fund of Colorado and the Rose Community Foundation, among others, Eddins said.

“Speaker Romanoff felt it was important to the state of Colorado to see what was going on in the legislature,” she said.

Yearly operating and production costs for the broadcast, totaling $112,000 in 2008, come out of the state budget. The Senate has a like amount budgeted but isn’t spending it because TV cameras haven’t been installed.

The Senate did not install cameras because it was unable to raise the money to fund the project, said Deb Lastowka, the director of the Colorado Channel, which is operated by Colorado-based nonprofit De Production.

“We couldn’t raise the money [for a Senate floor broadcast system] because of the economy,” Groff said. “It was also hard to do it during an election year.”

Lastowka said, “As far as I know, the Senate tried to raise the money and was unable to. The hope is that eventually Senate and committee meetings will be included in the broadcast. It would be great to have viewers access both chambers.”

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