To mail or not to mail?

By Angela Myers, Larimer County Clerk & Recorder since May 2013

The Surveyor

There has been a lot of discussion in the news about voting by mail and the security surrounding it.

Perhaps a little perspective on the care we take here in Larimer County and throughout Colorado to ensure the integrity of our voting processes will be helpful.

Colorado is an all-mail-ballot state – meaning that every registered voter will receive a ballot in the mail. The process of getting to this point in Colorado, however, was an evolutionary one. It began with excuse absentee (which meant you had to have a meaningful excuse in order to receive your ballot in the mail), then we had no-excuse absentee (meaning you simply had to request a mail ballot – for each election – in order to receive your ballot in the mail), then we added the Permanent Mail In Voting (PMIV) option (which allowed voters to tell us – just one time – that they always wanted to receive their ballots in the mail), and finally we went to all-mail balloting (everyone receives a mail ballot).

By the time the legislature changed election law to ensure all voters in our great state would receive a ballot by mail, more than 70% of Colorado voters had already chosen to do so as PMIV voters. Can you imagine any legislation beginning with more than 70% proven citizen support?  In November 2013, all-mail balloting became our norm in Colorado.

When you receive your ballot in the mail and can return it similarly, you don’t have to know where your polling place is, how you will get there, or how busy it will be. You will receive your ballot in ample time to utilize many options for returning it – the most convenient and cost-effective of which is placing it right back out for the Postal Service to return for you.

When you return your ballot to us through the Postal Service, it is federally protected. Although there is no perfection, I would assert that the Postal Service is generally outstanding at what they do, especially when you consider the many pieces of mail they deliver and compare it to their rate of error.

Ballots can also be dropped into a 24-hour ballot drop box – several are located throughout the county, and every county in Colorado has them. Those boxes are only open for use when ballots are in play, and they are under 24-hour video surveillance at all times.

At various scheduled times during the process, ballots can also be dropped at a Voter Service and Polling Center (VSPC) within the county or at a grocery store drop site. At these locations, the drop boxes are manned by bipartisan teams of judges and each has a chain-of-custody security seal on it.

At each and every one of these drop points (USPS, 24-hour box, VSPC, grocery store drop), we take extreme care with the security of your ballot. Chain of custody is maintained at all times, utilizing tamper-resistant tape and security seals that are logged and initialed by the judges at each point along the way. When the ballots arrive at our counting facility, and before the container is opened that chain of custody is again verified. All processes from this point forward continue to be handled by bipartisan teams of citizen election judges who do their work under the camera.

Security of the ballot before it is returned to us is in the hands of the voter. Each must make sure that he/she alone votes their ballot. Sharing information regarding your vote by showing your ballot to another degrades the security for all, as it opens the window for peer and/or other pressures upon voters. Likewise, voters should never give their ballot to another – there are plenty of ways to drop your own ballot with us that ensure security is not an issue.

When we process mail ballots, we do our part to ensure the individual voter has actually cast his/her own ballot. We do this by comparing the individual voter’s signature on the ballot envelope exterior with the signature we have for that voter in the statewide voter registration system. Each and every ballot envelope signature is checked – without exception. No ballot envelope is ever opened unless we have first been able to match the signature on the exterior to the signature for that voter within the system. If we cannot match that signature, or if the voter failed to sign the envelope that voter will receive a letter from us that requires their action within eight days after Election Day. If they do not respond within that time frame, their ballot envelope will never be opened, and their ballot will never be counted.

There are several important elements to the success of mail balloting.

A statewide voter registration list is critical to the success of this endeavor, as has been the evolution of Vote Centers in Colorado. A shameless plug here for Larimer County is required – as the Vote Center concept first began right here in Larimer County back in 2003!  When Scott Doyle first conceived of this idea, he was able to put it to the test and succeed with it in a big way. This speaks to the importance of acknowledging that a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t always the best approach. Vote Centers were not immediately embraced throughout Colorado as they are now. Likewise, Colorado has had a statewide voter registration database (we call it SCORE) since 2008. We’ve had time to get the kinks out of both of these processes to ensure they serve us well now.

High also on this list is the accuracy of our statewide voter registration database. In Colorado, we monthly receive lists from the Secretary of State’s office for updating. These include National Change of Address information received from the USPS; information on deceased and felon registrants; potential non-citizens; etc. These processes take time to put adequately in place, and the evolution we have seen in Colorado has been exceptional in this regard.

What if you move and don’t change your address with the Postal Service?  Ballots are not forwardable mail, so in this case, you would not receive your ballot and you would need to contact us directly or visit a VSPC to change your address and receive a ballot.

What about the ballot that arrived at your old address – what keeps the person who lives there now from voting it and sending it in?  The answer to this is…nothing. However, remember, when we receive that ballot, we are going to be checking the signature on the exterior. If it doesn’t match you, it will not be opened or counted.

Another important element of success is quality print vendors who have the expertise and understand the level of detail required to successfully create, assemble, and distribute ballots within very tight and exacting tolerances. When printing mistakes happen and the correct ballot doesn’t get to the correct voter, or the return envelope doesn’t correctly return the ballot for processing, it can be disastrous. Larimer has an excellent print vendor, but their capacity is not unlimited. At this time, printers with this kind of expertise are a challenge to find, and the rigid election requirements can be challenging for these printers to maintain.

I am asked often about voter fraud. I am proud to be able to confidently say that it is an extremely rare occurrence in Larimer County; and when someone does cross that line, our district attorney has a reputation of taking it very seriously. Larimer County and Colorado voters generally should be very proud of the voting processes here. However, we didn’t get here abruptly…it took some time and some doing. As well, I am not knowledgeable enough about the challenges of each and every state and/or jurisdiction and would not begin to assume that it is the best approach for all. Washington and Oregon preceded us as mail ballot states, but none of us do it exactly the same even now.

I think we can all agree that the Colorado voting processes serve us well during this time of COVID. I am so grateful, and I hope you are too, for the many dedicated citizen election judges who actually do this work – especially during this time of social distancing. Please consider becoming an election judge yourself – it is the finest group of people you will ever encounter, and you will have a chance to see for yourself just how it works!

When you get your mail ballot this June and November – Please vote it!  Don’t come into a VSPC unless you absolutely have to – feel free to call the Elections office first at 970.498.7820. Please vote early, if you can, as our election night results will be significantly delayed by social distancing requirements at our counting facilities as well.

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