Got voting questions? We’ve got answers

By Sandra Fish
Colorado News Collaborative

Vote centers around the state — more than 340 of them — opened Monday for those who want to vote or drop ballots off in person for the Nov. 3 election. 

It’s important for voters to know that each county manages its own election with oversight from the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. County clerks, who are elected officials in every county except Broomfield, are facing plenty of questions this year because of the spread of disinformation about the election process, said Tiffany Parker, La Plata County clerk and president of the Colorado County Clerk’s Association.

“I’ve done seven presidential elections and I’ve never had to defend our process as much as I have this year,” Parker said. “We represent our communities. It means a lot to us. Every vote is counted accurately and that every voter who is eligible has an opportunity to vote.”

The Colorado News Collaborative and its members, including The Pagosa Springs SUN, are looking to provide answers to questions from voters and potential voters. We contact the Secretary of State’s Office, county clerks and other resources to respond to questions.

Before we get to questions this week, three things to know:

• If you’re wondering whether you are registered to vote, you can check at www.govotecolorado.gov .

• If you want to know when your ballot was mailed and when it’s been accepted, sign up for ballot tracking at colorado.ballottrax.net/voter/.

• County clerks are ready to answer your questions, too. The Archuleta County Election’s Office can be reached at 264-8331.

On to the questions:

One of my family members, who is seriously ill, wants to cast a ballot. What if they die before Election Day?

If a ballot is cast before Nov. 3 when the person is alive, it will count and is legal.

Can I take a photo of my ballot and post it on social media?

Yes. A 2017 law makes ballot selfies legal in Colorado. According to Colorado Public Radio, it overturned an 1891 law from sharing marked ballots, which was aimed at preventing voter coercion. But you might want to use caution that personal details, including your signature, aren’t revealed when you post.

What prevents me or anyone from voting twice: in person and by mail?

First, ballot envelopes have barcodes unique to the individual. When ballot envelopes are received by clerks, they are scanned in and poll books are updated to show that the person has voted. So if someone sent in their mail ballot and it was processed, and then showed up to vote at a polling place, the poll worker checking them in would be able to see that they had already voted. Or, if the person votes early at a polling place, then also cast their mail ballot, their mail ballot will not be accepted for counting.

It is illegal to vote more than once. If someone votes in person and by mail, county clerks are required to provide that information to the district attorney or state attorney general for prosecution.

What signature is used to validate the one on my returned ballot envelope? My signature has changed over time.

The most recent signature on a state transaction is used as a reference — typically a recent driver’s license or more likely the signature on the last ballot you returned, for example on your primary ballot. All past signatures are available for election judges to review.

If election judges question your signature, you’ll get a notice from your clerk within three days (two if it occurs on Election Day) and you’ll have eight days to verify the signature is yours.

More details on how signatures are verified are available in www.sos.state.co.us/pubs/elections/docs/SignatureVerificationGuide.pdf, a detailed guide for election judges.

Registration

How do I know if I’m registered to vote?

GoVoteColorado.com has a range of information on registration, including the ability to register to vote. Go to www.sos.state.co.us/voter/pages/pub/olvr/findVoterReg.xhtml and enter your name, zip code and date of birth to check your voter registration.

What if I’ve moved? 

This link also will allow you to change your address: https://www.sos.state.co.us/voter/pages/pub/olvr/findVoterReg.xhtml.

What if my name changed?

You’ll need to fill out this form at https://www.sos.state.co.us/pubs/elections/vote/VoterRegFormEnglish.pdf and take it to your county clerk or mail it to the Colorado secretary of state.

What’s the difference between an “active” voter and an “inactive” voter?

A voter is considered active if they’ve voted in the most recent elections or updated their address or other registration information. A voter is considered inactive if their county clerk receives returned mail marked “undeliverable.”

Under federal law, clerks must wait two general election cycles before removing inactive voters from the database. Again, you may check www.govotecolorado to see if your registration is active and update your information if it isn’t.

How long do I have to register?

You must register by Oct. 26 to get a ballot in the mail (but you’ll need to return it to a vote center or drop box). But you may register and vote in person at vote centers through 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.

Ballots

How do I know if my ballot was received?

Voters statewide may sign up to track your ballot online at colorado.ballottrax.net/voter. You’ll get notifications via email, text message or phone (you may choose) when your ballot is mailed, and when it has been received and accepted.

What if I don’t get my ballot?

Check to see if your ballot has been mailed at www.sos.state.co.us/pubs/elections/Resources/CountyElectionOffices.html. If it has been mailed and you haven’t received it, contact your county clerk’s office and ask. Not every county will send ballots out the first day possible. But they need to hear from you if you don’t receive yours.

How do I return my ballot?

Signed and voted ballots can be returned via mail, to a drop box or to the Archuleta County Voter Service and Polling Center (VSPC).

Ballots must be to the Election’s Office by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Postmarks do not count.

Beginning Oct. 19, the VSPC will be open at the Archuleta County Election’s Office at 449 San Juan St. and is accessible from the back of the courthouse. 

Archuleta County also has two secure ballot drop boxes that are under 24/7 video surveillance: one near the flagpoles in front of the courthouse and the other at the TARA Community Center in Arboles.

If you prefer to vote at the polls, that can be done at the VSPC.

Are drop boxes safe from tampering?

Yes, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. They are under 24-hour video surveillance and are emptied every day by a team of bipartisan election judges. The sturdy, metal boxes are bolted to the ground.

If I send my ballot back by mail, will it get there?

The secretary of state recommends delivering ballots in person in the final eight days before the election. If you mail them before that, they should arrive in time. 

I got two ballots in the mail. What’s up with that?

First, look at them carefully. It’s likely they aren’t the same. In some counties, ballots for special election districts go out separately from the general election ballot. And they’re important. These districts often have a major impact on property taxes.

But you shouldn’t get two general election ballots. If you do, check to see if the name on the ballots is identical. If it is, contact your county clerk.

Do I have to request a ballot from my county clerk or the secretary of state?

Not if you’re an active registered voter. County clerks automatically began mailing ballots to active registered voters on Oct. 9. Again, a voter is considered active if they’ve voted in the most recent general elections or updated their address or other registration information.

A recent nationwide mailer from the U.S. Postal Service insinuated that voters wouldn’t receive a mail-in or absentee ballot unless they requested one. Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold sued the Postal Service, saying the mailer is misleading and could disenfranchise voters.

The Postal Service agreed to destroy the undelivered mailers, although about three-fourths had been delivered. In a settlement of the lawsuit, the government also agreed to consult with the Secretary of State’s Office before sending any future communications about voting in Colorado.

I don’t want to vote by mail. I want to vote in person. 

The VSPC is open through Nov. 3 for the general election.

The center is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and will be open a pair of Saturdays — Oct. 24 and 31 — from 8 a.m. until noon.

The VSPC will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.

Archuleta County Clerk and Recorder Kristy Archuleta pointed out that anyone going to the VSPC will have to have a face covering and adhere to social distancing.

She also pointed out that longer wait times can be expected due to the length of the ballot.

Archuleta added a reminder that there is no electioneering within 100 feet of the courthouse, regardless of what business you are conducting in the courthouse, which includes clothing items, buttons and hats with candidate names.

How can I be sure my vote is counted on Election Day? 

Sign up to track your ballot at https://colorado.ballottrax.net/voter/. If it doesn’t arrive within a few days of being mailed, contact your county clerk. Return your ballot to a drop box or through the mail, and the ballot tracking system will let you know when your ballot is accepted. That means your vote will be counted. 

When do elections officials start counting our ballots?

Elections officials may start counting ballots 15 days ahead of the election, on Oct. 19. The early counting relieves some of the Election Day crush, but no results will be made public until after polls close at 7 p.m. Nov. 3. Not even elections officials know the results until then because computer software prevents the count from being revealed until after polls close. Even with the head start in the count, full results in super-close contests still might take a few days.

At the vote center

How do I become a poll watcher? Can I just show up and watch?

You can’t just show up and hang out at vote centers. A poll or election watcher is a formal job that requires appointment by a political party or issue committee, as well as training on what the job entails. 

Keep in mind that trying to intimidate voters at polling places is illegal, and Attorney General Phil Weiser told the Denver Post that his office will prosecute those who try to intimidate people at vote centers.

Can I wear my favorite political T-shirt or cap to the polls when I drop off a ballot or vote in person?

No. You can’t promote or oppose a candidate or ballot issue within 100 feet of any building where a polling place is located. This is called electioneering, and includes T-shirts, buttons, hats or other apparel with reference to the election as well as signs. Campaign workers also are prohibited from offering water, food or anything else to people waiting to vote. Soliciting signatures for ballot measures or recall elections is also prohibited.

May I deliver ballots for other people in my family or neighborhood along with mine? Is “ballot harvesting” legal? Should I let someone else turn in my ballot?

An individual may turn in up to 10 ballots from family, friends or neighbors. People working for a political party or other organization also may only turn in 10 ballots, and often may reach out to people with that offer in trying to increase voter turnout. You should make sure you trust the person you allow to return your ballot. Other states have different laws on returning such ballots.

This story is brought to you by COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative, a nonprofit coalition of more than 60 newsrooms across Colorado working together to better serve the public. Learn more at https://colabnews.co.

This story was posted on October 23, 2020.