A Colorado Voting Q&A - Updated October 15

Oct 15, 2020

Credit Mark Duggan

Colorado's 64 county clerks started mailing ballots last Friday for the Nov. 3 election. With national concern about the integrity of mail-in ballots, Colorado is getting national attention for its system. Colorado began statewide vote by mail in 2013, although some counties adopted mail ballots before that.

We know voters and potential voters will have questions about how voter registration works, how mail-in ballots work, how ballots are counted and more. The Colorado News Collaborative and its members, including KSUT, want to answer those questions. We contacted the Secretary of State’s Office, county clerks and other resources to respond.

Before we get to questions this week, three things:

  • If you’re wondering whether you are registered to vote, you can check at GoVoteColorado.
  • If you want to know when your ballot was mailed and when it’s been accepted, sign up for ballot tracking.
  • County clerks are ready to answer your questions, too. Our list includes websites, phone numbers and emails.

On to the questions:

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.

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. The Denver Post pointed late last year out how 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. And consider sharing the issue with Electionland, a partnership between ProPublica and news organizations around the nation.

Where’s the secrecy sleeve in my ballot?
Counties don’t have to include a “secrecy sleeve” to cover up your ballot before putting it in the envelope under a 2018 under Colorado law aimed at saving money. In many counties, you may put your ballot inside the instruction pamphlet if you want to cover it up. 

How do I become a poll watcher, like President Donald Trump suggested? Can I just show up and watchYou 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. This story from the Colorado Sun offers more detail on how to be a poll watcher.

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.

Have a question we haven’t answered yet? Submit it here.

MORE QUESTIONS:
I saw reports about voting cards being mailed to people who aren’t eligible to vote.
A CBS4 story sparked questions about cards mailed by the Secretary of State’s Office to people who aren’t registered to vote. The cards let residents know they can register if they’re citizens, have lived in Colorado for 22 days before Nov. 3 and will be 18 or older on Election Day. But the story, headlined “Colorado Secretary Of State Mails Postcards To Non-Citizens, Dead People Urging Them To Vote,” suggested that the Secretary of State's office was encouraging people who are ineligible to vote to cast a ballot. It noted that about a dozen of  the cards out of 750,000 were mailed to people ineligible to vote.

Right-media and Twitter accounts quickly seized upon the report and shared it as evidence of potential voter fraud. Voter fraud is, in fact, rare in Colorado and nationally. The story was eventually removed by CBS4 and replaced by an interview with Secretary of State Jena Griswold.

Meanwhile, readers last week asked us several questions about when vote counting would be complete. Several Coloradans asked variations on this question:

When do elections officials start counting our ballots?
Elections officials may start counting ballots 15 days ahead of the election, on Oct. 19. But first, elections officials must verify the voter signature on the envelope. (See below for information about how signatures are verified.) 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.

Read on for more information.

Registration

How do I know if I’m registered to vote?
GoVoteColorado has a range of information on registration, including the ability to register to vote. Go here 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.

What if my name changed?
You’ll need to fill out this form 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 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

NEW QUESTION:
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 drivers 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 this detailed guide for election judges.

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 will begin 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 insinuates that voters must request mail-in or absentee ballots. Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold sued the Postal Service, saying the mailer is misleading and could disenfranchise voters.

What was the upshot of Colorado’s legal battle with the U.S. Postal Service?
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.

When will I get my ballot in the mail?
The first day ballots may be mailed is Oct. 9, a Friday, and they must be sent out by Oct. 16 at the latest. Check with your county elections office for information on when they will send out mail ballots. If you sign up for ballot tracking in the link in the next question, you’ll get an alert when your ballot is in the mail.

How do I know if my ballot was received?
Voters statewide may sign up to track your ballot online. 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. A dozen Colorado counties already offered ballot tracking, so if you’re already signed up, there’s no need to do it again.

What if I don’t get my ballot?
Check GoVoteColorado to see if your ballot has been mailed. 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.

I won’t be here during the time ballots are mailed out? Can I get a ballot earlier? Or have one mailed to a different address?
Yes. And, as of now, you may be able to pick up a ballot before you leave. Contact your county clerk to work out details if you want to pick up a ballot or have it mailed to a different address.

How do I return my ballot?
Ballots must arrive at a vote center or county clerk’s office by 7 p.m. Nov. 3. You may mail your ballot back, if there’s enough time for it to arrive. You may also deliver it to drop boxes at your county clerk’s office or other locations in your county. Beginning Oct. 19, you may deliver it to voter centers staffed by election workers. About 75% of Colorado voters return their mail ballots to drop boxes, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

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 don’t want to vote by mail. I want to vote in person.
Colorado will open about 330 vote centers beginning Oct. 19. You may vote there in person starting then through 7 p.m. Election Day with some limited weekend hours.

What prevents me or anyone from voting twice: in person and by mail?
First, envelopes the ballots are returned in have barcodes unique to the individual. When the envellopes 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 casts 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.

NEW QUESTION
How can i be sure  my vote is counted on Election Day?
Sign up to track your ballot. 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.

Here’s a tip: The sooner you return your ballot, the sooner the texts, emails and phone calls nagging you to vote will stop. Campaigns and political parties get information daily on who has voted, and they stop contacting those voters.

**CORRECTION: A previous version included incorrect information provided by the Secretary of States’ Office. Ballot envelopes have barcodes to confirm that an individual voted. The actual ballots can’t be traced to individual voters.**

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.