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Ballots Will Get Counted And Be Secure, According To Northern Colorado Clerks

Jackie Hai

County clerks and their election teams are responsible for making sure ballots get counted in November. Clerks across Northern Colorado say they’re ready as the election nears and concerns about mailed ballots and misinformation get louder.

County Clerks and Recorders are elected officials responsible for sending ballots out to voters, setting up ballot drop boxes and polling centers, encouraging people to vote, keeping ballots secure and hiring and training election judges (the people responsible for working the polls and counting ballots).

“People are like, ‘Oh, so you worked just a couple of days out of the year in elections,'” said Weld County Clerk and Recorder Carly Koppes. “And like, nope, we do not. We work all year round in the elections department. We have voter list maintenance that we continue to do to ensure that our voter rolls are very clean.”

“Colorado has always been aggressive in trying to be the front-runner of new processes while keeping the integrity and the transparency there.”
Yuma County Clerk Beverly Wenger

A pretty contentious atmosphere surrounds the logistics of this election. Concerns, and lawsuits, have been raised by state officials and others nationally about changes to the U.S. Postal Service’s processesand a misleading election information mailer they sent out. (Lawsuits about both issues have been resolved for the time being, with judges issuing a nationwide injunction on USPS changes and requiring the agency to destroy the remaining election mailers and consult the state before sending out others in the future.) And there's a lot of misinformation about ballot security.

The clerks in Grand, Summit, Washington, Yuma, Logan, Weld and Larimer counties have all been working elections in some form or another for at least a dozen years. They’ve got multiple presidential and local elections under their belts.

“There is a lot of noise and elections by definition are emotional events for everyone, and that is absolutely normal,” said Larimer County Clerk Angela Myers. “And although it's big, that's what we do. And we always invite everybody to the party and plan for everybody to come.”

“The news media has created a lot of chaos with our processes,” said Yuma County Clerk Beverly Wenger. “Colorado has always been aggressive in trying to be the front-runner of new processes while keeping the integrity and the transparency there.”

“There's been a lot more people calling and asking, ‘How do you guys run elections? How can you guarantee that it’s secure?'” said Weld County Clerk Koppes. “Presidential (elections) are always very heightened and you just have to reassure everybody that we do know what we're doing.”

Across the board, these clerks say their voters' ballots will be delivered, returned and counted in this election and will be secure. But they recognize that some may still be worried about their vote.

“If you really truly have concerns, if you have questions and Facebook is leading you down a bad rabbit hole, or even Google is leading you down a bad rabbit hole or Twitter, contact us directly. Contact your actual elections department,” Koppes said. “I do know elections because I've been doing it for 16 years and I'd be more than happy to have that conversation.”

Voting logistics

Voters should see their ballots arrive by mail sometime around the week of Oct. 12 (so long as the state has the right address.) Clerks noted that ballots may take a bit longer to arrive in certain areas.

Jackie Hai

For extra peace of mind, voters can track their ballot online through their county clerk’s or the Secretary of State’s websites or contact them directly with any questions. They can also request a replacement ballot until Oct. 26.

Voters can mail the ballot back in until Oct. 26 if they want it to arrive on time. Alternatively, they can put it in a 24-hour drop box until 7 p.m. on election day, Nov. 3. That time is also when in-person polling stations close and is the deadline for mailed ballots to arrive and be counted.

Polling centers are open Oct. 19 to Nov. 3 for in-person voting.

Clerks trust U.S. Postal Service

Despite the ongoing controversy surrounding changes to the U.S. Postal Service’s processes, the seven county clerks said they believe they can handle the election.

“I personally, for the last 16 years have been having direct conversations with USPS and their uppers and their postmasters and their managers,” said Weld County Clerk Koppes. “And I know for 100% fact that they understand the importance of a mail ballot and that they are going to do their part in the election.”

That confidence isn’t unique to larger counties like Weld. Rural county clerks also had a lot of confidence in the USPS’s ability to deliver ballots to and from voters in a timely fashion.

“Our experience has been very positive with the post office,” said Grand County Clerk Sara Rosene.

Almost all the clerks said that voters need to mail their ballots in by Oct. 26 to ensure their vote gets counted — that’s eight days before election day. Rosene said Grand County voters should do it earlier to be safe.

Yuma County Clerk Beverly Wenger also said her county's voters should try to return their ballots at least three days earlier, as mail delivery in Yuma tends to move a bit slower. Yuma County’s two largest cities are Wray and Yuma.

“Even though there's 30 miles between the two cities, it sometimes takes up to five days because if you mail in Wray and it's going to go to Yuma, it has to go all the way to Denver and then come back to Yuma,” Wenger said. “And vice versa, if it mails in Yuma, it doesn't come directly to Wray. It has to go to Denver and then back to Wray.”

Multiple clerks said only a handful of mailed ballots arrived too late to be counted in this year’s primary. For those that are still worried about whether their ballot will be delivered in time, all seven clerks had the same advice: use a 24-hour drop box.

“I know for 100% fact that (the USPS) understand(s) the importance of a mail ballot and that they are going to do their part in the election.”
Weld County Clerk Carly Koppes

As President Trump and others continue to push unfounded claims that mail election systems like Colorado’s lead to more voter fraud, these clerks all insisted that between signature checks, security cameras monitoring much of the process, bipartisan election judge teams and chain of custody procedures, their county’s ballots will be counted fairly and accurately.

“Colorado has a very good process with regard to mail ballot elections,” Grand County Clerk Rosene said. “And then of course we also do the risk-limiting audit after the election. And that gives a good level of confidence with regard to our elections.”

Only .0027% of all ballots cast in 2018’s election were referred for investigation, Secretary of State Jenna Griswold told CBS4.

“We've been doing it for seven years now and it has been a good process,” Yuma County Clerk Wenger said. “Colorado's stats have been extremely good.”

24-hour drop boxes

Each county clerk said that a majority of their voters use the drop boxes to turn in their ballot. That’s true for the state as a whole, as 75% of Colorado’s voters use them, according to the Secretary of State.

The drop boxes are required to be under constant video surveillance to ensure that they aren’t tampered with. Every 24 hours, a bipartisan team of election judges comes to collect the ballots from the boxes.

But the accessibility of these boxes really varies. Weldand Larimerhave more than 15 locations each. Smaller counties like Grandand Summithave five or more. But Yuma, Loganand WashingtonCounties only have one or two. And while population determines the minimum number of boxes a county must have (one box for every 30,000 voters) neither that number nor the number of square miles in a county directly correlates to the number of boxes.

For example, Logan County has a bigger population than Grand County and is nearly the same size in square miles, but Logan has only one box (located in its largest city, Sterling) compared to Grand’s five more spread-out boxes.

“When ballots go out as early as Colorado sends them out, you're in Sterling probably at one point or another to do some sort of transaction business, doctor or something like that,” said Logan County Clerk Pamela Bacon.

Sterling acts like a hub to the much smaller communities that surround it, so Bacon said putting just one box there works well. Yuma and Washington county clerks have their boxes set up similarly.

“Living in a rural area, you know how to manage your time,” said Washington County Clerk Annie Kuntz to explain why there is only one box in Akron, the county’s largest city. “So they do very well on knowing that they either need to mail it in, or when they come in to renew their plates or go to the doctor or go get groceries, they'll bring their ballot in at the same time.”

The clerks give a variety of reasons for not adding more boxes.

Bacon said that she could add boxes to some of the smaller communities, “but then you're just servicing those two to three hundred people. Which is fine, but then you almost have to put it in every single one of them to be fair in comparison.”

“Trying to put another one in Yuma County would be very difficult, because we have to have the surveillance,” Yuma County Clerk Wenger said. “We're in such a rural area that our connectivity is unreliable in some of the other locations. We have a couple other smaller communities, but to find a location and have it surveillanced and be able to access that surveillance information in a timely manner for me is pretty near impossible.”

“I would probably not get another one because then you have to have 24-hour surveillance on it and I would have to pay judges to travel to that location to bring the ballot back and our county is over 2,500 square miles.” said Washington County Clerk Kuntz. “So it's a long distance. And then, especially in the winter, I don't need to have judges out there driving.”

Voters can find their nearest drop box by going to their county clerk’s website or contacting them directly.

As KUNC’s rural and small communities reporter, I help further the newsroom’s efforts to ensure that all of Northern Colorado’s communities are heard.
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