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What Happens When Your Ballot Gets Rejected? One KUNC Reporter Found Out First-Hand

KUNC reporter Adam Rayes discovered that his ballot got rejected about a week from election day due to a signature verification issue.
Adam Rayes
KUNC reporter Adam Rayes discovered that his ballot got rejected about a week from Election Day due to a signature verification issue.

After weeks of covering the state’s election system and asking numerous local election officials questions like “how can voters ensure their signature isn’t rejected?” — my ballot was rejected this week due to a signature verification issue.

I’ve covered in the past how very rare and totally fixable rejected ballots are and ultimately, I’m glad I got to experience the process first-hand.

The only reason I found out about this as quickly as I did is that I signed up for BallotTrax. Yes, the state requires local election offices to notify voters of their rejected ballots by mail. But my mail notification hasn’t arrived yet — and I’m not sure when it would have.

BallotTrax can notify you about your ballot by email, text and phone every step of the way, from when it's out for delivery to counted or (in my case) rejected. If you haven’t signed up for it yet, you really should.

As of yesterday morning, I'm one of about 800 voters in Weld County to get their ballot rejected this cycle. That's out of more than 68,000 ballots returned at the time (more on those numbers later).

Why did my signature get rejected?

The Weld County Clerk and Recorder’s office — which is responsible for administering elections — couldn't tell me. By state law, bipartisan election judges, and not the clerk or their staff, are responsible for making that choice. And they don't have to note any specific reason.

“(The law) doesn't require them to put like, 'well, we just felt like this, this and this didn't match' because when we train our judges we train them to look for similarities, not to find things that aren't similar,” Weld County Clerk and Recorder Carly Koppes told me. “We're trying to make sure and see if this signature you provided is going to match enough. If they don't feel like there are enough similarities, then that is why they reject it.”

Koppes and other clerks have told me they expect judges to reject any signature they aren’t certain about.

So, looking at my signature now, I can kind of take a wild guess at why judges may have been unsure about it.

A picture of a signature that is 2 bumps and a line, essentially, on a state ID.
Adam Rayes
Adam's state identification card signature.

Yes, that is my real driver's license signature.

And while it may be tempting to think that your ballot will be rejected if your signature looks like mine, the verification process is a lot more complex than just ‘all ballot signatures that look like X get rejected.’

It’s worth noting that my ballot signature for this year's primary was accepted without issue.

At 22 years old, my signature has seen a lot of iterations before this point, and even just from day-to-day it has a lot of variation. Sometimes, you might even be able to make out a letter in my last name.

Young voters tend to get rejected more for this reason, according to the Secretary of State, and because they have fewer signatures on file. This is only my second election in the state, so that tracks for me.

Could I have done anything different to prevent this?

Maybe. Clerks can offer some options for people who believe their signature will be rejected.

Counting Your Mail Ballot Hinges On A Signature. Here's How Colorado Election Officials Verify Your Scribbles
Listen to the first signature verification story I reported for more information.

Summit County, for example, allows voters to include a picture of their state identification in the ballot “because someone could have a broken arm or young people’s signatures could change over the years,” Summit Clerk and Recorder Kathleen Neel told me.

You can call your clerk to find out more if you’re really worried but whenever I asked them about how to avoid a signature rejection, their general advice was the same: don’t overthink it, sign like you would any other official document, then watch your ballot tracking, email or mail for any issues and respond quickly.

I also reported earlier this month how election judges are trained for signature verification, what they’re looking for in your signature, how the system is set up to prevent any misdeeds during the process and the few, but potentially important, ways in which those processes differ from county to county.

How I fixed it

I called the number provided on the rejection notification email to start fixing my ballot. I told the staffer who answered that I was also a reporter and wanted to record the process.

They transferred me to Weld County Clerk Carly Koppes (who I've spoken to about election systems a lot lately). She took over helping me get my ballot counted.

Since I requested to record and asked extra questions, the call took me a while. But it probably would have taken closer to three minutes to just find out the reason my ballot was rejected and learn how to fix it.

The process of actually fixing it was even quicker (at least the way I did it). And you can skip the call entirely, reducing the time and effort required.

Clerk Koppes explained to me that her office could send me an email with an affidavit form that I could fill out digitally. Then I would just need to attach a copy of my identification and email it back.

The process would work the same way if you choose to fix it by mail.

“Please do that as soon as possible,” Koppes said. “You do have up until eight days after Election Day to get that back to us.”

But there is another option and “it’s pretty slick,” she told me.

It’s called TXT2Cure. The new statewide system lets voters fix their ballots by, well, text. I decided to use that. Here’s how it works:

It was quick and very intuitive for me, but I recognize everyone's experience with technology is not always the same.

“Now, after you do the TXT2Cure, or you send in the affidavit, you're more than welcome to call us up and make sure that we either receive the information through the text secure application, or we received your affidavit and ID was acceptable,” she said.

If you fix your ballot by text or email before the clerk gets a chance to send you the mail notification, they'll just hold off on sending it, she added.

So when will I know about my ballot's updated status?

Unclear. It just depends on the workload Weld’s election judges have to get through.

“So we are about a day behind just due to the fact of the snow day (Monday), but they're going to catch up as quickly as possible,” Koppes said. “And what our ultimate goal is here in Weld County is we will have everything we received beforehand completed the Monday night before Election Day. So the only items that we have to complete on Election Day are the items that we receive on Election Day.”

Luckily, there's plenty of time. Yes, 7 p.m. on Nov. 3 is the deadline for your ballot to arrive and get counted, but voters have until eight days after to fix a rejected ballot and still have it count.

Why is taking the time to fix a ballot worth it (especially after Election Day)?

A few things made it worthwhile:

First, I already spent all that time researching those local positions, judges and confusing, controversial ballot questions (though, KUNC’s election page did make it easier), never mind all the time and energy it takes to follow national races. Why not spend the extra few minutes to make all that work actually mean something?

Second, if I fail to verify my identity with the clerk’s office after the election, the District Attorney will follow up with me and request I verify it for them. If I still don’t verify my identity, they may open an investigation into possible voter fraud. Unless I’m okay with that, I’ll have to verify my identity at some point. I might as well do it now while I can have my vote counted and am not under the threat of legal action.

Finally, I believe my vote matters. As does everyone else’s.

Let's look at those numbers again: 800 rejected ballots out of more than 68,000 ballots means around 1% of all votes cast in Weld County aren't being counted. And again, these numbers are as of yesterday morning, when Weld’s total received ballots was only at around 40% of all the votes cast in 2016's general election with eight days to go (which is actually ahead of the number of ballots they received in the same number of early voting days during that cycle, Koppes said.)

Rejections could go down as more people fix their ballots or up as more are rejected. And the percent of total ballots cast that are rejections could change as more ballots come in.

Statewide, less than 1% of all ballots cast were rejected in the last two general elections.

In Weld and many counties, that share was closer to half of 1%. In others, it was higher.

But even at closer to or slightly above 1%, that small fraction of votes might seem meaningless. Although that's never been enough to have made a difference in a statewide general election, some local races have been closer in previous election years.

“I always say every single vote matters because we always have some close race here in Weld County and I want your voice to be heard,” Koppes said. “So if you do get a rejection we have all these different options for you to get it taken care of before Election Day. And so I would greatly appreciate it for anybody, such as yourself, in that 800 that we've rejected to get it done as quickly as possible.”

She’s not the only clerk who told me that elections in their county have been so close that rejected ballots could have changed the outcome. This is why Koppes is so disappointed that only a handful of the approximately 800 people with rejected ballots this election have tried to fix them as of yesterday, a common theme in many elections the county has held.

Plus, sound defeats and victories in the statewide contests may not always be guaranteed.

As always, clerks across Northern Colorado say they want voters to reach out to them with questions, concerns, or curiosities about the election. Find out how to contact yours here.

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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