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Tight Partisan Races Put Colorado's By-Mail Election To The Test

Andrew Taylor
Creative Commons

For the second year in a row, registered Colorado voters will receive their ballots through the mail. With several tight elections prompting an aggressive door-to-door ground game, more questions are expected to crop up around what kind of help canvassers can and can't offer to voters.

Rich Coolidge, spokesman for Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, said the all-mail ballot election is changing conversations between voters and canvassers.

"I think people are used to in partisan election years when people may come to their door and say 'Have you voted yet? Do you need a ride to the polls?'" said Coolidge. "Now the conversation has changed a bit to where they may ask you, 'Have you filled out your ballot yet? Why don't I go ahead and deliver that for you?'"

Coolidge said it is legal for canvassers to drop ballots in the mail. However, it is illegal for canvassers to offer stamps and postage to voters.

"The law is very clear, you can't give somebody something of value to get them to vote," he said.

Colorado legislators passed the mail-only election along with same-day voter registration in 2013. At the time, Secretary of State Gessler opposed the changes, while many county clerks supported them.

Coolidge said there were lessons learned after the first year the system was implemented. It took some rural voters almost two weeks for their ballots to make their way into the hands of clerk and recorders.

"In Conejos County in particular, we saw long ballot transmission times — we saw as much as 10-12 days for the ballot to return," said Coolidge. "And we saw a handful of ballots — about 75 — that arrived after 7 p.m. Election Day."

That's problematic because ballots must be received, not postmarked, by county clerk and recorders by 7 p.m. in order to be counted.

"... they may ask you, 'Have you filled out your ballot yet? Why don't I go ahead and deliver that for you?'"

Despite all the focus on mail-in ballots, there may still be reasons to why voters need to visit polling centers, notes Larimer County Clerk and Recorder Angela Myers.

"Although you're really not using the polling center to vote because you're getting your ballot in the mail, folks can register to vote up to and including Election Day," she said. "We have to be set up to provide that kind of service."

Voters can also visit polling centers if they prefer voting in person, if they need to get a replacement ballot, or have had a change of address. If voters just need to check their registration or change their address, they can do so remotely at govotecolorado.com.

Editor's note: The title and last paragraph of this article were changed to clarify that people can vote in-person at polling centers if they choose to do so.

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