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Got Voting Questions? We've Got Answers.

Sep 23, 2020

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3, but registered voters in Colorado will receive mail-in ballots after Oct. 9. 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 Aspen Public Radio, want to answer those questions.

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

Updated Tuesday, Sept. 29

We have a couple of top questions this week.

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-wing 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 council 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. 

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

First, ballots have barcodes unique to the individual. When ballots 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.

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

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 get 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.