Are Mail in Ballots Here to Stay?

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Jade Pruett, Reporter

As COVID 19 spread in March of 2020, many people failed to anticipate the lasting effects of the pandemic on everyday life in America. One of the most pressing issues this election season was how to make voting in the pandemic safe – and if these alterations will be detrimental to American democracy. As our nation has shifted to mail in voting practices, many have come to fear ‘voter fraud’.

Voter fraud is an idea that is established by claims that ballots won’t be counted, that ballots will be lost, or that votes can be forged. In Colorado, however, these fears are truly irrelevant. Tiffany Parker, the La Plata County Clerk who is responsible for counting ballots as well as other county records, discussed the highly effective system Colorado has in order to ensure that we have fair election outcomes and a good voter turnout.

First, she discussed how ballots are sent out in Colorado. Every registered voter in Colorado receives a ballot by mail. Colorado first started this in the 90s on odd-year elections, but since 2013, all registered voters have received them by mail for every election. Voters in Colorado are generally registered to vote when they receive a Colorado driver’s license, but all Colorado voters can always get registered online at govotecolorado.com. 

For security purposes, the list of registered voters also constantly undergoes maintenance. State death records are run against voter lists, Colorado is a part of ERIC (Electronic Registration Information Center) that compiles statewide data (of deaths and such) to improve the accuracy of voter roles, and finally, the state also keeps track of when people file for a change of address. Colorado counties share information when voters change residence between counties and, when voters move out of state, they are sent a form to remove themselves from voter rolls. All of this is to say that mail in voting in Colorado is not only a thing of the future, but also of the past. It has been in place for several years and has a well executed system to ensure all registered (and only registered) voters relieve a ballot in October. 

Once mail in ballots are sent out, how do Coloradans vote? It’s pretty simple, you just fill in the ballot with a blue or black pen! And the best part about mail in ballots is it allows voters to educate themselves on measures while voting, something you can’t really do at the polls. 

Another great benefit of mail in voting is the accessibility for all! Once you receive your ballot, you fill it out, sign it, and then mail it in or drop it off at ballot boxes. Ballot boxes are located across Colorado. As long as votes are received in CO by 7pm election night it will be counted! In La Plata, Mrs. Parker cited that mail in voting accounts for 98% of turnout in the county.

Finally, how are mail in ballots authenticated and counted? When ballots are received, they run through the first of many machines that date stamp them (recognizing the date and method used to vote) and take a picture of the signature on the ballot. This signature is verified by bipartisan teams (with one democrat and one republican) and checked against the signature on file. If your signature does not match, your vote is not discounted. The clerk’s office will send you a letter asking you to verify that they have your correct ballot (and they have 8 days after the election to receive this confirmation and count your ballot). They will then also enter the signature provided into their database to avoid that problem in the future. 

Once your signature is validated, it will move onto the prep for counting. If your ballot has damage, they will be able to duplicate it so that a damaged ballot doesn’t go through the counting machines. Once all of the ballots have been authenticated, they then will move through counting machines. Poll workers will also go through any indiscrepancies when processing a ballot. If you did not fill out your ballot perfectly (and the machine can’t read it), it will still be reviewed to identify voter intent and will not be invalidated. 

Additionally, there is also an auditing process after election day to finalize all the results. While this is a long process, the key takeaways include the difficulty to manipulate and/or forge a ballot because of the authentication process and that all votes are counted, as long as workers can identify voter intent on the ballot. 

Also, to validate the poll worker system the teams that validate signatures are not the ones that count votes, you are simply identified through a number on your ballot (that does not explicitly display party affiliation), meaning your identity is never tied to your votes. The teams counting votes are only allowed to have red pens, so they will never be able to forge ballot results (machines don’t read red pens). The teams are also always bipartisan. 

Overall, mail in voting is safe and secure in Colorado. The results of this election have been quite controversial, but note that no results have been overturned. And we must look towards securing a future of mail in ballots. They are dependable and increase voter turnout. Other states may vary in their mail-in voting processes, but have faith in the centennial state! Our practices serve as a guide for the future as we strive to have the most democratic elections possible!