Election 2020: The life of a mail-in ballot
If you are among the millions of Americans who intend to vote by mail ahead of the November 3 election, it’s likely you’re facing a overwhelming amount of misinformation about the integrity of voting by mail.
You’ve undoubtedly heard that voting by mail leads to voter fraud, or that voting by mail helps one party over another. Perhaps you’ve heard that ballots can be changed once they’re mailed out, causing your ballot to register a vote for someone you didn’t pick.
Fortunately for Colorado voters, voting by mail is something they’ve been doing since 2013 and has been proven to be safe, according to a number of studies.
According to state guidelines, every county -including Moffat County – in the state of Colorado follows the same standards and procedures for the vote-by-mail system.
Those procedures help make up the life of a mail-in ballot.
BALLOTS ARE FORMED, PRINTED AND MAILED
When it comes to the amendments, initiatives and questions on the ballot, as well as candidates, all information must gather the necessary number of signatures by September 4 to be on the ballot. Then, ballots are proofed and approved before being sent off to the vendor to be printed by September 11.
This year, ballots for registered Moffat County voters will be mailed out on Oct. 12. Across the state, most ballots will go out by Oct. 9, which is 22 days before the election, following state guidelines.
“The Post Office can’t tell us how long it will take for ballots to reach voters because it depends on the class of mail, so what I’ve been telling all my voters locally that if they don’t have their ballots by the 19th when we open the voting center, come and see me,” Elections Coordinator Debbie Belleville said.
Ballots that are returned to the elections office as undeliverable are then locked away in storage and considered “dead ballots.”
VOTING BY MAIL
Once ballots are received by the voter, they can be returned completed by mail, dropped off at any designated 24-hour drop box, or in-person drop box. The ballot through the mail allows voters to make their choices from the comfort of their home.
Once ballots are dropped off in the drop box, a bipartisan team of election judges collects the ballots and then scans them into the system, much like you would scan an item at the grocery store.
From there, election judges complete signature verification on each ballot to ensure the signature on the ballot matches the system, which is one step to ensure no voter fraud occurs.
“At all times, those ballots are in the hands of a bipartisan team,” Belleville said. “The moment we get them to the moment we open them and separate them, there is always a bipartisan team handling those ballots, so it’s hard to see how voter fraud could occur.
“We have never had those issues here,” Belleville added.
The drop box at the county courthouse will open up on Friday, Oct. 16.
Voting “twice” simply isn’t possible with mail-in voting. Once a ballot signature is verified, the ballot is marked as voted. Therefore if someone sends in a ballot and then tries to vote in person later on, their ballot is marked as “previously voted.”
Attempting to vote twice is voter fraud and would lead to being turned into the district attorney.
Once signature verification is complete, a group of bipartisan judges – in teams of two – open and separate the ballots from its envelope and then place the ballots into a new batch that is transferred to two different judges.
From there, the two judges create two new batches of 100 ballots, shuffle the ballots and then sort them into bundles of 25. The rebatched ballots are then given to a different judge who numbers each ballot 1-25 and places them in a hold box to take them to the scanning machine.
Once the opening process is complete, a bipartisan team of election judges – Moffat County has 23 election judges this year – will transport the batched ballots to the election center, where scanning will then begin for tabulation.
Each scanned batch is verified by a bipartisan team of judges and recorded on a ballot manifest that is used to track and balance the election.
Once all ballots are scanned, a bipartisan team of election judges will adjudicate any ballots that have stray marks, two votes for one contest, questions with a yes or no choice to determine the voter intent. Once adjudicated, the ballots are received into the results software for tabulation and procuring the election results.
Once the election is complete, the elections office is required by law to hold onto the ballots in a secure room for 25 months. Once the 25 months is up, the county then turns to a shredding company to shred all old ballots, sharing the process with the Judicial District to securely shred government documents.
VOTING IN PERSON
Those not comfortable voting by mail this year are encouraged to vote in person at the county courthouse, starting Monday, Oct. 19.
The elections center will be open on election day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The elections center will also be open on Saturday, Oct. 24 and Saturday, Oct. 31 for special 4-hour voting windows from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
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