Got voting questions? We’ve got answers
Colorado News Collaborative
DENVER — Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3, but registered voters in Summit County will receive mail-in ballots the week of Oct. 12. With national concerns about the veracity of mail-in ballots, Colorado has become a focal point because it began statewide vote by mail in 2013.
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 the Summit Daily News, want to answer those questions.
Here’s this week’s big question: 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. 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. That’s not true in Colorado, so Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold is suing the Postal Service, saying the mailer is misleading and could disenfranchise voters.
A federal judge issued an order late Saturday, Sept. 12, to halt the mailings, and the Postal Service asked that he reconsider the order Sunday, Sept. 13. On Monday, Sept. 14, the Postal Service said it already had delivered 75% of the mailers, including to Summit County residents.
Head to SummitDaily.com/election for information about voter registration, candidates, election results and more.
Q. How do I know if I’m registered to vote?
A. Find out if you’re registered at GoVoteColorado.gov.
Q. What if I’ve moved?
A. Go to SOS.state.co.us/voter and click on “Review your voter record” under “Important information.” After you find your voter registration, you’ll be able to edit your address after confirming your identity.
Q. What if my name changed?
A. Go to SOS.state.co.us/voter and click on “Change my name (PDF)” under “Manage my registration.” You’ll need to download and fill out the form and then send it to your county clerk.
Q. What’s the difference between an “active” voter and an “inactive” voter?
A. 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 to them marked “undeliverable.” Under federal law, clerks must wait two general election cycles before removing inactive voters from the database. You can check GoVoteColorado.gov to see if your registration is active and update your information if it isn’t.
Q. How long do I have to register?
A. You must register by Oct. 26 to get a ballot in the mail, but you’ll need to return your completed ballot to a vote center or drop box. You can register and vote in person at vote centers through 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.
Q. What prevents me or anyone from voting twice — in person and by mail?
A. First, ballot envelopes 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 they 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 would 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.
(Editor’s note: A previous version of this answer included incorrect information provided by the Secretary of State’s Office. Ballot envelopes have barcodes to confirm that an individual voted. The actual ballots can’t be traced to individual voters.)
Q. I saw reports about voting cards being mailed to people who aren’t eligible to vote.
A. 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-leaning 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.
Q. How do I become a poll watcher, like President Donald Trump suggested? Can I just show up and watch?
A. You can’t just show up and hang out at vote centers. A poll or election watcher is a formal job that requires appointment by a political party or issue committee as well as training on what the job entails. This story from The Colorado Sun offers more detail on how to be a poll watcher. Keep in mind that trying to intimidate voters at polling places is illegal, and Attorney General Phil Weiser told The Denver Post that his office will prosecute those who try to intimidate people at vote centers.
Q. Can I wear my favorite political T-shirt or cap to the polls when I drop off a ballot or vote in person?
A. No. You can’t promote or oppose a candidate or ballot issue within 100 feet of any building where a polling place is located. This is called electioneering, and includes T-shirts, buttons, hats or other apparel with reference to the election as well as signs. Campaign workers also are prohibited from offering water, food or anything else to people waiting to vote. Soliciting signatures for ballot measures or recall elections is also prohibited.
Q. One of my family members is seriously ill but insists on casting a ballot. What if they die before Election Day?
A. If a ballot is cast before Nov. 3 when the person is alive, it will count and is legal.
Q. I cast my mail ballot, but now I’ve changed my mind on something. Can I get my ballot back and change my vote?
A. No. We asked Peg Perl, Arapahoe County’s director of elections, and here’s what she emailed in response: “This question came up in the presidential primary when people cast early ballots for a Democratic candidate and then that candidate dropped out in the last 48 hours before the final Election Day, and voters asked about ‘voting again’ to change their vote to someone still in the race. Once someone has voted a mail ballot and it is received by the county clerk, that voter has voted. It is updated in the statewide voter database. You cannot vote again.”
Q. When will I get my ballot in the mail?
A. Summit County voters will begin receiving ballots the week of Oct. 12.
Q. What if I don’t receive my ballot?
A. If you haven’t received your ballot by Oct. 16, contact the Summit County Clerk and Recorder’s office at 970-453-3479 to request a replacement ballot.
Q. How do I return my ballot?
A. Ballots must arrive at a voting center, ballot drop box or county clerk’s office by 7 p.m. Election Day, Nov. 3. You can mail your ballot back, if there’s enough time for it to arrive. You can also deliver it to drop boxes across the county. Beginning Oct. 19, you can 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. Find a complete list of ballot drop boxes and voting centers in Summit County at SummitCountyCo.gov/1264/2020-general-election by clicking on “How to cast your vote.”
Q. How do I know if my completed ballot was received?
A. Voters statewide can sign up to track their ballots at Colorado.BallotTrax.net/voter. You’ll get notifications via email, text message or phone when your ballot is mailed as well as 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.
Q. If I send my ballot back by mail, will it get there?
A. The Secretary of State recommends delivering ballots in person to drop boxes or voting centers in the final eight days before the election. If you mail them before that, they should arrive in time.
Q. Are drop boxes safe from tampering?
A. 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.
Q. I don’t want to vote by mail. Can I vote in person?
A. Colorado will open about 330 voting centers beginning Oct. 19. Summit County’s early voting center is at the South Branch Library, 103 S. Harris St., Breckenridge. You can vote there in person through 7 p.m. on Election Day with limited Saturday hours and no voting on Sundays. Additional voting locations will be opened in Frisco and Silverthorne on Election Day.
Q. When do elections officials start counting our ballots?
A. Elections officials may start counting ballots 15 days ahead of the election on Oct. 19. But first, elections officials must verify the voter signature on the envelope. 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.
Q. May I deliver ballots for other people in my family or neighborhood along with mine? Is “ballot harvesting” legal? Should I let someone else turn in my ballot?
A. An individual may turn in up to 10 ballots from family, friends or neighbors. People working for a political party or other organization also may turn in only 10 ballots and often may reach out to people with that offer in trying to increase voter turnout. You should make sure you trust the person you allow to return your ballot. Other states have different laws on returning ballots.
Q. Why is the envelope for my ballot different than the one my friend received?
A. Each county decides the design of the ballot envelopes, using different colors on the exterior of the ballot while meeting state requirements for other information. Some counties may even have different designations for certain types of ballots, such as first-time voters who must provide a copy of an ID with their ballot. The envelope colors don’t identify individual voters or their party affiliation. They don’t have an impact on how or whether your ballot is processed.
Q. Can I take a photo of my ballot and post it on social media?
A. Yes. A 2017 law makes ballot selfies legal in Colorado. According to Colorado Public Radio, it overturned an 1891 law against sharing marked ballots, which was aimed at preventing voter coercion. But you might want to use caution that personal details, including your signature, aren’t revealed when you post.
Q. I’ve already received my ballot at my current address but I will be moving and have an updated address before Election Day. Both addresses are in the same county. Should I submit the ballot I already received or change my address and request a new ballot be sent?
A. Here’s what the Denver elections office had to say: “A change of address on your voter registration may impact what your ballot looks like on the local level. For this reason, we suggest that voters change their address immediately and wait to vote their new ballot.” In Summit County for example, those who live in the Buffalo Mountain Metropolitan District or the Copper Mountain Consolidated Metropolitan District will have questions specific to their districts on the ballot. Residents in all other areas of Summit County will have the same ballot.
Q. I submitted my ballot but did not remove the stub. Will my vote still be counted?
A. Yes, it will count. It is easier to process without the stub, but the ballot will still be counted.
Have a question we haven’t answered? Submit it here.
Editor’s note: This information is brought to you by COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative, a nonprofit bringing together more than 50 newsrooms across Colorado working together to better serve the public. Learn more at CoLabNews.co.
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