Eagle County ballot integrity requires a team of judges | VailDaily.com

Eagle County ballot integrity requires a team of judges

Nearly 50 election judges are working this year; even more will be needed in 2020

Eagle County Clerk and Recorder Regina O'Brien wheels in another load of ballots during the 2018 election.
Randy Wyrick|randy@vaildaily.com
Election Day is Tuesday Election Day is Nov. 5, but there are two elections being run that day. Town of Vail voters will select four members of the Vail Town Council, and decide whether or not to impose a tax on tobacco products. That’s a polling-place election. Vail voters will cast separate ballots in the coordinated election being run by Eagle County. That’s the election most of us will participate in. Ballots can be dropped off at either local post offices or drop boxes in the valley.

EAGLE COUNTY — It takes a good-sized team to run Eagle County’s election. A big part of the job is keeping ballots secure and accurately counted.

Eagle County Clerk and Recorder Regina O’Brien has worked on county elections since 2013, when the entire state went to a mail balloting system.

O’Brien said ballot security has been “tight” in her experience. In fact, she said, many of the same security measures are used for polling-place elections and the current mail and drop-off balloting.

The county’s drop boxes — there are 24-hour boxes in Eagle, Edwards and Avon, and a business-hours voter service center in Vail — are the most popular, O’Brien said.

But, she added, her office works closely with local post offices. In fact, she said, ballots dropped at post offices on Election Day will be set aside for pickup by poll workers.

Ballots gathered by teams

One part of ballot security is sending out bipartisan teams to pick up all the ballots.

Once the ballots are taken to the counting room in the Eagle County Administration Building, the teamwork continues as election judges prepare the ballots for counting.

There’s a lot more to the process than simply opening envelopes and dumping ballots into counting machines.

O’Brien said the counting has to satisfy state requirements. A post-election audit is conducted after every election. Auditors will request a specific ballot from a specific batch, so ballots have to be kept in the order in which they’re counted.

Before counting, though, election judges compare the signatures on submitted ballots with the signatures on file in the voter registration system. If the first team of judges — with teams again composed of both Democrats and Republicans — questions the validity of a signature, a second bipartisan team re-examines the ballot.

If the ballot is rejected, a letter will be sent to the voter, who is then given an opportunity to “cure” the signature. A voter can mail in an affadivit, along with a copy of that person’s ID. Voters can be prosecuted for perjury if they submit a fraudulent ballot.

Voters who don’t sign their ballots are also given the chance to “cure” that error.

Keeping ballots secret

While checking voter identities is a big part of the system, O’Brien said there are systems in place to hide just how a voter voted.

Every ballot envelope is unique — one way of making sure votes are cast properly — but O’Brien said those envelopes are placed face-down in the counting room. With the voter’s name face down, envelopes are slit open. Ballots are removed to be flattened and examined for tears or other flaws that would make them uncountable by the machines. Envelopes are moved to a different table before votes are counted.

This year’s election judge team is 46 people strong. It’s a paid position, with judges getting between $15 and $18 per hour, depending on the specific job a person is doing. Election judges also often get a bonus, in the form of delicious baked goods judges will sometimes bring in to share with their crews.

O’Brien said judges are split between Republicans and Democrats, with some unaffiliated voters as part of the crew. In counties in which one party holds a large majority, more unaffiliated voters can be hired as election judges.

Carl Walker has been an election judge for a few years now.

“It’s a wonderful bunch of people to work with,” Walker said, adding that he’s been impressed with the efficiency, transparency and integrity of Eagle County’s processes.

“I’m very impressed with the care that’s taken,” Walker said. “The security is unbelievable.”

O’Brien said she hopes judges tell their neighbors about the vote collection and counting systems. And, she added, she’s going to need a larger crew in 2020.

There will be three county-coordinated elections next year: The March 3 presidential primary; the June 30 state and local party primaries; and the Nov. 3 general election.

“I can’t sing the praises of the judges enough,” O’Brien said. “We could not run (an election) without them.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com or 970-748-2930.