Eagle County officials already processing ballots | VailDaily.com

Eagle County officials already processing ballots

EAGLE COUNTY — The days of standing in line at a polling place — sometimes during a snow storm — are a thing of the past in Eagle County.

Following a long-building trend, Eagle County this year will hold its first presidential election with a mail-in format. People can still vote in person, or on Election Day, — albeit at just three county voting centers — but Eagle County Clerk & Recorder Teak Simonton said she expects the vast majority of ballots to be in her office before Nov. 8.

Depending on a voter's location within the county, people will receive one of seven different ballots. If someone has moved and kept the same mailing address, that voter may receive two ballots. Voters should fill out the second ballot they receive. That's the only one that will count. Duplicates will be rejected.

It's a long ballot this year, with two sheets to vote. It's a big enough ballot that postage is 68 cents this year.

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Once those ballots are received, they're subject to a lot of scrutiny and security.

Simonton said that ballots are always handled by two people, and there are always at least two election judges on hand at all times when handling ballots. Of those pairs of judges, there will always be one Republican and one Democrat.

That security step can lead to some tightly-packed cars when judges and clerk's office employees are making frequent trips to post offices and the county's voting centers in Avon and El Jebel on Election Day.

An Election Day trip that includes stops at multiple post offices requires four people, Simonton said. Two people will go into the post office, while another two people wait in the car if it's carrying other ballots.

"We never have ballots unattended," Simonton said.

Working with postmasters

With most of the ballots coming in through the mail, working with local postmasters is critical. Until a few days before Nov. 8, Election Day, ballots will run through the usual system, with ballots sent to a processing centers in Grand Junction and returned.

Starting Nov. 5, the main post offices in the county will hold ballots out of the broader system and will be postmarked and processed at those offices, eliminating the need for the trip to Grand Junction.

Still, if you haven't voted by Nov. 4 or so, it might be best to use the county's drop boxes in Eagle, Avon, El Jebel, Basalt, and, from Nov. 5 on, a drop box at the Grand View Room atop the Lionshead Village parking structure in Vail.

The drop boxes at the county offices and the town of Basalt are available 24 hours a day. You don't have to get out of your car at the boxes in Eagle and Avon.

The Vail location will be open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 4 and Nov. 7. The drop box will be available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 5, and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Ballots left at the drop boxes are picked up frequently, again, by two-person teams. Every drop box has a fresh numbered seal applied every time it's opened and closed.

Voters can also vote electronically at the county offices in Avon, Eagle and El Jebel.

Once back at the county's administration building, the ballots go through an extensive verification process that starts with checking signatures. Every voter registration form has a voter's signature. Once a ballot is received, the signature on the ballot is cross-checked with the one on file. If election judges determine those signatures don't match, a ballot is set aside, and a letter is sent to the voter. That voter has eight days after Election Day to straighten out the discrepancy.

After the ballots pass that first step, they're taken to the lower level of the administration building for further processing. The holding area is also secured. The only keys are held by employees of the clerk's office.

On Election Day

Votes received before Election Day are processed, but not actually counted. Actual counting doesn't start until just past 7 a.m. on Election Day. Still, given that it takes roughly an hour to prepare, the more ballots that arrive before Election Day, the sooner Simonton and her staff will have results available. The first results could be posted on the clerk's Twitter account — @ecclerk — before 7:30 p.m.

"We'll be putting a lot of information out on Twitter," Simonton said, adding that updating the county's website won't be as immediate.

Running an election is a huge job, big enough that the clerk's office will close to everything but election-related work on Nov. 8. If you need motor vehicle registration or recording, get it done on Monday or Wednesday.

On the other hand, the mail ballot system is more efficient than it used to be.

When the county held polling place elections at as many as 16 locations, the team of election judges could be as many as 100 people. The old system could also delay results, since boxes of ballots had to be driven to Eagle, often in bad weather.

This year, there are about 30 election judges.

It's a lot of work, and, Simonton said, a lot of it goes beyond what's required, especially the work with post offices.

"We go above and beyond what a lot of counties do," Simonton said.

The important thing, though, is to get that ballot in before 7 p.m. on Nov. 8. If you miss that deadline, then your vote won't count.

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

By the numbers:

29,000: Ballots sent to county voters the week of Oct. 17.

2,500: Ballots received as of Oct. 24.

68 cents: Cost of postage for this year’s ballot.

3: County voting centers — in Eagle, Avon and El Jebel.

More info: Go to Eagle County Clerk and Recorder’s Office website.