O’Brien: How does vote-by-mail actually work? | VailDaily.com
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O’Brien: How does vote-by-mail actually work?

Regina O'Brien
Valley Voices

In the June 30 primary election, 98.5% of Eagle County voters voted and returned their mail ballot. Colorado became a vote-by-mail election state in 2013, and this return rate is par for the course when it comes to Eagle County.  Since we’re so keen on vote-by-mail, here’s an overview of the life of a vote-by-mail ballot:

Ballot mailing

Eligible registered voters are mailed ballots starting 22 days before an election. Ballots are mailed following U.S. Postal Service guidelines for election mail to ensure they are delivered within 3-5 business days. By law, ballots are not forwardable, so it’s important that voters check their voter registration before every election to ensure their ballot will be mailed to the most current mailing address.

Returning ballots

Ballot boxes, including 24-hour boxes located in Avon, Edwards, Eagle, El Jebel, and Basalt, are opened to receive ballots the same day ballots are mailed. These 24-hour ballot boxes are locked, sealed, and under continual video surveillance. Ballot boxes inside of vote centers are secured as well.  

Ballot transport and processing

  1. Transport:  Ballots are retrieved from the Post Office, vote centers, and drop boxes using bipartisan teams of election judges and staff who have been trained, background checked, and oathedBallot boxes or transport bags are sealed, logged, and signed by both members of the transport team.
  1. Sorting:  Bipartisan teams of receiving judges verify, break, and log the security seals on the ballot boxes or transport bags, ensuring that no tampering took place during transport.
  1. Receiving: Bipartisan teams scan ballots into the Colorado voter registration system which gives voters credit for returning their ballots and voting in the election. If a voter tries to return more than one ballot, the system will not allow the second ballot in; the voter’s record will be flagged and the information turned over to the District Attorney for investigation.  
  1. Signature verification – Phase 1:  Trained signature verification election judges compare the signature on the back of the returned ballot envelope with the signatures on file in the voter’s record. If the signature on the ballot envelope matches the historical signatures in the voter’s record, the ballot will move forward. If the signature is challenged, the ballot is pulled and is flagged for further review by a different bipartisan team of signature judges. A ballot will also be challenged and pulled if there is no signature on the ballot envelope.
  1. Signature verification – Phase 2: A ballot rejected in Phase 1 of signature verificatno is reviewed by a second team of bipartisan election judges. If they also challenge the ballot signature, the ballot is held in secure storage, not to be counted, until the challenge has been “cured” by the voter. A “cure” requires the voter to resolve the signature issue before his or her ballot can be counted. Each voter is contacted by letter as well as by email if an email address has been included in the voter record.  
  1. Counting room: Bipartisan teams of judges open ballot envelopes and remove the ballots, still contained in the secrecy sleeve, from the return envelope. Once the return envelopes are removed from the table, judges extract the ballot from the secrecy sleeve, unfold it, and inspect it to ensure it will pass through the scanner without issue.
  1. Tabulation: Ballots are scanned, front and back, and must be kept in the exact same order in which they are scanned for accurate retrieval in the post-election audit. The ballot tabulation system, by design, is not connected to the Internet.  

This is the journey your ballot will take in this upcoming election. It takes as many as 50 bipartisan teams of citizen election judges and staff several hours to complete these steps. Our shared goal is to move through each step of the process as efficiently as possible, while never sacrificing accuracy and security for speed.

Eagle County Clerk and Recorder Regina O’Brien can be reached at regina.obrien@eaglecounty.us


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