How mail ballots work in Colorado

Ballots will be mailed starting Oct. 9

Denver resident Sonja Shearron drops off a ballot June 30, 2020, outside the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building in Denver. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

While some other states endured well-publicized snafus as they tried to hold elections during the COVID-19 pandemic, Colorado — a state often lauded for its secure election system — once again emerged as a leader in 2020.

“A total of 99.3% of voters cast a mail ballot, and there were not lengthy lines or wait times reported at in-person voting centers,” Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, said in a July 1 statement following the state’s non-presidential primary. “Despite misleading attacks, disinformation, and attempts to make vote-by-mail a partisan issue, Colorado’s election proves that mail ballots are the key to accessible voting during this health crisis.”

Jena Griswold
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold speaks outside a polling center at Swansea Recreation Center the morning of Colorado’s primary election on June 30, 2020. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)

Since 2013, everyone registered to vote in Colorado has received a ballot by mail, which voters can return by placing it in a ballot dropbox, up until 7 p.m. on Election Day, or by mailing, with postage, via the U.S. Postal Service.

Griswold, a Democrat, has decried claims by President Donald Trump and others that ramping up mail-in voting would lead to widespread voter fraud. 

Amid a swirl of news about slowdowns at the U.S. Postal Service and misinformation about voting by mail, it’s hard to know exactly what to believe. But here’s what election officials from both major parties are saying about how to vote this year in Colorado.

• Ballots will be mailed to anyone registered to vote in Colorado starting on Oct. 9 (and a few weeks earlier for overseas and military voters). To register for the first time, or to make sure your information is up to date, visit GoVoteColorado.com. Oct. 26 is the deadline to register and still receive a ballot in the mail, but you can register at a Voter Service and Polling Center until as late as 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Chuck Broerman is the El Paso County clerk and recorder. (clerkandrecorder.elpasoco.com)

• Voters choosing to mail back their ballots instead of dropping them off are encouraged to place them in the mail, with postage, no later than Monday, Oct. 26, or eight days prior to the election Nov. 3. That window isn’t any different than in a normal election year, says Chuck Broerman, the Republican clerk and recorder for El Paso County.

The county has “good faith that they’ll be able to get the job done,” he said of the Postal Service. He points out that Colorado’s been working to establish its current mail-in voting process for years — and that other states trying to create a universal mail-in voting system for the first time could have more difficulty.

“The ballot has to be in our hot little hands by 7 p.m. on Election Day,” Broerman said. That’s a different process than in some other states, many of which allow mailed ballots to be postmarked up until the day of an election.

• Those who’d rather drop off their ballot at one of the state’s 24/7 secure dropboxes have more options to choose from than ever. Contact your county clerk and recorder’s office, or visit their website, for a list of dropbox locations and Voter Service and Polling Centers, where you can register to vote, cast a ballot in person, or receive a replacement ballot.

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• On Sept. 14, Griswold announced that for the first time every Colorado voter will be able to track their ballot. The BallotTrax system sends voters notifications when their ballot is mailed, received and accepted for counting.

Voters in counties that didn’t already have ballot tracking will receive a notification that they have been enrolled in BallotTrax if their voter registration contains an email address. Those who don’t receive the notification can sign up themselves at colorado.ballottrax.net. Voters can also opt out of the ballot tracking service at any time.

“Voters in counties with preexisting ballot tracking capabilities, including Denver’s BallotTrace, will not need to re-enroll and will be able to continue to have their ballots tracked without interruption,” according to a statement from the secretary of state’s office.

• Beware of misinformation. While instances of voter fraud in Colorado are few and far between, social media posts or agenda-based news articles that claim your vote doesn’t matter are more common than ever this election cycle.

“Misinformation that causes people to lose confidence in their election system or in the votes that are tallied on election night could be just as harmful as fraud,” Broerman said.

• It’s not possible to vote twice. It is a common myth that you can, and you might run across the myth on social media — or even being proclaimed by the president. After all, Colorado voters who’ve received a ballot in the mail can visit a Voter Service and Polling Center to vote in person, even if they don’t turn in their mailed ballot to be discarded. 

Broerman, however, said it’s “not permissible nor is it possible” to vote both ways. When you vote in person, if your mailed ballot also somehow makes its way back to a clerk and recorder’s office through the Postal Service or a drop box, it will be flagged in the system — or vice versa. Attempting to vote more than once is a crime in Colorado.

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