Many people across the country are discussing how possible changes in the U.S. Postal Service operations could affect mail ballot voting. In Colorado, we have built up an excellent infrastructure to make sure voters can exercise their rights. We are in a good place to deal with some possible bumps in the road on the way to Election Day (Tuesday, Nov. 3). Here are ten ways Colorado voters can help County Elections Divisions protect voters’ rights and count the ballots in a secure and timely manner:
OUTGOING MAIL BALLOTS
(1) Check and update voter registration addresses now. Counties pull address lists in late September, so if we want that first mailing of ballots to be as correct as possible and delivered to voters everyone needs to be updating addresses and registering online now.
(2) Ballots can start being mailed on Friday, Oct. 9. Under normal circumstances, this means it will take up to a week for all the ballots to trickle out to all the voters from the mail facility. If you don’t have your ballot yet during that first week, don’t panic. But if voters are really worried, they can call their Clerk’s office for a replacement ballot either mailed or come in-person to the main Clerk’s office to pick one up.
(3) Starting Monday, Oct. 19 if a voter still hasn’t received their ballot, they can call their County Clerk’s office and get a replacement one mailed to them. Also, in many places (like Arapahoe County) voters can call and schedule a curbside ballot pickup appointment at multiple locations for a specific day and time. Spread the word and get a ballot the week of Oct. 19. That week also has Phase 1 Voter Service and Polling Centers (VSPCs) open, which usually have NO WAITING. Voters can come vote in-person or pick up a replacement ballot at those locations Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
(4) Monday, Oct. 26 is the last day to call and request a ballot be mailed to the voter. Yes, this might be cutting it very close as it’s only 8 days until Election day, so voters might want to take one of the options above instead (curbside pickup/VSPCs). The rest of this week, voters can again vote in-person (or pick up a replacement mail ballot) at VSPCs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with little waiting including, Saturday, Oct. 31. Avoid crowds and encourage social distancing by voting the week before instead of on Election Day.
RETURNING MAIL BALLOTS
(5) Ballots must be received by the Clerk by 7 p.m. on Election Day to be counted, and postmarks don’t count. So vote the ballot right away in early October and there is plenty of time to send back using the U.S. mail. As the month goes later, make sure to always allow at least 7-8 calendar days for mail to return to the Clerk’s office. If a voter doesn’t have a stamp or the exact correct amount of postage, the U.S. Postal Service will still deliver the ballot and the County has a postage due account that pays the difference.
(6) 24-hour drop boxes are really the BEST option for returning mail ballots. Every county has these all over and voters can return a ballot in without postage at any time and it will go directly to the Clerk to be processed. These boxes are secure, fireproof, and monitored 24-7 by video cameras. Arapahoe County will have at least 32 drop boxes across the county; voters can check their ballot instructions or Clerk’s website for the list. Don’t worry if the closest drop box to work, home, or school is for a different county. Under Election law, we still time stamp ballots from other counties in our box as accepted on time and exchange it with the correct county for processing.
(7) Ballot Tracking is another Colorado innovation that all voters should use. Just sign up and check the status of your returned ballot online with your Clerk (Arapahoe County’s Ballot Track) and you will know when it has been received.
(8) All VSPCs that open starting October 19 forward are also places where voters can drop off completed mail ballots during open hours. Again, that includes Saturday, Oct. 31. No need to wait in line, there is usually an election judge with a ballot drop box by the front door. Show up, drop off, walk away. Some of these are in shopping centers near grocery stores or community centers, so this is very useful even for people only doing minimum trips out of the home. In Arapahoe County, this makes an additional 12 locations available for drop off (plus the 32 drop boxes talked about above).
(9) There are rules about returning someone else’s mail ballot. Under CO law, each person can return up to 10 ballots from other people per election to drop boxes or other locations. So, if a voter has a family member, neighbor, or friend who cannot do the other options above, it is ok to drop the extra ballot off for them. Neighborhood organizations or community organizations could check in on their members needing assistance this way.
(10) Finally, people who need or want to vote in person at a VSPC, please come between October 19 and November 2 when crowds will not be there. We want everyone can stay healthy – remember, there is still a very active pandemic. If people are offering to drive a neighbor or someone else who needs to vote in person, please also do that work during the 12 days BEFORE final Election Day. This way we can avoid overwhelming the VSPCs on November 3 when we need to social distance, disinfect between each voter, and take other precautions.
Peg Perl is Director of Elections, Arapahoe County, Colorado.