I. In Focus This Week
Get them any way you can
Colorado ballot delivery system offers voters almost every option possible
By M. Mindy Moretti
From vote centers to vote-by-mail and everything in between elections officials nationwide are always on the hunt for new ways to lower costs and make voting as convenient as possible.
But only one state — Colorado — offers voters pretty much every available option of casting a ballot, short of online (shhh….).
The “Colorado model” as it’s been dubbed was created through sweeping election reform legislation in 2013.
Although elements of the system — vote-by-mail, vote centers, etc. — had been in place in Colorado for decades, the 2013 legislation formalized the system and brought them all together.
Under this model every single registered voter receives a ballot in the mail and then they are able to cast that ballot through a variety of was — mail, in-person at vote centers, or in drop boxes.
“The new model is consistent from election to election and from county to county,” said Amber McReynolds, director of elections for the city and county of Denver. “It is also less confusing to the voters and we have seen a significant decrease in call volume from voters.”
By all accounts, the system has proved successful and popular, not only with elections officials, but also with voters.
Georgie Aguirre-Sacasa, who recently moved to Colorado, really likes the new system better than the neighborhood-based polling places she was used to growing up on the East Coast.
Denver locates drop-boxes wherever the voters may be such as libraries, light rail statins, bus stops, recreation centers, parks and police stations. The county also provides drive-thru ballot drop-off at the most of the voting centers.
“There is a unique level of excitement when you receive your ballot in the mail,” Aguirre-Sacasa said. “There are many ways to return your ballot…Denver County has set up drive through drop off centers where you can take your ballot and never leave your car. There really is no excuse on not voting!”
And that’s what elections officials like to hear, voters enthusiastic about the process.
McReynolds said the new system has helped her office see a substantial cost savings, especially in terms of personnel.
Tiffany Lee Parker, the La Plata County clerk/recorder and president of the Colorado County Clerks Association, is very enthusiastic about the new ballot model. She said that voters are very positive and that her office has seen about a 50 percent reduction in costs since implementing the new system.
In Pitkin County, Janice Vos, clerk and recorder said there has been a significant decrease in the need for provisional ballots under the new system, which has in turn decreased the post-election work hours.
And the cost savings don’t just end with personnel.
“In comparing like election years, Pitkin County incurred a cost savings of 60 percent when assessing 2014 to 2010 Gubernatorial election expenses,” Vos said. “Pitkin County incurred a cost savings of 17 percent in 2014 from the previous year - 2013 election, both implemented using the same Colorado Model.”
One additional bonus for Denver voters is the city/county’s Ballot TRACE system that was created in 2009 that allows voters to track their ballot as easy as if it were a package from Amazon.
“With so many Coloradans choosing mail ballots even before the 2013 modernization, we wanted a way to proactively communicate the status of a mail ballot to the voters,” McReynolds said. “We also wanted to create a system that would add accountability on the administrative side with the post office. Thus, Ballot TRACE provides a multi-dimensional solution.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing of course. McReynolds noted that during the 2014 General Election there were some technical issues with the Colorado Secretary of State’s voter registration system, but she believes once those issues are addressed, jurisdictions should be ready for 2016.
“Additionally we have been working on ways to streamline data transfers from the motor vehicle database which will increase the accuracy of voter addresses which is a critical component with a ballot delivery model,” McReynolds said.
Of course, even with change, there are still some tried- and true things that voters just like about Election Day.
Pitkin County is small enough to have just one drop-off location that is located in the clerk’s office in Aspen. In 2014, approximately 46 percent of the ballots cast were dropped off a the clerk’s office.
“Individuals in our community usually drop their ballot off at our office,” Vos said. “We prefer to believe people like to stop by and see the staff and say Hi!
Denver shows off its process to other elections officials
Earlier this month Denver invited elections officials from all over the country to view the system at work during the city/county election.
“We continue to have interest among election officials and since we were piloting a new voting system during the May Municipal Election, we thought it would be good to invite others to see the entire system,” Mc Reynolds explained.
More than 170 guests attended, representing 55 different election offices and groups.
During the two-day visit officials attended a presentation about the new voting model, the new voting system and all of Denver’s other innovations including Ballot TRACE, mobile app and eSign. The observers also received a complete tour of the ballot process areas and were able to observe the voter centers in action.
McReynolds said reactions from visitors were overwhelmingly positive.
“We have received a lot of great feedback and many officials indicated that they were going to utilize some of our processes to improve their own,” McReynolds said. “We also have received many follow up questions and complimentary feedback about the observation. Our goal was to present what is possible in terms of improving the voter’s experience and it was highly successful.”
One of those enthusiastic officials was new California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.
While Californians have been turning more and more to their mailbox to cast a ballot, the state still struggles with low voter turnout. In 2014 that turnout was about 30 percent.
Padilla was enthusiastic about what he saw at work in Colorado and how it could help his state, and no doubt many others.
“Colorado offers new ideas for us to consider as we seek to increase California voter participation in a cost-effective manner,” Padilla said in a statement. "The reforms in Colorado focus on voter participation and convenience, and they are undeniably working."
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