Clerk: Mail ballots are safer than you think

Montrose County Clerk and Recorder Tressa Guynes demonstrates voting equipment. Voters in Colorado can cast their ballots by mail, or hand-deliver voted ballots to designated polling sites or secured, official drop-boxes. They can also vote in person on machines at the polling sites, if preferred.

Election season has commenced, and electors have options: In-person voting or mail-in ballots. While in-person voting begins Monday, Oct. 19, the Montrose County Clerk and Recorder’s office recommends taking full advantage of mail-in ballots.

“We encourage the mail ballot. Their vote will absolutely get counted. It’s so convenient. Just drop it in our box,” Clerk and Recorder Tressa Guynes said.

Mail-in ballots are currently a subject of national controversy, but Chief Deputy Clerk Kim Wright assures voters that Montrose is well-equipped to handle the voting option.

“It’s totally safe. Colorado is a gold standard system. The biggest thing here is that they have options. They don’t have to trust the mail, but we do have drop boxes. We collect them almost every hour as we get closer to election day because they fill up every hour.”

Guynes and Wright explained the detailed process of the voting system set in place. The county follows a system of signature verification, which matches the voter’s signature to their ballot.

Once the ballot is received by the county clerk’s office, the office then scans it in and receives the ballot. They don’t do anything else.

“Our database, SCORE, receives it and puts it toward signature verification,” Guynes said. “A team of bipartisan judges compares signatures to confirm that the signatures match whatever is on file. If they don’t agree that signatures match, then they get rejected and we notify the elector.”

They then verify with the voters if the signatures are theirs. This is called the “cure,” which refers to the process of curing a problem or discrepancy should one show up.

If voter discrepancy is suspected, then the ballot is sent to the District Attorney’s Office and the ballots are never opened or counted.

There is a series of checks and balances in place to ensure voter fraud is avoided.

“We have a checks and balances in place,” Wright said. “We have vote credit, so you can’t vote again after you vote. We have to count for every ballot that comes in. We have to balance every night. We count every accepted, rejected, or incomplete.”

Although the mail-in ballots are a safe option for voting, Guynes and Wright recommend being prepared in every way possible.

There are a few things voters need to be aware of before casting their ballots:

• Sign your envelopes.

“Make sure their name is the name on the label,” Wright said. “We get a lot of household swaps, so if the wife signs and the husband doesn’t, that can end up being a problem when counting ballots and signatures. Always return your ballot in one envelope.”

Signing the envelope is an important step in the signature verification process. Without it, voters may run into problems with their vote being counted.

• Remember to bring a pen with black or blue ink.

“Use a pen,” Wright said. “The machine will pick up pencil, but not red ink. Use blue or black ink. Otherwise, it’ll come up as a blank ballot. If it comes up blank, then the bipartisan judges are required to go in and verify for vote credit in case it was filled out.”

The bipartisan judges are on standby if verification or duplication services are needed. For example, if a selection on the ballot is not fully filled in, they must determine if the error was a pen rest or an active vote.

In the case of a pen rest, the vote will be determined as an “overvote,” which is when one votes for more than the maximum number of selections allowed in a section of the ballot. The result is a spoiled vote, which is not included in the final tally.

For instance, if a voter votes for one candidate and accidentally marks a tally for the other candidate, then the bipartisan services are called in.

Before a decision is made, however, verification includes reaching out to the voter to ensure their vote was intended as cast on the ballot.

“Vote credit will go towards them if decided it’s a vote,” Guynes explained.

Voters will want to research the format and language of the ballot before voting.

“They need to be educated because there are a lot of candidates and issues on the ballot.” Guynes said.

“What I hear often is that the language is confusing. Attorneys write the language, so it can be very confusing.”

The state of Colorado provides some resources to help in the voting process, including the blue book listed on the Montrose County Clerk website (select Clerk and Recorder from the county offices tab). The blue book can also be found here. The League of Women Voters’ site also has information.

If voters prefer to vote in-person, Guynes and Wright suggest printing and filling out a sample ballot before going in to cast a ballot.

“It will not only save you time during the voting process, but it will prepare you for what to look out for,” Wright explained.

Guynes said that while the mail ballots have stirred up controversy this election season, their safety isn’t a concern.

“The biggest thing is that the new hype is for the states that don’t have a plan in place for the mail ballot. It’s scary to think that states think they can throw something in place without a plan. You can’t throw something together and expect it to be successful. We do this everyday and have years of practice. We have checks and balances,” she said.

People can call the office at 970-249-3362 for questions, sample ballots, or information on drop box locations and where to vote.

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