And as for voting by mail, “We have it down”
By Katherine Nettles
In less than a month, orange-striped ballots will be on their way to more than 11,000 registered voters in Gunnison County for the general election on November 3. Election officials are calling it “Election Week” rather than “Election Day” this time around, to reflect the process of casting ballots well in advance of the November deadline. And voter numbers are projected to be record-breaking this year.
As many states are preparing to count mail ballots for the first time on a large scale for a general election, Colorado is preparing to do it for the second time, having enacted mail-in voting for all registered voters in 2013. Gunnison County election officials say they—and Colorado in general—are ready and well versed at the process. What they aren’t ready for is a lot of foot traffic on Election Day, however. So vote early, and vote by mail or ballot drop box, said Gunnison County elections director Diane Folowell.
Ballots will be mailed out of Denver on Friday, October 9, said Folowell. So people can expect to have them by Tuesday, October 13 or Wednesday, October 14 following Columbus Day.
The initial ballot mail-out for Gunnison County will contain 11,525 ballots. “We will continue to mail after that,” said Folowell, as new registrations come in on a daily basis.
“If you wait to vote in person on November 3, you will be waiting in a line,” said Folowell. As she has done for years, Folowell encourages people to cast ballots well in advance to avoid delays and now, to stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are preparing for a total of between 14,000 and 15,000 voters,” she said. That is up from 10,500 ballots counted in the last general election in 2016.
The local elections division is hiring 25 to 35 additional temporary staff to prepare for the task.
As for the increase, county clerk and recorder Kathy Simillion notes, the county population has grown, and it is a time of high energy in the electorate.
“I think the county has grown substantially in the number of voters, and it is the political climate,” agreed Folowell. “This is an off-the-charts election.”
There are commissioner races in Districts 1 and 2; regional measures; state measures and of course the national races.
People can register to vote or change their address up until 7 p.m. on November 3, but after October 26 ballots will not be mailed out and anyone who registers will have to vote in person. To check your voter registration status, register to vote or change your address, visit www.govotecolorado.gov, visit the Gunnison County elections office in the Blackstock Government Building in Gunnison or call the local election division at (970) 641-7927.
If you have recently moved or changed your post office box number, ballots cannot be forwarded to new addresses or post office boxes and voter registration information must be updated. The Gunnison County Motor Vehicle Office now automatically registers all people renewing or obtaining a driver’s license as well, unless they opt out.
The deadline to register online to vote is Monday, October 26. If you miss this deadline, you will not receive a ballot by mail, but you can still vote in person at a voter service and polling center.
Voter safety and ballot security
Folowell said she has no concerns about voter security or post office delays. Her office receives daily updates from Donna Walker, the Colorado/Wyoming political/election coordinator for the U.S. Postal Service, regarding any issues nationwide that the USPS is facing.
“We get totally current updates from her… and I can tell you there is not any reason, as far as we’re concerned, for voters to be concerned about the postal service. I believe that a lot of that [national concern] was false information, from all kinds of sources. We have not seen any interruption of mail,” said Folowell.
She also says there have been no ballot boxes removed within the county, and the ballot scanners all belong to the county and are all intact.
“No part of our voting equipment or counting equipment or tabulating equipment is connected in any way to the internet,” said Simillion.
“The state of Colorado has the highest security practices in place of anywhere in the United States,” adds Folowell.
Folowell says those who are concerned about national questions of election security and mail-in voting should simply use the ballot boxes located throughout the county. “Once they do receive their ballot, people can avoid using the mail service by just placing it in one of our 24-hour secure drop boxes,” she advises. “It’s easier on the voter, and keeping them safe health-wise. I think it’s a win-win for the voter.”
The ballot drop boxes are under constant video surveillance, and will be available for 15 days prior to Election Day.
In Crested Butte there is a ballot box at Crank’s Plaza near Town Hall and at the Parish Hall; in Gunnison there are two at the Blackstock building; and at Western Colorado University (WCU) there is one on the south lawn behind the Student Services building.
There will be in-person voting available in Crested Butte at the Queen of All Saints Parish Hall (limit two people at a time) for the four days leading up to Election Day, at WCU for two days leading up to Election Day and outside only in Gunnison at the Blackstock building. “We can’t speak for other states and what they are going through becoming a mail-ballot state, but Colorado’s got this down,” said Simillion.
“We have it down,” echoed Folowell of the local ballot processing methods. “We are a model for other states regarding accuracy and transparency.”
She recognizes that it may be a rough election for other states new to the mail-in process. “We have a lot of different things that are affecting that. We have a lot of angry people. We have a lot of passionate people and it’s coming out in different ways. We have the pandemic, which is creating some of all that, and it all ties together and it’s a huge election. It’s an epic election.”
Folowell’s advice: “When you get your blue book in the mail from the legislative council in Denver, sit down with a cup of coffee, go through it. That’s what my husband and I do. And then vote your ballot and drop it off.”
“And we want to remind people that there will be a back side to this ballot, so make sure to look at that and fill it out too. We don’t want people to miss any part of this ballot,” said Simillion.