With so many questions still looming about the election security, a look at the life of a ballot

Posted at 7:22 PM, Oct 20, 2020

DENVER — For years, Colorado has relied on mail-in and drop-off ballots for voting. Across the state, county clerks and elections officials have said that the process is safe and that Colorado is a model for the country.

This year, however, with so much focus on election security, county clerks are fielding a lot of questions about how exactly the process works and whether it really is safe.

Denver7 spoke with two county clerks about how the process works and the security measures that are in place to keep the election running smoothly.

The life of a ballot

It starts with a ballot; the voter makes their selections, seals the ballot in an envelope and signs the envelope to verify who they are.

The ballot can be either mailed in or dropped off to a ballot box. Those boxes are sealed and are under 24-hour surveillance.

“Our videos on our boxes turn on when the box is opened, which was October 9, and that video will be retained 60 days after,” said Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul Lopez.

That footage is monitored regularly and election workers can also go back and watch through the security video if someone expresses a concern.

People who are concerned about something they saw or have questions are encouraged to call the county clerk and report it.

The boxes are checked by election workers multiple times a day all the way up through election day. The workers are part of a bipartisan team, made of different political parties to make sure one doesn’t tamper with the ballots.

“This is all being done by these judges who have gone through FBI background checks,” said George Stern, the Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder.

The ballots are then placed into a bag or box that is locked and zip-tied shut. Each zip-tie is scanned once the box is locked and again when it is brought into the counting center.

When the ballot box/bag is brought into the receiving room, it is weighed to get an approximate count of the number of ballots inside. The seal is then broken, and the ballots are sorted.

“We have a lot of redundancies and we make sure that we are very meticulous,” Lopez said.

Ballots that were dropped off in the wrong county are time stamped and then sent to the correct county to be counted.

The ballots are then run through a machine that takes a picture of the signature and a team of election judges compares the signature to previous ones from the voter to verify their identity. For more on signature verification, click here.

The ballots are then taken to a second room where the batches are logged, the seal is broken, and the envelope is separated from the ballot itself.

The envelope is stored for roughly 25 months after the election in case there is a discrepancy and then it is destroyed. The ballots are then organized and taken to a third room to be counted.

The ballots are counted by scanners that are not connected to the internet, but the tabulation of votes is not calculated until polls close at 7 p.m. on election night.

Voters also have the ability in Colorado to track their ballots online.

“Our process is 100% secure,” Lopez said. “Voters anywhere in any county, in the state, can count on their ballots being safe, being secure, in a process that is transparent and that their vote will be counted.”

Both Lopez and Stern report strong early voting turnout in their counties so far. Denver has seen about 25% of its ballots returned so far while Jefferson County has seen about a third of its ballots returned already.

“We here in Jefferson County are thrilled with the turnout were seeing. We’ve already gotten 130,000 early ballots in, which is the highest in the state right now,” Stern said.

Both clerks are emphasizing that the process is safe, possibly even safer than voting in person during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that people can feel confident that their votes will be counted.

“The best thing you can do both for your own health and for your security and for the system is to keep voting the way that Coloradans have been voting for the last seven years, which is using drop boxes and the mail,” Stern said.