DENVER — Ballot returns in the midterm election so far are below what they were in the 2018 midterm elections.
Data released by the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office shows that so far, 1,339,399 voters have returned their ballots. That’s roughly 300,000 fewer ballots than this time during the 2018 midterm election.
Of the ballot returns, unaffiliated voters have returned the most ballots at 503,793, which is on pace with where they were in 2018. However, there are far more unaffiliated voters this year than in 2018.
According to state data, unaffiliated voters jumped by nearly 37% since 2018, while Democrats increased by 2% and Republicans dropped by nearly 5%.
Given the increase in unaffiliated voters, the percentage return is actually lower than it was at this time in 2018.
Democrats, meanwhile, have returned approximately 120,000 fewer ballots this year, while Republicans have returned 167,000 fewer ballots.
Over in Boulder County, Clerk and Recorder Molly Fitzpatrick said she is used to seeing late ballot returns and is prepared for the last minute influx. However, even her numbers are lower than they were in 2018.
So far, Boulder voters have returned roughly 40,000 less ballots than the previous midterm election.
“As soon as people are ready to turn in that ballot, we're encouraging them to turn it in early because early voting helps our elections office by processing ballots over a longer window of time,” Fitzpatrick said.
She’s even encouraging people to turn in their ballots late Monday night or early Tuesday morning.
In Weld County, meanwhile, Clerk and Recorder Carly Koppes is not as used to late ballot returns. This time last midterm election, she saw between 45% and 47% of ballots returned. This time around, she’s at 30%.
There are a few reasons clerks are attributing to the late returns. First, the ballot is long this year and some of the questions are complicated.
“There's a lot, and it just can be overwhelming. And we understand that for the voters,” Koppes said.
Voter engagement also might not be as high as previous years. Another potential factor: some Republicans are encouraging people not to return their ballots until Election Day.
In an email to supporters, Eagle County Republicans wrote, “Did you get your ballot? Hold on to it until Election Day, November 08, 2022, then drop it into the ballot box the day of the election, if possible.”
The group did not respond to questions from Denver7 about why they are encouraging voters to hold onto ballots until Election Day.
On a national level, however, there is talk that holding onto ballots until the last minute will leave less time for potential election tampering. Both county clerks say that is a fallacy and that ballots are processed as securely during early voting as they are on Election Day.
“In my opinion, that’s just fear mongering. And it's just adding to people potentially not actually voting, and that's not what we want,” Koppes said.
Koppes wants to make it clear that even though the ballots go through the verification process and are counted, the totals are not tabulated until after polls close on Election Day.
“There's nothing that goes on that would allow for anybody to know which candidate could be ahead or initiative could be winning or losing,” she said. “I'm the clerk and recorder. I have access to everything, and I don't even know.”
Aside from all of Colorado’s election security measures, Koppes said the idea that nefarious groups can try to manipulate early votes in their favor doesn’t hold water.
On the other hand, turning in ballots at the last minute does cause a delay in the ballot processing and reporting results.
“If we do get a lot of ballots on Election Day, it's going to be several days before we know the outcomes,” Fitzpatrick said.
Another rumor Colorado county clerks are hearing from online chatter: people encouraging voters to purposely mismark or mess up on their ballots to force them to be hand counted. This is another election misnomer.
There is an adjudication process for ballots where the voter’s intention is not immediately clear on certain votes. A bipartisan group of election judges takes a closer look at the ballot and tries to determine what the voter’s intention was using state guidelines. However, that does not mean that the entire ballot will be hand-counted.
“The adjudication judges are only looking at that particular contest. They're only looking at what needs to be adjudicated in order to have that voters intent moved forward,” Fitzpatrick said.
The rest of the ballot will be run normally through the machine. The risk with purposely mismarking multiple votes is it could cause some of the races not to be counted if the judges cannot determine a voter’s intentions.
The County Clerks Association is also hearing misinformation of some people encouraging voters to try to put a unique identifying marker on their ballot so that they can go back after the election and try to compare how their ballot was counted to a ballot image. The association warns this is another misnomer since counties are required by state law to redact any ballots with identifying marks to protect the ballot and voter’s anonymity.
In the end, county clerks are asking voters to return their ballots as soon as possible, saying it will make for a smoother process with quicker election results.