Chaffee County elections have used mail-in ballots for the last 10 years.
In recent years, the county has been one of the first Colorado counties to turn in election results on election night.
Chaffee County Clerk and Recorder Lori Mitchell, who is also in charge of elections in the county was recently asked how the system works for those who may not be familiar with what happens after a ballot is mailed in or dropped off.
Mitchell said a bipartisan team of judges transports the ballots from the drop boxes to the elections office first.
Mitchell or staff runs envelopes through the ballot sorter which puts them in batches of 25, takes a picture of the signature on each envelope, and marks the voter’s record that we received their ballot. The voter’s record is marked as voted.
Once ballots are received, they are secured until they are signature-verified about a week before the election.
Once verified they are moved to the “counting room” when teams of judges remove the ballots from their envelopes, put them in batches and prepare the ballots for scanning.
In the next room, Mitchell or staff run the high speed scanner.
Votes are not tabulated at that point, they are just scanned in batches.
Judges adjudicate the ballots that are electronically outstacked.
Other judges duplicate ballots as needed.
Every key stroke on these computers is recorded in an audit log and judges keep a detailed duplication log.
Mitchell said there are more than 50 election judges on duty for this election.
Their duties include:
• Ballot transport
• Vote center judges: Computer/electronic poll book, check-in, ballot judge, ADA machine judge, exit judge, support judge and deconstruction judges.
• Deconstruction judges remove ballots from the envelope.
• Duplication judges remake ballots that are damaged or ballots from military voters.
• Adjudication judges adjudicate ballots when the voting system can’t determine voter intent.
• Signature verification judges verify every mail ballot.
Right before 7 p.m. on Election Night, files are loaded on a secure thumb drive and walked to the election office.
“At 7 p.m. the files are published to the state’s Election Night Reporting site and that is the first time we know any unofficial results.,” Mitchell said.
Once the judges return with the ballots from Buena Vista and Poncha Springs, we process those and post more unofficial results.
“Folks always think there is counting going on but most of our processes are done with technology,” Mitchell said, “The ballots are not tabulated until right before 7 p.m. on Election Day.
Up until that time, we know how many we have scanned but don’t know any results.”
As far as security for the ballots returned before election night, every room has video surveillance 24-hours a day, seven days a week.
It starts 60 days before the election and still runs 30 days after, Mitchell said.
All video is secured on hard drives for 90 days after election.
The 24/7 ballot boxes have video surveillance, too.
“Every process we do is on camera,” she said.
A batch of ballots are held out until after election day.
“That is done so that in the eight-day period after Election Day when folks can cure a discrepant signature, or a military ballot is received, if we only get a few, they are run with the batch to protect voter anonymity,” she said.
Mitchell said regardless if voters vote by mail ballot or vote in-person at Vote Centers, judges put all ballots in batches and they are scanned together.
“Your safest way to vote in this election is to vote your mail ballot and drop it off at a county controlled drop box or at a vote center,” Mitchell said.
Ballots mailed through the post office after Oct. 26, may not be received at the election office by Election Day. Ballots must be received by 7 p.m. Nov. 3. Postmarks do not count.
To track your ballot after submission sign up for Colorado Ballottrax at https://colorado.ballottrax.net/voter/.