Precinct voting is a thing of the past as mail-in ballots dominate elections |

Precinct voting is a thing of the past as mail-in ballots dominate elections

T.M. Fasano

The days of waiting in line with your neighbors to vote at a polling center has gone the way of the dial-up Internet connection.

It's so yesterday.

With the passing of House Bill 1303 earlier this year, all elections in Colorado are conducted by mail-in ballots.

Weld County Clerk and Recorder Steve Moreno said a 30 percent to 40 percent county voter turnout for Tuesday's mail ballot coordinated election would be in the normal range when looking at past coordinated elections.

As of Friday, 25 percent — 33,371 voters using mail-in/walk-in ballots or touch screen machines — of the 132,302 active Weld voters have turned in their ballots for an off-year election with no state or federal offices up for grabs. But there is some pop in those ballots with the 51st state question and Amendment 66, which would increase education funding will be determined.

Moreno expects 30-35 percent in voter turnout this year.

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Voters are taking advantage of using their mail ballots — whether mailing them in or taking them to the three voting centers or five drop-off locations around the county.

The total number of ballots mailed in as of Friday was 27,770. Only 90 voters used the touch-screen voting machines in Greeley, Del Camino and Fort Lupton as of Thursday, which shows that voters are using the mail-in ballot route.

"What's interesting is some voters have talked to me in general conversation and said they still don't like the process of all mail-in ballots," Moreno said. "I explained to them they don't have to use that paper ballot. If they'd like to come into one of the service centers, they can go ahead and use the touch-screen voter machines and surrender that mail ballot. I haven't seen a high volume of people come out to use that."

Moreno said when the law changed so voters could sign up as permanent mail-in voters, the data grew in Weld County to more than 71 percent for permanent mail-in ballots so it didn't manner what the county did in every election, those voters wanted their ballots sent to them.

"Statewide, it was a continuing trend. Some of the larger counties were claiming, I think Jefferson County claimed they were in the high 80s if not 90 percent for (permanent mail-in ballots)," Moreno said.

John Straayer, a political analyst who is in his 47th year as a political science professor at Colorado State University, said waiting in line to vote at the local elementary school or fire station is a thing of the past and the mail ballots are what people want.

"I'm old enough that I used to think that precinct voting on Election Day was a good thing," Straayer said. "It was kind of the American thing. You show up with your neighbors. The people sitting behind the desk at the precinct you knew them. It was the good, old American way where everyone voted on the same day. Those days are long gone for a lot of different reasons. It's an electronic age, a much more mobile age. The mail ballot thing is just another step in that direction. I think in this day and age it's probably a good thing."

Straayer said he thinks mail balloting boosts voter turnout.

"You get people voting more," Straayer said. "I suppose there could even be a day if they can figure out how to make it work with adequate security we may even just have electronic voting, and you don't mail anything in. I think that's out there a ways and there's probably some complicating factors having to do with security. I think the old system, like the Dodo Bird, is kind of gone."

Floyd Ciruli, a pollster and political analyst from Denver, said mail ballots are convenient.

"We're not going to go to sites anymore," Ciruli said by phone on Thursday. "This is too convenient for clerks and too cheap, and too useful for politicians. If everybody gets a mail ballot, we no longer have to bug you to go somewhere. We'll just bug you in your house, and that is a convenience that the politicians are not going to give up."

As far as fraud with mail-in balloting, some reports around the state indicate that at apartment complexes where there are community mail boxes, ballots mailed to the wrong address are being left out in the open in the return mail slot so that others could take them if they wanted and submit them. College dorm monitors are finding ballots in the trash, which could also be gathered, filled out and mailed in fraudulently.

Moreno said he hasn't heard any such thing happening around here.

"I've not heard that these things are going on in Weld County," Moreno said. "I would ask people to report that to me and give me names. If they can identify that going on, obviously we'll order an investigation and see what happened."

Any sign of a mail-in ballot with a questionable signature on the outside of the envelope would be tossed out, Moreno said.

"That ballot will not be open. If there is a discrepancy with that signature, we're going to send out a letter to that voter that's been assigned to and if they don't respond to us then we will not count that," Moreno said. "That will go into the process, I believe it's 10 or 12 days after the election, and we will send those over to the district attorney's office to investigate."

Two election judges in Weld verify the signatures by viewing older scanned signatures of voters at the election building in Greeley.

"We have a Democrat and Republican. We don't have to by law in a non-partisan election like this, but we do that as a continuing practice every year," Moreno said.

Moreno said if a signature does not match, it would go into a separate bin that day and his office would try its hardest the following day to get a letter in the mail to the voter to notify that the signature on file did not match.

"We don't just look at the last signature," Moreno said. "We have several signatures from things (voters) had signed already from previous elections because we know not every signature is going to be exact every time. If you ignore my letter, then the next letter you'll receive is after the election from the district attorney's office to begin a criminal investigation."

Straayer doesn't worry about fraud regarding mail ballots.

"You can't screw up an election system of every little thing that somebody who is suspicious and paranoid might think would happen," Straayer said. "You can't do that."

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