Potential problems with Colorado mail-in ballots [corrected]

| October 28, 2008

UPDATE (10/31/08): I’ve got a new post, citing a Rocky Mountain News article pointing out yet another problem specifically for those newly registered Colorado voters who requested a mail-in ballot.

IMPORTANT CORRECTION (10/30/08): As per the comments by gailculp below, not all Colorado counties have drop-off spots for mail-in ballots. So if you are using a mail-in ballot, I would guess you should get it into the mail no later than Friday to guarantee delivery by next Tuesday.


Over 60% of “active, registered voters” in Colorado (as defined by the Colorado Secretary of State) have requested mail-in ballots. With a week to go until Election Day, only about 40% of those mail-in ballots have been returned as of 8 pm last night (here’s an Excel spreadsheet and here’s a PDF printout of that sheet). The other 60%, so far, have not.

I was one of those delinquent individuals. However, I dug out my mail-in ballot today and filled it out. Having done that, I see several potential problems with the mail-in ballots.

First, to mark each choice on the ballot, you have to completely fill in (using blue or black ink) a rather large (1/4″ long by 3/16″ high) rectangle. No Xs, no check marks, no pencil. I suspect this is to support computer reading of the ballot, but unless voters are paying close attention to the instructions (on a separate sheet), they are likely to simply put an X in the box — and the ballot won’t count.

Second, the voter is supposed to sign in a specific location on the back of the ballot envelope (an Affidavit of Voter). Again, this is pointed out in the separate instruction sheet — and, frankly, on the front of the envelope, too. However, the instruction sheet shows the area to sign as being right under the text of the “Affidavit of Voter”. It’s not — it’s above and to the right of the “Affidavit of Voter”, and underneath the envelope flap. That appears to be deliberate, since there is a portion of the envelope flap that can be pulled off to expose the signature. But it means that if the voter seals the envelope without seeing that location under the flap, s/he may well not realize that s/he has to sign the envelope — and the ballot won’t count.

Third, the mail-in ballot has to be received by the appropriate county clerk’s office by 7:00 pm on Election Day. Unlike tax returns, the postmark won’t matter; the ballot has to actually be delivered by that day. Note that in Douglas County (but not all Colorado counties) you can drop off the mail-in ballot at early voting locations — I will likely do that tomorrow [update: did it on 10/30]. But if you don’t pay attention, you may mail your ballot so late that it is not delivered by Election Day — and the ballot won’t count.

Fourth, the mail-in ballot requires $0.59 in postage, which is noted on the separate instructions sheet but not on the envelope itself. This means, of course, that if you don’t put the right amount of postage on the ballot, it won’t get delivered — and the ballot won’t count.

I know that the Obama campaign has been heavily pushing voting by mail (I’ve seen Google ads for it, even). But voters who requested mail-in ballots cannot change their minds and go vote at the regular polls on election day; they have to use their ballots. So far, Democrats and Republicans are about neck-and-neck (42.7% vs. 44%, respectively) as far as the ballots that have been returned. The unaffiliated voters — who are almost equal in number to the Democrats and Republicans (448,698 ballots requested, vs. 588,724 for the Democrats and 563,028 for the Republicans) are the real delinquents: only about 34% have returned their mail-in ballots as of last night.

I have no figures on how many of those ballots have processed and disqualified due to marking errors or lack of a signature. But if there are any tight races here in Colorado, I expect Florida– and Washington-type battles over marks, signatures, and post office delivery of mail-in ballots. Stay tuned.  ..bruce w..

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Category: 2008 Election, Main, US Politics

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at bwebster@bfwa.com, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

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  1. More problems w/Colorado mail-in ballots | And Still I Persist | October 31, 2008
  1. gailculp says:

    You posted wrong info in Potential problems with Colorado mail-in ballots: “Wrong Third, the mail-in ballot has to be received by the appropriate ……… Note that you can drop off the mail-in ballot at early voting locations — I will likely do that tomorrow.”
    If only your comment were true!! In Summit County (and many other counties)we may NOT drop MIBs at polls, neither the early vote centers or Nov 4 polls. County Clerks in Colo have discretion and here, the clerk decided all MIB must be returned only to her Breckenridge office which is a long way from some parts of our county. This will take many voters by surprise.

  2. bfwebster says:

    Thank you for that correction! Here in Douglas County (at least, here in Parker) there is a drop-off point for mail-in ballots — it’s not at the early voting poll, but right next door. (I dropped mine off today.) I will post a correction in the article itself. ..bruce..