Colorado voters will see changes at the polls in November |

Colorado voters will see changes at the polls in November

Bob Ward
Special to The Aspen Times

As more and more voters mail in their ballots, Colorado is changing the way it handles elections.

Over the past month, following a directive from the Colorado State Assembly, Pitkin County has decided how it intends to implement all future general elections. A task force of election clerks, party officials and others recently decided where the county would establish “voter service and polling centers” and “mail ballot drop boxes.”

House Bill 13-1303, the Colorado Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act, seeks to use technology to ease election administration and to further the move toward mail-in ballots. In the 2012 presidential election, 72 percent of Colorado voters mailed their ballots. Voters who prefer to cast their ballots in person on or before Election Day still will be able to do so but may have to do it in a different location than they’re used to.

According to Pitkin County Elections Manager Bill Mast, it costs roughly $2 to process a mail-in ballot but $20 for a polling-place voter. The main reason for this disparity is the people it requires to staff multiple polling places and the time it takes to train them and deploy them for 14 hours on Election Day.

“This (legislation) reduces the number of locations we have to provide and makes it open to everybody, so availability is increased,” Mast said.

In future elections, instead of eight polling places scattered around Pitkin County, there will be three voter-service centers on Election Day (Nov. 5):

• Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, 530 E. Main St., Aspen.

• Snowmass Village Town Hall, 16 Kearns Road, Snowmass Village.

• Grace Church, 1776 Emma Road, Basalt.

These three centers will be better equipped than the county’s traditional polling places and will be able to accept ballots from any registered voter in the county. So an Aspen resident could cast a ballot in Basalt and a Redstone resident could vote in Snowmass Village if they wished.

Also, an electronic, Internet-connected database will enable the centers to do their business more efficiently. If, for example, a voter shows up on Election Day with a changed address, the center will be able to record that change, verify that the voter in question has not cast a ballot already and then accept that voter’s ballot without the use of a provisional ballot.

Mast admits that he’s not sure if the new system will make elections cheaper to administer. Instead of 40 election judges to staff eight polling places, Pitkin County will now staff three voter-service centers with 36 judges, but those judges will require more training than before. In the end, however, if more voters are able to participate, then the change will be worthwhile.

“The more voters we can have show up and participate in the process, the better the process can be for everybody,” Mast said.

For those who wish to vote early but still vote in person, the Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder’s Office will be the designated “early-voting service center” for the entire county, beginning 15 days before Election Day. Beginning 18 days before the election, the office also will accept mail-in ballots in a drop box. On Election Day, to help those who live along the Crystal River, a second drop box will be at the Church of Redstone at 0213 Redstone Blvd.

Because of all the required characteristics of a voter-service center, the county was unable to provide voter services in outlying areas such as Meredith and Thomasville. However, Mast said, those who live in rural neighborhoods are used to driving regularly to the nearest grocery store, post office or gas station and should be able to cast their ballot on one of those trips.

“Overwhelmingly, the feedback we’ve heard is positive,” Mast said. “This will be a new experience for our voters.”

It’s unclear at this time what will be on the November ballot, but Mast expects that turnout will be relatively low when compared with the gubernatorial election in 2014. The Clerk’s Office is looking at the 2013 election as sort of a test drive for the new system and may tweak the system going forward.

To help things go smoothly in November, the office will reach out to voters via newspaper, television, radio and social media in the coming months.