Our view: The mail-in ballot post-game
November 6, 2014
In Colorado's first major all-mail election Tuesday, including the first same-day registration election, we got a glimpse of the flaws in the new statewide process.
The Colorado House passed the changes in state election laws in the spring with Democratic support and Republican opposition. A month later, the Colorado Senate passed the bill, also along party lines, which Gov. John Hickenlooper signed. The new law requires that mail-in ballots be offered to all voters in November elections and that residents can register to vote in-person on Election Day.
Locally, Pitkin County election officials found themselves unprepared for procedures that had never been tested with such high volumes. County Clerk Janice Vos Caudill was seen leaving the Clerk and Recorder's Office just after 5 p.m. on Election Day hauling a box of ballots. The town of Snowmass Village had run out, she said, and Vos Caudill had to personally deliver more ballots for walk-in voters — right in the middle of voting rush hour.
And at Vos Caudill's office on Main Street, election officials ran out of walk-in ballots three separate times throughout the day. Also throwing a wrench into the process was a statewide problem with the computer system that verifies voter eligibility. That system was down in Pitkin County for about 20 minutes, but Vos Caudill reported intermittent delays of five to 10 minutes each throughout the rest of the day.
The convenience of voting has come at a cost, evidenced by a false claim of victory Tuesday night by state Senate District 5 Republican candidate Don Suppes. As Pitkin County election officials counted votes into the early morning hours — missing nearly every deadline for which they had promised results — even the candidates themselves weren't sure of their fate. The campaign for Kerry Donovan, Suppes' Democratic opponent, who ended up winning after the final results trickled in throughout Wednesday and Thursday, wouldn't concede when Pitkin County still had more than 3,000 ballots to count after midnight on election night. Suppes was only leading by roughly 1,000 votes at that point, and dominantly left-leaning Pitkin County later propelled Donovan to victory.
But it was how much later that's concerning. And Pitkin County isn't the only county in the region that faced the hiccups — Eagle and Gunnison counties also lagged behind, even as counties along the Front Range with 60 times the population turned in their tallies.
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Vos Caudill said the county just didn't have the capacity to deal with the large number of voters who dropped off their ballots at the last minute or chose to vote in person. But we take issue with that claim. We are fortunate to have a well-informed electorate here in Pitkin County, and while mail-in voting might add convenience, for many voters it's just not practical. Nearly every person in our newsroom waited to drop off ballots until Election Day. Some surely suffered from the typical journalist procrastination syndrome, but most of us waited because choosing a candidate takes time.
That, and you never know what might happen between the time you drop a ballot in the mailbox and Election Day — such as when the candidate you voted for commits a crime after it's too late to change your vote. Maybe that's just our natural journalistic skepticism at play, but we believe it's a valid reason to wait.
But the real falsity in the claim that the Clerk's Office just wasn't prepared for the volume of ballots is that this is Aspen, and let's face it, we're old-school. People still hand-write letters to the editor and hand-deliver them to our office every day — it's not so hard to imagine an Aspen electorate walking into the Clerk's Office on Election Day to fill out their ballots so they can proudly walk back outside donning a fresh "I voted" sticker.
Voting habits can't be expected to change overnight. The Clerk and Recorder's Office should have been better prepared.