ballot box

Drop off your filled-in ballot at the official ballot box across the street from the Ouray County Courthouse (pictured above), or at any other official ballot box in the state. (Photo courtesy of Ken Lund)

Voting by mail this election season is fraught with risks.

When you are voting in-person, you can receive assistance right on the spot.

By contrast, even when mail-in ballots are posted ahead of time — well in advance of Election Day, Nov. 3 — they can cause you heartburn. They may be delayed in the mail. Or some technical snafu may lead to them being rejected.

Colorado residents have an advantage when it comes to voting by mail. Our not-so-secret weapon: the ballot drop box, which allows citizens to skip the hassle (and the potential health risks) of voting in person on Election Day during a pandemic, and also allows us to avoid the potential hang-ups and inefficiencies of using the U.S. mail.

Ballots deposited in local drop boxes are retrieved by a bipartisan team — a registered Republican, a registered Democrat, a registered Independent, “or any combination thereof,” said Hannah Hollenbeck, deputy clerk of Ouray’s Board of County Commissioners — at least once, “and as we get closer to the election, at least twice every day. The ballot boxes are under 24-hour surveillance” by video, and the ballots themselves “under lock and key.”

But ballot boxes also carry risks for voters: They must be filled out correctly. “What you drop off in a ballot box is technically a mailed ballot, since that is how it reached you in the first place,” San Miguel County Clerk and Recorder Stephhanie Van Damme pointed out. “Whether we receive it via drop box or U.S. Mail, that ballot will go through the same verification process, which is different than in-person vote.”

“If you’re voting in-person,” Van Damme explained, “you show up with your i.d. and the election judges will verify all your information: address, driver’s license, birthdate, and you’re issued a paper or electronic ballot right there. After they’re filled out, these ballots go directly to our tabulation storage area.”

By contrast, “with a mailed-in ballot, we take those and use a team of signature verification judges to pull up the record of that voter’s signings before the ballot is even open. They will compare the signature on the ballot envelope versus all the other signatures we have on record from you, from, say, voter registration forms, and all your previous mailed-in ballots.”

If the judges notice a discrepancy between your current and past signatures — another piece of good news about living in Colorado — you get another chance to make your voice count at the polls (in most other states, your ballot would be disqualified). But in the Centennial State, “the county will communicate with you within 24 hours” to let you know there is a signature discrepancy, Van Damme said. For example, “San Miguel County will both email you and mail you, and include an affidavit that says, ‘I voted with my ballot.’ You’re required to sign it and return it to the local clerk and recorder’s office. You have until the eighth day after the election (that is, Nov. 11) to do so. We must have that affidavit in hand eight days after the election for your ballot to count.”

If you are out of town around Election Day and haven’t had a chance to vote, if you have your ballot with you, “You can drop it in any official drop box in Colorado,” Van Damme said. “That county will take an image of your ballot and upload it to our secure system. They will forward it to us right away.” If you are out of town without your ballot and would like to vote in person, you can do that, too. “You can receive what is called a statewide ballot,” Van Damme said, “which allows you to vote on issues that are common to all voters statewide.”

You may miss out on a chance to support Lynn Padgett for Ouray County Commissioner by going that route, for example, but you’ll still have an opportunity to weigh in on Proposition 14, which would return gray wolves to the Western Slope. To learn more, visit govotecolorado.com.