Routt County elections supervisor Vicki Weber shows one of the ballot boxes, which are at the Routt County Clerk and Recorder's Office, Yampa Town Hall, Oak Creek Town Hall, Hayden Town Hall and the Clark Store.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Routt County elections supervisor Vicki Weber shows one of the ballot boxes, which are at the Routt County Clerk and Recorder's Office, Yampa Town Hall, Oak Creek Town Hall, Hayden Town Hall and the Clark Store.

County says mail ballots secure

1st all-mail election puts spotlight on verification processes

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Mail-in signature and verification law in Colorado

1-8-114. Self-affirmation on return envelope.

(1) The return envelope for the mail-in ballot shall have printed on it a self-affirmation substantially in the following form:

I state under penalty of perjury that I am an eligible elector; that my signature and name are as shown on this envelope; that I have not and will not cast any vote in this election except by the enclosed ballot; and that my ballot is enclosed in accord with the provisions of the "Uniform Election Code of 1992".

___________________ Signature of Voter _____________ Date of Vote

(2) The signing of the self-affirmation on the return envelope for the mail-in ballot shall constitute an affirmation by the voter, under penalty of perjury, that the facts stated in the self-affirmation are true.

(3) Assistance to mail-in voters may be given by any person selected by the mail-in voter. No person other than an elector authorized by the designated election official pursuant to sections 1-8-112 and 1-8-205 shall be permitted to assist more than one mail-in voter unless the person is at least eighteen years of age and is the spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling, or child of the mail-in voter seeking assistance. No elector who assists a mail-in voter shall attempt to persuade or unreasonably influence the voter to vote in a particular manner while the mail-in voter is voting.

(4) The return envelope shall not be required to have a flap covering the signature or otherwise impede the use of a signature verification device.

1-8-114.5. Verification of signatures - rules.

(1) (a) Except as provided in subsection (5) of this section, in every coordinated, primary, and general election, an election judge shall compare the signature on the self-affirmation on each return envelope of each mail-in ballot with the signature of the eligible elector on file in the office of the county clerk and recorder or in the statewide voter registration system in accordance with subsections (2), (3), and (4) of this section.

(b) (Deleted by amendment, L. 2008, p. 359, § 6, effective April 10, 2008.)

(2) (a) If, upon comparing the signature of an eligible elector on the self-affirmation on the return envelope with the signature of that eligible elector on file with the county clerk and recorder or in the statewide voter registration system, the election judge determines that the signatures do not match, or if a signature verification device used pursuant to subsection (5) of this section is unable to determine that the signatures match, two other election judges of different political party affiliations shall simultaneously compare the signatures. If both other election judges agree that the signatures do not match, the county clerk and recorder shall, within three days after the signature deficiency has been confirmed, but in no event later than two days after election day, send to the eligible elector at the address indicated in the registration records a letter explaining the discrepancy in signatures and a form for the eligible elector to confirm that the elector voted, signed the self-affirmation, and returned a ballot to the county clerk and recorder. If the county clerk and recorder receives the form within eight days after election day confirming that the elector voted, signed the self-affirmation, and returned a ballot to the county clerk and recorder and enclosing a copy of the elector's identification as defined in section 1- 1-104 (19.5), and if the ballot is otherwise valid, the ballot shall be counted. If the eligible elector does not enclose a copy of the elector's identification as defined in section 1-1-104 (19.5) along with the form, the self-affirmation on the return envelope shall be categorized as incorrect and the ballot shall not be counted. If the eligible elector returns the form indicating that the elector did not vote, sign the self- affirmation, or return a ballot to the county clerk and recorder, or if the eligible elector does not return the form within eight days after election day, the self-affirmation on the return envelope shall be categorized as incorrect, the ballot shall not be counted, and the county clerk and recorder shall send copies of the eligible elector's signature on the return envelope and the signature on file with the county clerk and recorder or in the statewide voter registration system to the district attorney for investigation.

(b) An original return envelope with an enclosed secrecy envelope containing a voted ballot that is not counted in accordance with paragraph (a) of this subsection (2) shall be stored under seal in the office of the county clerk and recorder in a secure location separate from valid return envelopes and may be removed only under the authority of the district attorney or by order of a court having jurisdiction.

(c) In the case of a disagreement among the election judges as to whether the signature of an eligible elector on the self-affirmation on the return envelope matches the signature of the eligible elector on file with the county clerk and recorder or in the statewide voter registration system pursuant to the procedures specified in paragraph (a) of this subsection (2), the signatures are deemed to match, and the election judge shall follow the procedures specified in section 1-8-304 concerning the qualification and counting of mail-in ballots.

(3) If the election judge determines that the signature of an eligible elector on the self-affirmation matches the elector's signature on file with the county clerk and recorder or in the statewide voter registration system, the election judge shall follow the procedures specified in section 1-8-304 concerning the qualification and counting of mail-in ballots.

(4) (a) An election judge shall not determine that the signature of an eligible elector on the self- affirmation does not match the signature of that eligible elector on file with the county clerk and recorder or in the statewide voter registration system solely on the basis of substitution of initials or use of a common nickname.

(b) The designated election official may provide training in the technique and standards of signature comparison to election judges who compare signatures pursuant to this section.

(5) (a) A designated election official may allow an election judge to use a signature verification device to compare the signature on the self-affirmation on the return envelope of an eligible elector's mail-in ballot with the signature of the elector on file with the county clerk and recorder or in the statewide voter registration system in accordance with this subsection (5) and the rules adopted by the secretary of state pursuant to paragraph (c) of this subsection (5).

(b) If a signature verification device determines that the signature on the self-affirmation on a return envelope of an eligible elector's mail-in ballot matches the signature of the elector on file with the county clerk and recorder or in the statewide voter registration system, the signature on the self-affirmation is deemed to meet the requirement of section 1-8-304 (1) (b) (III), and the election judge shall follow the procedures specified in section 1-8-304 concerning the qualification and counting of mail-in ballots. If a signature verification device is unable to determine that the signature on the self-affirmation on a return envelope of an eligible elector's mail-in ballot matches the signature of the elector on file with the county clerk and recorder or in the statewide voter registration system, an election judge shall compare the signatures in accordance with subsections (2), (3), and (4) of this section.

(c) The secretary of state shall adopt rules in accordance with article 4 of title 24, C.R.S., establishing procedures for using signature verification devices to process mail-in ballots pursuant to this article and ballots used in mail ballot elections pursuant to article 7.5 of this title.

Election 2009 key dates and notes

- Ballots have been mailed to all active Routt County registered voters. If you're an active voter and your voter registration information is current, you don't need to request a ballot. The U.S. Postal Service will not forward ballots. If you haven't received your ballot by Wednesday, call the Routt County Elections Office at 970-870-5558.

- Oct. 27 is the last day to request a ballot be mailed to you.

- There are five drop-off locations in Routt County for voters to submit their completed ballots: Routt County Clerk and Recorder's Office, Yampa Town Hall, Oak Creek Town Hall, Hayden Town Hall and the Clark Store.

- All ballots must be received by 7 p.m. Nov. 3. Voters should not mail their ballots after Oct. 29.

- Voters can request a replacement ballot until 7 p.m. Nov. 3 at the Elections Office on the third floor of the Routt County Courthouse, at 522 Lincoln Ave.

- Voters will receive ballots specific to where they live. For example, South Routt residents won't receive ballots because there are no contested school board races or city elections there.

- Voters who have any questions about the mail-in ballot process should call the Elections Office at 870-5558.

- Electronic voting is available for disabled voters or any voter who chooses to vote electronically, at the Elections Office.

Election 2009

Visit www.steamboatpilot.com/election2009 for complete coverage of this year's races and issues.

— Local election officials say they are taking a variety of steps to secure mail-in ballots in Routt County's first all-mail election, but they also stress that voter responsibility can play a role in ensuring a fair, secure election this fall.

A few days into Routt County's first mail-only election, county and U.S. Postal Service employees are encountering new concerns about the security of mail ballots. One such concern is the possibility of residents tossing their ballots into a trash container or recycling bin at a post office branch, leaving the ballots available for potential forgery.

Steamboat Springs Postmaster Tim O'Brien said he is not asking post office staff to check trash containers or recycle bins for discarded ballots.

"If someone chooses to take their mail and throw it away, it's no longer mail," O'Brien said Friday. "And I don't have the manpower to check the trash."

Routt County elections supervisor Vicki Weber discussed security concerns Friday in the Elections Office on the third floor of the Routt County Courthouse. She and deputy Kim Bonner sat in the office behind a chain stretched across the door. That's the mentality Weber and Bonner say they bring to tasks such as issuing replacement ballots, monitoring ballot drop-boxes and verifying that every ballot envelope mailed to the county is sent from the correct voter.

Weber said each ballot envelope has a bar code and a serial number tied to a specific, individual voter. Weber said a different bar code on the ballot itself is for programming - related to which questions are on the ballot and where the computer should look for votes - and do not tie the ballot to a voter or violate ballot secrecy.

The voter identified on the envelope is matched to the signature on the envelope, Weber said. She said county officials have "13 years worth of signatures" on file from any form submitted by a voter, including prior ballots, voter signature cards, change-of-address forms and more.

Weber said election staff checks the signature on the envelope of every mail-in ballot.

"If the signature does not match, we try to contact that voter," she said. "The ballot remains sealed until we resolve the issue of the signature."

Weber said she realizes that signatures change throughout time but cited handwriting patterns such as a main character that remain consistent. She readily acknowledged that while she received an overview of signature training from the Colorado Secretary of State's Office, she and her staff are "not signature experts" - leading them to double-check when necessary.

"If there's a question, we contact the voter," Weber said.

Weber said residents should not place an unused ballot in a post office trash container.

"They should take it home and destroy it," she said. "They should not throw it in a public garbage can."

Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland said her office would take action upon discovery of a fraudulent ballot.

"Voting a ballot that's not issued to you is a federal offense, and I will turn them over to the district attorney if we ever have evidence of a violation," Weinland said.

Weber said she went to Denver last week to oversee the mailing of the ballots to Routt County.

"I escorted them from the sorting facility to the post office," she said, adding that she followed the truck carrying the ballots. "I'm very protective of my babies."

Drop-boxes

Voters can drop off completed ballots at five locations in Routt County: the Routt County Clerk and Recorder's Office, Yampa Town Hall, Oak Creek Town Hall, Hayden Town Hall and the Clark Store.

Weber said each drop-box is verified as empty before it is initially closed with a numbered seal. There is a log recording each time a drop-box is opened, Weber said, which occurs through a "chain of custody" that begins with her.

"They're the same ballot boxes we've been using for 25 years," she said. "There's a tracking process that goes with it now."

O'Brien said although the post office gives "the same security to all mail," each mailed ballot gets "top priority in billing and handling because it's time-sensitive.

"We handle them the same every year," he said. "And we've had a significant portion the past few years. It's been growing."

Weinland said about 80 percent of county voters have chosen to receive mail ballots permanently.

On Friday, Neil and Helen Bergman, residents of Steamboat's Brooklyn neighborhood, stopped by the Elections Office because they soon were leaving for a vacation and hadn't yet received their ballots. They learned that their address had not been updated, and they worked with Elections Office staff to amend the issue.

"Piece of cake," Neil Bergman said.

O'Brien encouraged postal customers to make sure they have the proper amount of postage on their ballot.

Although the normal, 44-cent rate should apply for most ballots, O'Brien said, depending on how much paper is inside the envelope, some ballots could weigh more than an ounce, which would require 61 cents in postage, or 17 cents for each additional ounce.

"We won't delay any mail because of short postage," O'Brien said, explaining that the county would be billed for any postage shortages.

Weber said not only has the use of mail ballots grown in recent years in Routt County, but she also sees more people signing up for permanent mail ballots each day.

Steamboat Springs City Councilman Jon Quinn, for one, misses the polling-location process that could soon become archaic.

"I'm kind of a poll guy," he said. "I like the routine."

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