Primarily a Mail-In State

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Lynn and I are voting today! I do it mostly for the “I Voted” sticker.

I am voting today, an act that usually cheers me, but feels kind of sad this year. I have a shirt down at work waiting to be adorned with “Voting Matters,” because I believe that with all my being, and I’m still voting, but it’s not with the fanfare that usually accomplishes such an act at Pat’s Screen Printing.

Usually when we vote at Pat’s we do it as a group, and on Election Day, like a holiday. We don’t necessarily vote for the same candidates or the same issues, but everyone votes. We even had one employee, a college student, who had her ballot overnighted from an eastern state and then sent back the same way, when she decided at the last possible minute that she wanted her vote to count.

Today is Primary Day #2 — is that possible? Primary but second? — for Colorado. Because we wanted to matter in the national discussion, we moved our presidential primary way up on the calendar, early March, I think, but apparently we decided that was way too early to want to vote in down-ballot races, so we’re doing that tomorrow.

Because Colorado is one of five states that conducts an all-mail-in ballot — with no indications of widespread or even narrowspread fraud, I might add — ballot collection actually got underway last week.

You can still vote in-person, and the parking lot I usually use if I’m not parking near Lake School and walking to work has been repurposed temporarily as a safe voting center. It looks like you can vote without leaving your car, after you get directed and vetted by people wearing protective suits and masks.

At Pat’s, we always like to treat voting as a Big Event. We often have a discussion of candidates and issues, leaning heavily on support materials provided by the League of Women Voters. On-line the League gives every candidate (in every race in every jurisdiction of the United States) a chance to say something of themselves and provide answers to League-posed questions about issues. (You can find this at Vote 411.)

Prior to general elections, the League produces little pamphlets in easy-to-understand language that tell you what the ballot proposals propose to do, and what people in favor and opposed say. I’ve never joined (you don’t have to be a woman to sign up), but I’m a big fan of the League of Women Voters.

So we go over our ballots, and then we close our shop and head for the polling place, two blocks away.

But now we are in Pandemia. I still want everyone to vote, although Vann’s party affiliation closes him out of the primary action, but there doesn’t seem to be much wisdom in going as a group.

I kind of think the county election officials are hoping people vote early because of distance measures required back in the secret area where ballots are processed. Voting one day early probably isn’t a whole lot of help, but it’s probably still more assistance than waiting until tomorrow afternoon.

I would like, as a former city election official, to address a talking point that keeps cropping up in the White House, where very large numbers of people vote by the very method they are decrying, mail-in ballot.

As someone who has been in that secret counting room, I can assure you that your ballot is anonymous. Even if you don’t use your secrecy sleeve the ballot gets separated from the envelope it came in long before it gets counted, leaving no way to trace any ballot to any specific envelope. (Which is why you can’t “re-do” your ballot or ask for it back for any reason.)

The ballots get verified by people other than the counters, while still in sealed envelopes, so no one person maintains control of any particular ballot, and no one judge or staff member is ever left alone with ballots.

The city is no longer in the ballot-counting business, having switched last year (with voter approval) to being part of the November ballot counted by the county, but I’m sure the same can be said of the county: everyone I worked with at the city, from staff to election judges, took their responsibility extremely seriously.

Voting is the very epitome of democracy, and insuring that it is carried out with the sacredness it deserves is the responsibility of election judges. The judges I worked with at the city — and we all took an oath of office before every election — were of assorted political stripes and a wide diversity of personalities, but in that secret room everyone was focused on one thing: providing an accurate report of the voters’ preferences.

(Ballots are further audited a week or so after the election, before results are officially certified, by a separate set of judges not present for the initial count who open random packets to insure the counts inside match the counts outside.)

Even if one was inclined to open ballots with a neighbor’s name on it to scrutinize the selections contained within, there are several points that make that nearly impossible: first is that other people are watching. Second is a need for efficiency, which fairly well precludes taking the time to scan each ballot as it comes out of the envelope. Third is the part where if you want to track large numbers of individual voting preferences, you would need a memory far better than mine, especially after several hours of counting hundreds of ballots.

So, despite what you keep hearing at the federal level, usually coming out of the mouths of people who stick their ballots in the mail, a mail-in ballot is a viable and safe way to vote.

The counts don’t always go smoothly: some voters do a very poor job of making their intention clear. But those are the ballots the judges work the hardest on, with two, or more if necessary, judges looking together to ascertain the voter’s intent. If you do mark a candidate you don’t want and aren’t sure your correction will be noted, the best assistance is to write “this one” with an arrow next to the box or oval you really want.  It won’t make it through a scanning machine, but it will get kicked out to a place where judges will confer and add that count to the total.

So happy early voting, a whole entire day early, fellow Coloradans. Don’t forget: your ballot has to arrive at your polling place by Election Day, not just be postmarked. But the state is intent on making it very safe for you to vote in person or drop your ballot off, so make sure you stand up and are counted. By people just like me.

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