Election goes on despite COVID, fire
Editor’s note: Sky-Hi News will be posting early election results as soon as they become available, which should be sometime after 7 p.m. tonight.
As part of the Grand community, the county’s election judges were not immune to the effects of the East Troublesome Fire.
According to County Clerk Sara Rosene, many were evacuated, some lost their homes, and a few have been helping to fight the fire themselves. Even with the crisis in the county, the judges have continued to serve.
“They’ve all stepped up and, frankly, most of them have come back anyway,” Rosene said of those who were displaced. “They’re amazing, amazing people. They care about the process a lot.”
Grand has about 60 election judges split between Republicans and Democrats who work in shifts on the various parts of the ballot process. This is a higher number than normal, as the county clerk had to assemble enough judges this year to cover the election process even if there was a COVID-19 outbreak.
“Before the election, we were strongly encouraged as county clerks to make sure we had enough people in the event we had a COVID issue,” Rosene explained. “Along that line, we were prepared.”
Those judges are handling a lot of ballots, with 5,543 already reported as of last Wednesday equal to 47.8% of registered voters.
In 2016, 75% of voters in Grand returned ballots totaling 8,847. Rosene expects a higher turnout this year based on the early voting.
“We are far ahead in early voting — farther ahead than we’ve ever been,” she said.
In the first week of voting, eight people voted in person at the County Administration Building. In previous years Grand had only seen one or two in-person votes the first week. As of Friday, 61 people had voted in person, a “phenomenal” turn out of voters according to Rosene.
The clerk has also issued “a lot” of replacement ballots following the displacement of thousands of voters due to the fire evacuations. She felt it was important that she and the judges were able to keep the election process accessible in Grand through the crisis.
“That was really important for people to have some degree of normalcy knowing that they can still vote,” Rosene said.
Once the ballots are in, there is a strict process that every ballot goes through under constant camera surveillance. The bipartisan judges are also key in every step of processing voters’ ballots.
This starts with the ballot collection from the county’s drop boxes, where a Republican/Democrat duo picks up ballots daily leading up to the election.
Those are then date stamped at the County Admin Building, logged into the system and batched to be stored until they can be signature verified. Another pair of bipartisan election judges goes through the signature verification process.
On the Friday before the election, two judges were working their way through a batch of signed ballots in a small room at the back of the County Admin Building. Each of the two computer monitors showed the same signature, which the two judges verify against the signatures on the system.
If the signature is missing or cannot be verified, the county clerk’s office has until two days after the election to send a letter notifying the voter that their ballot has not been accepted. If the voter’s email or phone number is available, the clerk’s office contacts them that way as well. The voter then has until Nov. 12 to fix the problem and be counted.
Before being scanned for votes but after the signatures have been verified, the ballots are processed. This begins with a team of judges removing a batch of ballots from the envelope. Those ballots are handed to a different judge to be removed from the secrecy sleeve.
“That way it can’t be tied back to a voter,” Rosene said.
The ballots are then reviewed to make sure they can go through the scanner. If it has something like a food smear or a tear, it is pulled for replication.
After logging that the ballot will be replicated, one judge reads off the voter’s answers from the ballot while a judge of the opposite party watches to ensure the reader is accurate. At the same time, a different judge marks the new ballot with those answers as another judge from the opposite party also watches.
Behind the two judges at the office Friday were stacked blue and red crates of ballots that had already been scanned. On Thursday, a machine sitting at the other end of the room scanned the first round of Grand County ballots totaling 5,750 early returns.
Each ballot goes through the scanner to be counted. However, if the machine finds something on the ballot that needs human eyes — like multiple answers selected or a write-in candidate — it goes through an adjudication process to ensure the proper information is entered. The counted ballots are then stored with their batch.
Ballot processing does not end election night. Voters with signature issues have until Nov. 12 to rectify the problem; overseas and military voters whose mailed ballots are postmarked by Election Day have until Nov. 12 for the county to receive their ballots; and other counties that may have received Grand County ballots have until Nov. 12 to return them.
Once all those ballots are counted, the county goes through a “risk-limiting audit” where the state selects ballots at random that are pulled to compare what is written on the ballot to what is on file with the state, ensuring that the ballots have been reported accurately.
Rosene explained that because of this process, she doesn’t expect ballots turned in after Saturday to be included in the first round of reporting on election night. Results should be finalized by the end of the month.
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A project that the Grand Fire Protection District has planned for since 2004 could begin soon.