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A first: 2012 primary election will feature mail-only ballot

August 18, 2011

June 26, 2012 will be a historic day. It’ll be the first time El Paso County residents won’t vote at precincts in a primary election.

At Thursday’s board meeting, El Paso County commissioners unanimously approved a mail-only ballot for next year’s primary races.

“I’ve been in favor of traditional polling place elections, but in this case, with the cost savings to the taxpayers and the details given, I’m confident we’ll ensure an accurate and fair election,” said Commissioner Sallie Clark.

Colorado law changed in 2009 to allow county officials to choose mail-only ballots for primaries, which typically have lower voter turnout. In 2010, commissioners voted for a polling place election for the primary, making El Paso the only county of the state’s 11 largest to not use the mail format, Williams said.

The mail-only format still allows voters to case their ballot in person. Instead of filling out their ballot and mailing it back or delivering it to a drop-off location, voters can go to the four clerk and recorder offices for a period of eight days before Election Day.

The mail method will save the county about $71,000, County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams said.

That was the main reason cited by voters who like the idea, Williams said. During a three-week public comment period that ended Thursday, Williams said his office received 104 comments, 76 of which favored mail-only ballots because of the cost comparisons. The 28 respondents who wanted traditional polling places said they were concerned about accuracy and voter integrity.

Williams listed several safeguards. The office has a “full security plan filed with the Secretary of State,” and does post-election audits, he said.

In tallying votes, one person removes the secrecy sleeve from the envelope and another person removes the ballot from the sleeve, to ensure confidentiality. Two election judges, one Democrat and one Republican, make the final signature verification, not county employees. And the new clerk and recorder headquarters on Garden of the Gods Road will have an observation window, for the public to watch the election process. Plus, voters can track, online or by phone, the status of their ballot.

Williams also said state certified voting equipment used for counting eliminates voter fraud or duplication, such as a person being able to cast two ballots, by mailing one and then voting in person at a service center.

But Gary Fornander, a Colorado Springs resident and board member of Colorado Common Cause, told commissioners his organization is concerned that mail-only ballots disenfranchise certain voters.

Having just a handful of voting centers, compared to more than 100 neighborhood polling precincts, can be difficult for the handicapped or those who rely on public transportation, Fornander said.

Williams said the four clerk and recorder offices cover the east, west, north and central areas of the county and satisfy the number the state requires. 

And, next week, Williams said he plans to ask commissioners whether his office can spend $500,000 to open another permanent clerk and recorder office in the southern part of the county. If approved, that would become a fifth polling center for the primary election.

The mail-only issue won’t apply to the 2012 Presidential Election. Colorado law says a  General Election must be conducted as a polling place.

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