Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

El Paso County taxpayers stuck paying tab over thousands of undeliverable ballots

By Megan Schrader Updated: October 29, 2013 at 8:45 am 0

A stack of 38,416 undeliverable ballots at the El Paso Clerk and Recorder's Office cost tax-payers about $25,000 in return fees as the county implements a new all-mail ballot voting system for the Nov. 5 election.

"The plus side is everyone gets a ballot, but the downside is that ballot was mailed to the most recent address on file," said Ryan Parsell, spokesman for the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office.

And for the voter registration records, about 11 percent of the time that address was wrong.

"The big thing is really the cost," he said. "This is one of those unfunded mandates."

But other counties have not seen such a high return rate and have said that the rate of undeliverable ballots is going down, even if the overall number has increased.

Pam Anderson, Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder, said the rate of returned ballots has improved in Jefferson County, where officials were able to sync the voter registration database with the postal services National Change of Address registry thanks to the new election law, House Bill 1303.

"It looks like we're seeing a reduction, probably not a large reduction, of undeliverable ballots," Anderson said. "We typically see on average about a 10 percent rate of return."

Anderson, a Republican who supported the new law, said Jefferson County doesn't have exact numbers yet, but projections show it will be less than 10 percent.

Although it will be an overall larger number of returned ballots because more ballots than ever were sent out in this election, and will thus cost the county more money.

El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams, a Republican, opposed the election law.

Under HB 1303 counties were required to send mail ballots to every single registered voter, even those who landed on the "inactive/failed to vote" list following election years when they didn't cast a ballot.

Instead of using neighborhood precincts on election day, the state will now rely heavily on mail ballots.

Parsell said sending ballots - almost 360,000 in El Paso County - to every voter has been expensive.

It costs about $1.11 to mail a ballot, he said.

The U.S. Postal Service also charges 66 cents for each undeliverable ballot.

El Paso County wasn't able to implement the part of HB 1303 that allowed counties to clean out their voter registration by changing some addresses that were changed with the U.S. Postal Service.

Parsell said that the timing of the September recall election made it impossible to meet state law regarding syncing the database.

Anderson said anyone who recently moved within the Jefferson County, and notified the U.S. Postal Service through a change of address, automatically had their new address updated with their voter registration.

She said some people fell through the cracks because they moved too long ago and dropped out of the change of address database, or they moved out of the county.

Parsell is skeptical that syncing the databases would have had much of an impact.

"I'm sure it would have weeded out some of them, but I doubt it would have weeded out all of them," he said. "We're glad we're not going to have to mail them a ballot in 2014, but still it's costing tax payers money now for sure."

Gilbert Ortiz, clerk and recorder for Pueblo County, said despite also having a recall election in September, the county was able to use the change of address registry to ensure the most accurate addresses for voters.

"About 4 percent were undeliverable," Ortiz said. "I would put that to any mail house out there right now and see if their rates are better; 4 percent is a tiny number. In the past we've seen higher percentages and I think that's a success for HB 1303."

Of about 95,000 ballots mailed out in Pueblo County, about 3,800 have come back undeliverable.

El Paso County will send a bill to all local entities that had items on the ballot - mostly school districts - for a portion of the cost of implementing the election.

Parsell said because costs are higher - due in large part to the cost of mailing more ballots - school district's will have a larger bill than usual.

And the recorders office will ask the county for a larger chunk of the reimbursements to help cover the growing expenses, he said.

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Contact Megan Schrader

719-286-0644

Twitter: @CapitolSchrader

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HOW TO VOTE

Voters can go to any of the following centers from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Sunday, Nov. 3, and register to vote, cast a ballot, change address or get a replacement mail ballot. Voting ends Nov. 5, and all locations will be open that day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

• Citizens Service Center, 1675 W. Garden of the Gods Road, Suite 2202 *

• Southeast Powers Branch, 5650 Industrial Place *

• Downtown Branch at Centennial Hall, 200 S. Cascade Ave. *

• North Branch, 8830 N. Union Blvd. *

• Fountain Police Department Community Room, 222 N. Santa Fe Ave., Fountain (closed Saturday at 1 p.m.)

• Town of Monument, 645 Beacon Lite Road, Monument (closed Saturday at 1 p.m.)

• El Paso County Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall, 366 10th St., Calhan (closed Saturday at 1 p.m.)

* 24-hour secure ballot drop-off boxes at these locations

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