Roger Baker, County Manager. Writing this one week after the election, we can now think a little about how things went in Gilpin County, and what changes we can make to improve things for future election cycles.
Of course, to a great extent, our options are limited by the state, which is really in charge of most aspects of election operations. Given that the new Secretary of State (SOS) is a former El Paso County Clerk & Recorder (and was no fan of mail ballots), and that at least the state senate (at this writing) may have moved into Republican hands, there is at least a possibility that HB 1303, which mandated the all-mail ballot, could be repealed or at least modified. And new election equipment could be required (again), which makes budgeting for election expenses very problematic.
Generally speaking, though, our election this year went very well, especially compared to the serious problems that were experienced even by some larger counties—the delays in counting in Boulder and Adams counties, the wrong ballots being mailed in Arapahoe County, etc.
If there were any problems locally, they were caused primarily because no one knew for sure how an all-mail ballot would be received, and how many people would show up to vote either at the Voter Service and Polling Centers the two weeks before the election, or on Election Day itself.
Voter turnout is traditionally lower in non-presidential year elections, but with some 1400 mail ballots still unreturned by Election Day, no one knew if we would have 15 people cast votes that day, or 150, or 1500 (remembering that folks could also register and vote on the same day!)
The reality in Gilpin County turned out to be closer to the middle—of the 249 people who voted at the Courthouse (as opposed to dropping off mail ballots), 161 voted on Election Day. But we also had 448 people drop off ballots on Election Day, 45 registered that day and 87 chose to update their records.
Why many of these folks who had already received ballots in the mail wanted to vote in person is somewhat of a mystery, but it certainly made things crowded on the first floor of the Old Courthouse in Central City; we’re limited to that floor because of the ADA-approved handicapped access (which had just been sanctioned by the SOS staff, by the way), but it was still pretty tight with that many voters.
And while the Courthouse had a brief internet glitch early in the day, most of the delays in checking registrations were caused by outages in the SOS voter database—the whole SOS site was taken down for about 20 minutes that afternoon. That’s not anything over which we had any control.
After our dedicated election judges made it through the day, then, another set of judges took over to start counting the ballots; the mechanical part of the procedure went smoothly enough, but the need to count many write-in ballots (for both state and local races) delayed things a bit.
Despite these obstacles and uncertainties, the votes were cast and completely counted by 9:30 that evening; that’s pretty remarkable, and a testament to Clerk & Recorder Colleen Stewart, her staff, and those election judges, many of whom have been doing this for decades and have learned to cope with the year-to-year changes that seem inevitable.
But even though the ballot counting was done commendably quickly, there is still one race unsettled as of this writing—for County Commissioner. Just eight votes separate the candidates.
To prevent fraud, mail ballot envelopes (not the actual ballots) have to be signed, and then that signature is compared (by the election judges) to the signatures on file. In 30-some cases, the judges determined that the signatures didn’t match, and those voters have been mailed a letter giving them until November 12 to submit an affidavit that the ballots are in fact theirs. Three have already done so. So “final” election results will be on the County’s website by Thursday evening, November 13.
Obviously, with an eight vote difference and 30 or so ballots that could still be counted, those votes could determine the outcome of the race; and if the final count falls within a 0.5% difference, that would trigger an automatic recount, delaying the final certification of results still further. Stay tuned!