Election security overseen by bipartisan teams

Arapahoe County official gives insight into ballot-processing procedures


Not many elements of American politics are bipartisan anymore, but vote counting in Arapahoe County is.

Two-person teams, consisting of one Republican and one Democrat, are tasked with collecting and opening ballots, said Marissa Chamberlain, Arapahoe County's deputy director of elections. Bipartisan teams are also responsible for making judgment calls on ballots when a voter fills out a ballot incorrectly.

Ahead of the Nov. 5 election, Chamberlain explained the vote-counting process in a tour of the county election facility, near Federal Boulevard and Belleview Avenue in Littleton. Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder Joan Lopez was scheduled to lead the Oct. 29 tour, but had to attend a rescheduled meeting, Chamberlain said.

Ballot security is a top priority, Chamberlain said.

“Every ballot box is sealed, with a signed chain of custody,” Chamberlain said. “I've never seen a seal that didn't match up.”

While the majority of Arapahoe County's ballots come in through 24-hour drop boxes, those that are sent through the mail will be picked up by teams who travel to the U.S. Postal Service's sorting facility in Commerce City, Chamberlain said.

Once ballots arrive, they undergo machine scanning that compares the signatures on the envelope to a county database culled from previous ballots and public records.

“We have the machine's tolerance set pretty high,” Chamberlain said. “It typically only accepts about half of the signatures it encounters.”

The rest are checked by hand, Chamberlain said. Voters whose signatures can't be verified will get a letter and email asking them to “cure” their ballot, requiring them to verify their identity with a copy of a photo ID. Voters have up to eight days after the election to fix their ballots.

Ballots are then opened by bipartisan teams and go on to computer scanners on a secure network that has no connection to the internet, Chamberlain said. Votes are accumulated on a server in a secure room with limited access and no connection to the outside world.

Ballots where the voter's intent isn't immediately clear, such as when someone crossed out one vote and wrote in another, or ballots with unclear marks, are “adjudicated” by bipartisan teams with oversight from supervisors, Chamberlain said.

Voters who are still wary about the security or legitimacy of vote counting can sign up to be “poll watchers,” Chamberlain said, which allows them to monitor activity at any of the county's six voting centers, as well as inside the election facility. Those interested should contact political parties to sign up, she said.

The state's voter registration database makes it extremely difficult for someone to vote twice, Chamberlain said.

“There are an incredible number of checks and balances in Colorado elections,” Chamberlain said. “Citizens can vote with confidence, and they can come watch us work, too.”


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