International observers tour Arapahoe election facility

In difficult year, pro-democracy group says county process seems smooth, advanced

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Amid one of the most challenging elections in living memory, international elections observers toured Arapahoe County’s elections warehouse on Oct. 28, part of ongoing efforts to monitor how the work of the republic is achieved.

Representatives of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly toured the county’s sprawling election facility in west Littleton, one of two stops the pair made in Colorado.

The OSCE, an Austrian-based coalition of 57 nations founded in 1975, promotes causes including human rights, freedom of the press and fair elections. The organization’s Parliamentary Assembly began monitoring international elections in 1993, and has observed American presidential elections consistently since 2004 under an agreement with the federal government.

The organization won’t release its final report on the 2020 election until after Election Day, but an interim report released on Oct. 22 expressed concern about how the election was being handled nationally, citing voter disenfranchisement concerns, shaky new election processes in many states, disorganization in federal election oversight, the potential for post-election violent political unrest and President Donald Trump’s repeated allegations of mass voter fraud, which the organization fears will call the legitimacy of the election into question.

Despite the challenges, things seem to be going smoothly so far in Arapahoe County, the observers said.

Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder Joan Lopez and county elections director Peg Perl walked Andreas Baker, the assembly’s head of elections, and Kari Henriksen, the assembly’s vice president and a member of the Norwegian parliament, through each step in the process of receiving, processing and counting ballots.

Baker said he previously toured Arapahoe County’s facility in 2008, several years before Colorado instituted statewide mail ballots.

“Colorado has a robust practice of early mail voting,” Baker said. “We thought it would be interesting to see how far ahead in the process a county can be. There are a lot of jurisdictions in the country where they haven’t been able to do many of the steps we’ve seen today.”

Colorado’s elections process mails every registered voter a ballot weeks ahead of the election and allows them to return it by mail or drop box, or vote in person. Baker called it “a huge operation. It’s interesting to see the mechanics of how it comes together.”

Arapahoe County, the state’s third most populous, was part of a nationwide surge in early voting, Perl told the observers.

Lopez said she hoped the observers saw Arapahoe County as a model.

“I hope they take away how secure, safe and welcoming our process is for every voter in Arapahoe County,” Lopez said. “There’s no reason not to vote — not in Colorado.”

Lopez said rampant misinformation about voting is among the biggest challenges faced by local elections officials, and urged voters to seek out reliable sources of information — not memes on social media.

Perl said she hoped the observers saw Arapahoe County’s processes as a solid integration of technology and policy goals to ensure secure and straightforward elections.

Though the OSCE normally sends about 100 elections observers to the United States, they sent about half that many this year, as they navigated the complications of travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The organization’s observers haven’t received a warm welcome in some parts the country. OSCE observers were barred from observing North Carolina’s election process this year, and states including Arizona, Florida and Ohio ban international observers. In 2012, Texas Governor Greg Abbott threatened OSCE monitors with arrest if they attempted to enter Texas election facilities.

“Our goal,” Henriksen said, “is to help develop democracies in a peaceful way, and to help them be more open and transparent.”

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