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Election 2020

Colorado 2020 election: Do you have questions about voting and mail ballots in Colorado? We answered them.

Colorado makes it easy to register to vote and get a mail ballot ahead of the 2020 election. But be aware of important deadlines.

Voters cast their ballots at downtown Denver's Bannock Street polling location on Election Day, Nov. 5, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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UPDATED Oct. 19, 2020

All the national talk about the 2020 election obscures an important truth: In Colorado, voting is easier and more secure than ever before.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

To help you navigate the process, The Colorado Sun interviewed dozens of county clerks, state election officials and voting experts to break it down in simple terms.

Here’s a guide to what you need to know about voting in Colorado and how to make your voice count. (Click the links highlighted below for more information — all are verified sources.)

¿Hablas español? Aquí está nuestra guía para votantes traducida.

If you have a question about voting, let us know! Send us your questions and we’ll answer them below.

It’s Time to Vote! Sign up for The Colorado Sun’s pop-up newsletter explaining how elections and mail ballots work in Colorado


The basics: How to get a ballot to vote in Colorado

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The first step is to register to vote at govotecolorado.com. If your registration is active (meaning you’ve voted in a recent election or confirmed your address), then you’ll receive a ballot in the mail.

To check if your registration is active, update your information or to see the status of your ballot, visit this link to the Colorado Secretary of State’s website. (If you need to update your name, you need to fill out this form and return it to your county clerk or the state.)

Important: There is no need to request an “absentee ballot.” Unlike other states, there’s no such thing in Colorado. If you are an active voter, you will get a ballot in the mail. And if you don’t, there are other methods to vote (keep reading below).

(A recent nationwide mailer from the U.S. Postal Service insinuates that voters must request mail-in or absentee ballots, but this is not true in Colorado. A federal judge ordered the Postal Service to stop delivering the flyers.)

County clerks have until Oct. 16 to mail ballots, but most will begin sending them on Oct. 9, the first day possible, so ballots should arrive within the next week. If you don’t have your ballot by Oct. 17, county clerks want you to call them and request one. Here’s the phone number, email and website for every county clerk.

You can register to vote at a polling center through Election Day, Nov. 3. But to receive a ballot in the mail, you must register by Oct. 26. (If you register this late, don’t return your ballot by mail. See deadlines below.) 

Pro tip: This year, the ballot is lengthy — Denver’s is 47-questions long — so it’s good to get a head start on your research. To view your sample ballot, go here.

Colorado early vote tracker: Here’s a look at the turnout in the 2020 election statewide and in the 11 largest counties


Why you should vote in this election

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If you want to help decide who is in the White House and which political party controls the U.S. Senate, the Colorado vote is key to both. Likewise, who represents you in Washington helps set the policy direction and political tone for the nation, and decides how tax dollars are spent and how much Colorado will receive for its priorities.

At the state level, you will decide your representative in the state House — and depending on where you live, possibly the state Senate, University of Colorado Board of Regents, State Board of Education, district attorney and more. These elected officials will make significant decisions about public policy and spending in Colorado that affects all residents and the future of the state. You also will have a say on whether to retain judges for the Colorado Supreme Court and state Court of Appeals.

Colorado voters and the state legislature also put 11 statewide questions on the ballot. They want you to decide about a host of new taxes, social programs, and more, including restrictions on abortion and reintroduction of gray wolves.

Some local governments put even more policy questions on the ballot, giving voters a direct opportunity to shape the future of their hometowns.

MORE: How The Colorado Sun will cover the 2020 election — and why we need your help


How to return your mail ballot — or vote in person

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Once you complete a mail ballot, you have options on how to return it:

  • Put a stamp on it and put it back in the mail. A ballot requires 55 cents of postage, or a Forever Stamp, according to county clerks. To ensure a completed ballot is mailed to a county clerk in time to count, election officials advise sending it by Oct. 26. 
  • Put the ballot in a 24-hour drop box. The drop boxes open Oct. 9 and no postage is required. To find a drop box near you, use this lookup from state election officials or check your county clerk website.) This is the most popular option, used by about 75% of Colorado voters, according to state elections officials.
  • Hand-deliver your ballot to a polling center. Starting Oct. 19, when voting service and polling centers begin to open, you can drop off your ballot with an election worker. Most counties offer drive-thru drop-off locations run by election workers. Here’s where to find a location near you.

If you want to vote in person, you can do so starting Oct. 19 at a voting service and polling centers. An ID is required. The hours of operations are typically 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, but some county election locations are open on the Saturday and Sunday before Election Day. (Check your county clerk website for locations and hours.) Keep in mind public health precautions are in effect, so social distancing and masks may be required, according to state rules.

To avoid lines, county clerks are asking people to cast their ballots early. “If you are excited and decided, cast your ballot,” says Josh Zygielbaum, the Adams County Clerk and Recorder. 

The deadline to return ballots — or vote in person — is 7 p.m. Nov. 3.


What coronavirus protocols are in place at voting centers?

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The state issued guidelines that outline public health protocols local counties should follow to help prevent the spread of coronavirus and create a safe place to vote.

Most clerks have put in place plexiglass or similar barriers to separate election workers and voters. And hand sanitizer and masks should be available.

MORE: Colorado opens statewide in-person voting with rules designed to prevent coronavirus outbreaks

Many county clerks have assigned staffers to clean the voting booths and equipment after each voter. And in some places, voters will get new pens so they are not reused by other voters.

Social distancing will take place at voting centers, so voters may be asked to wait outside to prevent crowding inside the polling location. A face covering is not required to vote, but some voting centers are located in buildings where masks are necessary. 

All election workers, judges and observers are required to wear masks and maintain 6 feet of distance between individuals. Most counties plan to conduct symptom and temperature checks as well.


How to make sure your vote counts

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Colorado counts every valid ballot, according to state and local election officials. And the single best way to make sure your vote counts, according to election officials, is to track your ballot. 

For the first time, all Colorado voters can track their votes. (A dozen counties offered it in prior elections, but the service expanded statewide for the 2020 election.) You can receive notifications by phone, email or text message about the status of your ballot from the time it is mailed to when it is received and accepted.

Most voters whose registration includes an email address were automatically enrolled in ballot tracking. If you want to enroll, go here: https://colorado.ballottrax.net.

Important: If you are a registered voter in Denver, the city uses a different ballot tracking system called Ballot Trace. To get signed up, go here: https://ballottrace.org/home.


What can voters do to help ensure minimal chaos on Election Day in Colorado and provide support to other states?

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We put this question to the secretary of state and a panel of election experts at our recent virtual forum on Colorado voting. (Watch it here.) The first piece of advice they offered is to vote early. 

In Colorado election officials can begin counting ballots 15 days before the election, so if you vote early, it gives them more time to get it processed and sort out any issues. 

Amber McReynolds, the CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute and former Denver elections director, offered additional advice at the Sun’s forum. She says voters should use social media to share what it’s like to vote in Colorado to spread the word.

“I think the Colorado experience is so amazing — we hear about it all the time about what a great experience people here have to vote — so share that with your colleagues and your friends and your family,” she said. “I think that kind of information is what we need to see more of instead of the misinformation and bad information.”


What if you don’t receive a ballot in the mail?

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If you don’t get a ballot in the mail by Oct. 17, you should call your county clerk to get a replacement ballot. (Here’s the contact information again.)

If you call prior to Oct. 26, the county elections office will mail you a new ballot to your address. Or you can request a take-home ballot at voting centers that open Oct. 19. Better yet: In some counties, you can call and request a time to pick up your ballot curbside at the elections office. Bring your ID.

When a second ballot is issued, the first is voided to help prevent a person from voting twice.

Pro tip: If you are not home during the period ballots are delivered, you can get one now (anytime after Sept. 21). Contact your county clerk to arrange an earlier pickup or a mailing to a different address.

MORE: Questions about Colorado candidates, ballot measures or how to vote? We’re here to help.


What happens if there’s a problem with a mail ballot

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If the local county clerk has a problem verifying your ballot, it typically falls into these categories:

  • A missing signature: You forgot to sign your ballot.
  • A signature discrepancy: Your signature doesn’t match the signature on file.
  • A missing ID: If required, you must submit a photocopy of a valid ID with your mail ballot. The ballot instructions will say whether it’s required.

MORE: Colorado election officials must verify a voter’s signature to count a ballot. Here’s how it works.

If there is a problem, the county clerk will contact you by mail, email or phone to “cure” your ballot — a process that allows you to fix the discrepancy and have it counted. (Often, political campaigns also will contact voters with ballot problems because this is public information released by the state.)

Voters have options for resolving ballot problems. If you receive a notice about a problem, you can reply to the letter or email, visit a polling center or the elections office. (And you can always contact your county clerk.) 

This year, you also can cure ballot problems on your mobile device by completing a form, signing with your finger and uploading a photo of your ID.

If you choose to reply by mail, remember that the deadline to resolve a ballot issue is eight business days after the election — regardless of the postmarked date.


What forms of identification are needed to vote or register?

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If you vote in person, you must show a valid ID to vote. Some newly registered voters who vote by mail for the first time may be required to submit a photocopy of their identification. 

The list of acceptable forms of identification, according to the state, includes:

  • A valid Colorado driver’s license or identification card issued by the state
  • A valid U.S. passport
  • A valid U.S. military identification card that includes a photograph
  • A valid employee identification card with your photograph issued by the federal, state or local government
  • A valid pilot’s license issued by the Federal Aviation Administration or other authorized agency of the U.S.
  • A copy of a utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document issued in the past 60 days that shows your name and Colorado address
  • A Certificate of Degree of Indian or Alaskan Native Blood
  • A valid Medicare or Medicaid card issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
  • A certified copy of a U.S. birth certificate
  • Certified documentation of naturalization
  • A valid student identification card with a photograph issued by an institute of higher education in Colorado
  • A valid veteran identification card issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Health Administration with a photograph
  • A valid identification card issued by a federally recognized tribal government certifying tribal membership
  • Written verification that a voter is a resident of a group residential facility
  • Verification that a voter is a person committed to a Department of Human Services facility is eligible to vote
  • Written correspondence from the county sheriff, or his or her designee, to the county clerk indicating that a voter is confined in a county jail or detention facility

A driver’s license or other state identification card issued to people living in the country illegally or those with temporary lawful status do not qualify a person to vote.


What’s the last day to register and vote?

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You can register to vote — and cast a ballot — at a polling location up until 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.


How ballot drop boxes are secured from tampering

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Under state law, all 368 ballot drop boxes in Colorado must be secured with 24-hour video surveillance and placed somewhere that is well lit. The boxes are metal, weather-resistant and bolted to the ground, state election officials said. 

The drop boxes are emptied after Oct. 19 at least once every 24 hours by a bipartisan team of election judges to help account for all ballots. On Election Day, they are emptied at least twice at about 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. In addition, a detailed chain of custody report is kept to ensure proper delivery to the ballot counting facility.


Why am I listed as an “inactive” voter?

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A voter is considered active if they’ve voted in the most recent elections or updated their address or other registration information. A voter is considered inactive if their county clerk receives returned elections mail marked “undeliverable.”

Under federal law, clerks must wait two general election cycles before removing inactive voters from the database. You may check GoVoteColorado to see if your registration is active and if it is not, update your information. You can also submit a signed request or make an in-person request at your local elections office to change your “inactive” status.


How Colorado prevents people from voting twice 

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Each return envelope includes a barcode that is unique to the voter — and election workers record this information when you submit a mail ballot. The vote is recorded and a poll worker checks to make sure you have not already voted. 

If you vote in person and then later submit your mail ballot, the mail ballot will not be accepted.

It is illegal to vote more than once. If someone votes in person and by mail, county clerks are required to provide that information to the local district attorney or state attorney general for potential prosecution.


Can I wear a campaign hat or other apparel to vote?

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Not if you are voting in person. It’s prohibited by state law for voters to wear any paraphernalia — shirts, buttons, hats, face masks, or the like — that support or oppose a candidate or cause. It is considered electioneering, which is not allowed within 100 feet of a building that includes a polling location.


Can people in prison or facing criminal charges vote in Colorado?

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If you are serving a prison sentence for a felony charge, you cannot vote. But as soon as people are released from prison, even while serving on parole, they are eligible to vote. 

Felons are not required to finish paying restitution or other fines before they get back the right to vote. However, those who were registered to vote prior to serving their sentence must re-register. 

People who are in jail awaiting trial may vote in any election. So can individuals out on bond. Those who are convicted of misdemeanors do not lose their voting rights and can vote while serving time in jail.

STORY: Colorado parolees are now allowed to vote. And advocates are rushing to register them.


Can I trust the information in the Colorado blue book guide on ballot measures?

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The state ballot information booklet — better known as the blue book — is sent to the household of every registered voter in Colorado. It breaks down the ballot questions and includes an addendum on judicial evaluations.

In Colorado, the blue books are considered particularly useful because they supplement mail voting, allowing voters to review the information on ballot questions as they complete their ballots. The information is compiled by nonpartisan staff — with input from interested parties and voters — who “strive to make it as unbiased as possible,” said Natalie Mullis, the legislative director who leads the project.

Mullis said all information that makes it into the book is vetted. Even the sections that argue for or against a given position are compiled by the staff and prioritize facts over “interpretation or opinion.” Her staff is careful not to include campaign slogans or inflammatory language. 

STORY: Colorado officials say they prioritize nonpartisanship in analyzing ballot questions


How to be a poll watcher in Colorado

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Colorado allows election watchers at polling locations and vote counting centers as a way to increase transparency. But not just anyone can show up to watch at the polls.

Under Colorado law, a poll watcher must be appointed by one of three entities: A political party on the ballot, an issue committee affiliated with a ballot measure, or an unaffiliated or write-in candidate.

In addition, the poll watcher must attend a training seminar to get certified for the job, and then take an oath to uphold the law.

STORY: Donald Trump told supporters to watch the polls. First, you need to know theses rules in Colorado.


I made a mistake on my ballot. How do I fix it?

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Mistakes happen. If your ballot is damaged because you spilled coffee or tore it, you can ask your county clerk’s election office for a replacement or go to a vote center to get a new ballot.

If you decide to dry off and vote the damaged ballot, it’s likely to get flagged by the bipartisan team of judges during the process. If they determine the ballot can’t be read by a machine, they’ll replicate your ballot choices as provided by state election rules,

But if there’s any problem, elections officials will contact you.

STORY: What to do if you make a mistake on your ballot or put it in the wrong drop box


Do I have to vote in every race for my ballot to count?

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The short answer: No. 

But the election resources reported by The Sun and those provided by nonpartisan state analysts and local officials make it easier to learn about other races. (Here’s a link to the state ballot information booklet in Spanish. And visit your county clerk’s website to find a ballot information guide for your local races.)


How much of the bubble do I need to fill in for my vote to count?

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Election officials advise you to completely fill in the ovals on the ballot in blue or black ink. But yes, if you put an X in the oval, it will most likely count. 

In some instances, machines may be able to read such a ballot. If that doesn’t work, a bipartisan team of election judges may need to replicate the ballot. Either way, your intent needs to be clear.


What do I do if I fill out the wrong bubble on the ballot?

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Read the instructions on your ballot. At the top, it offers a visual tutorial.

To do it properly, the ballot instructions say to draw a line through the name of candidate or issue marked by mistake and completely fill in the other oval with the correct choice.


Does Colorado count the votes as they come in or wait until Election Day?

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In Colorado, local election officials can begin to count ballots 15 days before the election but no results are tabulated or announced until after polls close at 7 p.m. on Election Day. 

The head start allows officials to get early votes processed ahead of time and identify any potential problems with ballots in advance. How quickly the ballots are processed depends on the individual county clerk’s office, but the advance counting often leads to faster results on election night.


I’m a college student. Can I vote in Colorado?

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In Colorado, students get to choose their residency when it comes to their voter registration. Someone who recently moved to Colorado is a resident after living here for 22 days. 

The state has tens of thousands of college students — including those who are in-state and out-of-state, whether or not they are living near their school during the coronavirus pandemic — who are eligible to participate in this year’s election.

Students and nonstudents alike can register to vote all the way through Election Day, but if they register after the Oct. 26 mail-in ballot deadline, they will have to vote in-person. So long as a student is a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years of age or older, and currently lives in the state or intends to return here at some point, their voter registration here will be valid.

STORY: If you’re a college student and you need to figure out where to vote, here’s a quick guide to what you need to know


What resources are available for people with disabilities?

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Colorado county clerks want to make it easy for people with disabilities to vote and a 2019 law added the ability to vote online. The local election officials (contact information here) are the first stop if you have questions, but another good resource is Disability Law Colorado’s Just Vote Colorado project.

STORY: Colorado wanted to make it easier for people with disabilities to vote. Then came coronavirus.


Are people allowed to bring firearms into a polling place?

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It depends on where the polls are located. If the Voting Service and Polling Center (the official name of polling places in Colorado) is located in a place that allows firearms, then yes, people can bring concealed firearms or open carry. It largely depends on local laws, and each county is a little different.

If the polling place is at a school, guns are not allowed, state officials said.

Staff writers Evan Ochsner and Lucy Haggard contributed to this report. Sandra Fish contributed to this story through the Colorado News Collaborative.

This project was produced with support through a grant from the American Press Institute.

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