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Election officials process ballots for the 2020 election at the Douglas County clerk's office in Castle Rock on Oct. 30, 2020. (Kevin Mohatt, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Colorado can now add record early-voter turnout to the list of what’s made 2020 a historic year.

As of 5:10 p.m. Monday, more than 2.7 million Coloradans had cast their ballots. That’s just over two-thirds of registered voters, and hundreds of thousands more than had cast their ballots at the same point during the 2016 election. 

The vast majority of early voters have opted to vote via mail ballot or by dropbox, with only about 100,000 actually voting in person. This year marks the second presidential election where Colorado has sent mail ballots to every single registered voter.

MORE: Colorado early vote tracker: Here’s a look at the turnout in the 2020 election

State law allows counties to start processing ballots 15 days before Election Day. This is helpful for mail-in voting, which requires that election judges verify a voter’s identity based on a signature on the ballot’s envelope. In-person voters also verify their identity by showing one of many forms of valid identification, including a driver’s license or birth certificate.

Each envelope has a unique barcode linked to the voter’s registration, which then links to previous signatures that the voter has written. These can come from previous ballots, voter registration documents or even signing to get a driver’s license.

Should the signature on the envelope not match any previous signatures on file, a bipartisan pair of election judges — one Democrat, one Republican — will team up and discuss if the signature is valid to move on. 

MORE: In 2016, more than 24,000 ballots in Colorado didn’t count. Here are 6 graphics that explain why.

If they disagree, the voter gets the benefit of the doubt and the ballot continues to the next step. But if both judges think the signature might not match up with other ones, then the envelope is set aside and the voter is notified via mail that they must cure, or fix, their ballot. This means the voter has to verify their identity again for their ballot to continue on. 

New for this election, the state rolled out the TXT2Cure system, where a voter can text in with a signature and pictures of identification documents to verify that their ballot is indeed valid. 

MORE: Did you make a mistake on your Colorado ballot? Or put it in the wrong drop box? Here’s what you can do.

Once a signature has been validated, the ballot finally gets removed from its envelope and thus separated from the voter’s identity. The ballot then joins the stacks of in-person ballots, which have also been separated from their privacy sleeves, and they are all counted together. 

Should the tabulation machine struggle to read someone’s vote — maybe the voter made a mistake and tried to correct it, or used something other than a blue or black pen to fill in the bubbles — then another team of bipartisan judges examines the ballot to determine the voter’s intent and log it accordingly.

Throughout the whole process, ballots are under 24-hour surveillance and protected behind one or more sets of locked doors. When they leave a secure area, they are padlocked into their transport boxes or carts.

Colorado’s Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters have all surpassed their 2016 turnouts. Unaffiliated voters, who make up the state’s largest voting bloc, have turned out at markedly higher rates — more than 1 million votes cast — than Democrats or Republicans, who have turned in roughly 900,000 and 790,000 votes, respectively.

Historically, Democrats tend to vote earlier than Republicans. As of December 2019, unaffiliated voters make up at least 40% of the state’s total registrations.

More than 3.7 million people are registered to vote in Colorado.

That number may rise on Election Day. Colorado law allows for same-day registration, meaning that someone can register for the first time or change their registration details on the same day that they vote. And military and overseas voters get an extra eight days after Election Day to make sure their ballots arrive in the county.

In other words, there’s still a long way to go before every ballot has been counted. And even for the ones that have been processed, the state and counties will not officially tabulate and release any preliminary results until after 7 p.m. on Tuesday. 

Updated at 7:45 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020: This story has been updated to correct voter turnout information. Coloradans, a day out from the election, had not surpassed the total number of votes they cast in 2016. Early turnout, however, has been greater.

Lucy Haggard

Lucy Haggard was a TRENDS Reporting Fellow from August 2020 to May 2021 with The Colorado Sun. Email: Twitter: