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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)

A tumultuous national election could see drawn-out vote counts and lawsuits that delay the declaration of a winner in the presidential race. But Coloradans are likely to get some key answers Tuesday night.

Early turnout has paced well ahead of previous years entering Election Day, a sign of high political engagement and interest, and shown strong enthusiasm among Democrats

Colorado’s mail ballot system, which has been lauded by both Republicans and Democrats as a national model for elections,  allows county clerks to count ballots 15 days before the election and puts the state in an enviable election night position of being able to release the bulk of its count within hours of the polls closing. 

Here’s what else you need to know to vote — and watch the election returns.

If I haven’t voted yet, what do I need to know?

You must submit your ballot by 7 p.m. Tuesday for your vote to count.

That’s when polls close, but as long as you’re in line at a polling place by then, you can vote. It’s too late to mail in your ballot, but you can still put it in a drop box up until the deadline.

Colorado also offers same-day voter registration, so you can register before voting at an in-person polling location.

MORE: Your Colorado guide to last-minute voting in this year’s presidential election

How many Coloradans will vote this year?

It’s likely that well over 3 million Coloradans will cast ballots by the time all the votes are counted. Judd Choate, Colorado’s elections director, said he expects turnout among eligible voters to be as high as 80% this year. 

If that’s the case, roughly 3.5 million Coloradans will vote, compared to about 2.9 million who voted in 2016. The voting-eligible population in Colorado grew from 3,974,405 in 2016 to 4,259,115 earlier this year, according to the U.S. Elections Project. 

As of 5:10 p.m. Monday — one day before the election — 2,756,562 people cast ballots, or 67.08% of registered voters, a Colorado Sun analysis shows.

People vote by dropping off their ballots in Denver on Nov. 2, 2020. (Kevin Mohatt, Special to The Colorado Sun)

When will we see state election results?

County clerks and the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office say they will release initial results shortly after 7 p.m. and post subsequent updates as they count move votes. 

Early results generally make up a majority of votes cast before Election Day, and Secretary of State Jena Griswold on Monday told reporters she expected the counties to have counted 70-80% of the ballots by the end of election night. 

After the initial results are posted, counties report results at their own pace, typically releasing a second batch around 8 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. followed by more results later in the night. 

But counting in some parts of the state will likely go on past Election Day. Smaller counties are more likely to have more complete results to initially report than larger ones, said Larimer County Clerk Angela Myers. “I expect most all large counties across the state will be going into the next day with counting,” she said.

The Colorado Sun relies on the Associated Press to declare winners of elections in major state races.

Colorado’s early vote numbers so far have been good news for Democrats, who have so far voted at higher rates than Republicans. That means early results released by the state could be more positive for the party than the final result. 

Republicans are expected to show up at the polls on Election Day, and those late-counted ballots could tighten gaps in many races. 

What about national election results?

In 2016, the AP didn’t call the race for Donald Trump until after 2 a.m. ET the next day, but it called Colorado for Hillary Clinton much earlier than that. 

This year, there is a chance that national result could come days or weeks after Election Day, because some critical states allow ballots to be received and counted after Election Day. 

The close-to-final tally isn’t expected in two key presidential battleground states — Michigan and Pennsylvania — until later in the week. The initial results in those states may not reflect the final vote, either, because it takes longer to process mail ballots, which are expected to heavily favor Democrats.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper at a “car rally” at Denver’s East High School on Oct. 8, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

What to watch in the key races in Colorado?

The expectation is Colorado’s leftward tilt in recent years will manifest itself in this election. 

Democrat Joe Biden is heavily favored to win Colorado’s nine electoral votes for president, and former Gov. John Hickenlooper has led incumbent U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in the polls for months. The Senate race is integral to Democrats’ hopes to reclaim control of the upper chamber.

With such an extensive early-vote count and wide margin in polling for the two races at the top of the ticket, it’s likely that the presidential and Senate races in Colorado can be called fairly early in the evening, based on initial results and exit polling.

For the U.S. House contests, the expectation is that Colorado’s delegation will remain relatively unchanged, save for the 3rd Congressional District, where Lauren Boebert unseated five-term incumbent Scott Tipton in the Republican primary. The race between Boebert and Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush for the district, which includes southern and western Colorado, has been the most competitive so far. Multiple nonpartisan analyses say Boebert is slightly favored. 

At the state level, Democrats have a significant fundraising edge in the race for control of the Colorado General Assembly, where Democrats in 2018 claimed command of state government by winning majorities in the Senate, House and taking the governor’s office. Democrats are poised to hold control of both chambers in this election; Gov. Jared Polis isn’t up for reelection until 2022.

Colorado has 11 statewide ballot measures this year, and it may take more time to determine which ones passed because there isn’t much polling on the measures and they are typically less predictable along party lines. 

There are a few key counties that will play a prominent role in a number of races. 

Arapahoe County is central to the U.S. Senate race, as Gardner, like Republicans across the country, will have to keep the margin somewhat tight in suburban counties. The county also is home to a state Senate race that is one of few seats Republicans are seeking to wrest away from Democrats. 

Pueblo County will serve as a telltale sign about the direction of the 3rd Congressional District. Mitsch Bush will need to perform strongly to overcome Boebert’s strength on the Western Slope.

Are you having trouble voting in Colorado? 

If you have a tip about voting issues on Election Day, we want to know.

The Colorado Sun is partnering with ProPublica, a national investigative organization, to track voting problems and election integrity as part of the Electionland project. 

You can help by telling us if you experienced or witnessed any problems when casting your ballot. 

Here’s how to reach us: 

  • SMS: Text the word VOTE, VOTA (for Spanish) or 投票 (for Chinese) to 81380 (standard text message rates apply)
  • WhatsApp: Send the word VOTE, VOTA (for Spanish) or 投票 (for Chinese) to 1-850-909-8683. 
  • Facebook Messenger: Go to
  • Complete this form to share your election experience with us so ProPublica and our partners can investigate.

The Colorado Sun | Twitter: @EvanOchsner