Fraud In Ballots By Mail In Colorado? Not Much

DENVER (CBS4) – Ballots are due Tuesday in Colorado’s latest election. People are making their picks and getting their mail ballots in.

Colorado’s election is not truly an all-mail election. People still can vote in person, but those numbers have been going down with the advent of vote-by-mail. In our primary earlier this year, only 2.5% of voters cast ballots at polling stations. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, an even greater percentage of people seem likely to vote by mail. Of course, the ballot comes in the mail and you can return it by mail, but clerks are adding more and more drop-off sites every year.

A voter drops of her ballot at the Idaho Springs City Hall on Super Tuesday, March 3. (credit: JASON CONNOLLY/AFP via Getty Images)

All of it comes amid tweetstorms and claims by President Donald Trump about vote-by-mail. He has worried about a decline in Republican votes, but Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold says that’s not been the case.

“If you look at Colorado in our last two out of three general elections, more registered Republicans have used mail ballots than Democrats,” the Democrat told CBS4.

The mail ballots were first sent to every registered voter starting in 2014 under her predecessor Wayne Williams, a Republican.

“And he did a great job,” said Griswold.

It’s been refined under Griswold and expanded after new laws passed in Colorado. 2014 was the election in which Sen. Cory Gardner won over incumbent Sen. Mark Udall.

“We saw a couple things. We saw an increase in voter participation. Approximately equal among Republicans and Democrats, so in general participation. That was an 8% increase. But we have also seen in the last two out of three elections that more Republican voters, more registered Republicans use their mail ballots than Democrats.”

Among the other claims by the president about ballots by mail is one that there will be mess of phony ballots printed up by foreign governments. That’s not so easy, says Griswold.

“We have thousands of ballot styles every election. If you think about it you have a very specific ballot that has to do with your water district, your fire district, your local county commissioner and that means there’s just a lot of different ballot styles.”

An election judge sorts ballots at the Jeffco Elections Division in Golden, Colorado on Super Tuesday, March 3, 2020.

An election judge sorts ballots at the Jeffco Elections Division in Golden on Super Tuesday, March 3. (credit: JASON CONNOLLY/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s not that fraud is not possible, it’s that it is very rare.

“Our referral rate for potential double voting and further investigation into in our 2018 general election was 0.0027 percent of all ballots cast,” said Griswold. That meant 62 ballots out of 1.5 million cast. Referral means sending them over to the attorney general for a further look. CBS4 has asked, but they did not have figures available on the number of ballots or voters who faced legal action at the time of this writing.

There are really three prongs to Colorado’s system. The first is that ballots by mail create a paper trail. Griswold likes to point out that a physical record is most reliable.

“Colorado is considered the safest state to cast a ballot in today both because of our commitment to cybersecurity and because, frankly, you can’t hack a piece of paper.”

The second is that people who do vote in person, vote via computers that are no connected to the internet.
Number three is what Colorado calls a risk limiting audit. Using an algorithm, the state chooses ballots at random after the election to verify the count. This year that will happen on July 5.

“We can go and have them pull the ballot and compare it to the tabulation totally randomized,” said Griswold.

Again, the physical ballot makes it possible to check, by hand, whether the ballot was counted correctly. Sometimes signatures are challenged. CBS4 wondered if a clerk of one party might be more inclined to challenge the signatures of people who voted the other.

“Signatures are actually verified by bipartisan teams of judges,” explained Griswold. “To make sure that there’s somebody from the Democratic Party and Republican Party to verify those signatures.”

In reality, vote-by-mail in Colorado has meant more voting, with Colorado and Vermont having the high percentage of eligible voters casting ballots in the Presidential primary this year of over 60 percent. No other state was close. If the president is claiming fraud in ballots-by-mail, there’s just no evidence of significant fraud in Colorado.

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