Everything You Need To Know About Voting, And Mail-In Voting, In Colorado

September 17, 2020
Ballot Sorting Counting Denver Elections DivisionBallot Sorting Counting Denver Elections DivisionHart Van Denburg/CPR News
We've seen some confusion around voting in Colorado. Here are the facts.

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We've seen lots of confusion around voting and mail-in ballots for the upcoming presidential election, so we're here to set the record straight on what the rules are in Colorado, and voting works in our state.

Important dates to know for Election 2020

Oct. 9

  • Ballots start to get mailed out to active voters

Oct. 19

  • Drop boxes open to start accepting ballots
  • Voting and polling centers open

Oct. 26

  • Last day to update your registration to receive a ballot by mail
  • Last day to mail your ballot back

Oct. 27

  • You can no longer mail your ballot back! Drop it off in a ballot box, or head to a polling center.

Nov. 3

  • Election Day
  • Last day to vote — ballots must be received by 7 p.m.
  • In Colorado, you can both register to vote and vote on Election Day

I keep hearing Colorado is a “mail ballot” state. What does that really mean?

Ahead of each election, Colorado mails ballots to each registered, active voter in the state. Some registered voters may be considered “inactive,” and not get a ballot, if their local clerk has a reason to believe they no longer live at the address on their registration (for instance, maybe you've moved, and your election-related mail has been returned as undelivered).

Inactive voters have to update their registration information in order to get a mail ballot.

How do I check if I'm registered to vote in Colorado, or check that my voter information is correct?

Visit the Secretary of State’s website and enter your name, zip code, and date of birth to see your voter registration information.

You can also use this page to register to vote, update your registration, change your party affiliation, and to get a lot more information about the election.

When should I expect to get my ballot in the mail?

Clerks will start mailing out ballots on Oct. 9. While there are many concerns about hold-ups in mail delivery, the Postal Service says people should expect to receive their ballots within a week (the state has begun to mail out Blue Books — you should receive yours soon, if you haven't already).

I’m still nervous about the USPS. What if my ballot doesn’t arrive in time?

You are not required to use the ballot the state mails to you. Voter Centers will open around the state on Oct. 19, and any registered voter who has not already returned a ballot — by mail or by drop box — can go to one and vote in person there.

At Colorado voter centers, you can register to vote and vote on the same day. Just don’t then also return your mail ballot when it arrives. If you do, the system will flag that you’ve returned two ballots and you could face prosecution.

What are the different ways I can return my ballot?

When it comes to casting your vote, Colorado takes an all-of-the-above approach. 

  • Mailing your ballot: Check the envelope to see how much postage it takes, and be sure to send it back no later than Oct. 26, to ensure it gets to your clerk’s office in time.
  • Dropping off your ballot: Beginning Oct. 19, Colorado will have more than 350 drop boxes available around the state for you to put your ballot in. You do need to be sure to use a box that’s in your county of residence — look for a list of ballot drop-off locations on your county clerk’s website. Some counties, like Denver, also have drive-through drop-offs, where you can hand your ballot to an election judge.
  • Voting in person: Maybe you changed your mind after filling in the “yes” bubble on that one ballot measure. Or maybe your cat spilled coffee all over your ballot. Or maybe you just prefer to vote the old fashioned way. As we noted above, you can always throw away your mail ballot and vote in person at a local Vote Center. You can find the locations of those at your county clerk’s website, or when you look up your voter registration information at govotecolorado.com.

What happens if I'll be away from home when ballots are sent out, won't be back before the election?

You can still get a ballot and vote even if you're away from home. From now until the vote centers open (Oct. 19), you can pick one up in person from your county clerk's office. You can also get your ballot sent to a temporary address. To get information specific to your situation, call your county clerk's office.

I want to make sure my ballot is counted. How can I track it?

Starting this year, every Colorado voter with a cell phone number or email address on file will get automatic updates about their ballot status.

The alerts will let you know when your ballot has been mailed to you, when it’s received back at the clerk’s office, and when it’s been processed.

Voters can ensure they’re enrolled at colorado.ballottrax.net.

How does Colorado ensure mail-in voting is safe?

To keep the vote secure, Colorado relies heavily on signature verification.

Once your ballot has been received at the clerk’s office, an election judge will compare the signatures on your envelope with the signature they have on file for you. If the two don’t match your ballot will be rejected.

How will I know if my ballot has been rejected? What happens next?

There are a couple of reasons a ballot might be rejected: your signature could have changed so much that it doesn’t match the one on file anymore, or you just forgot to sign your ballot altogether, or you live with another voter and you two got confused and put your ballots in each other’s envelopes (it happens!).

In any of those cases, your ballot is set aside while election officials try to reach you by email, phone or a letter to let you know there’s a problem. Various political groups also get lists of voters whose ballots were rejected and may try to reach out to you to encourage you to fix it.

Voters have until eight days after the election (that’s Nov. 11 this year) to deal with any problem with their ballot in order to have it counted. That can be done by mail or by going to the clerk’s office.

I want to be sure the signature on file matches my current signature so that my mail-in ballot doesn't get rejected. How can I do so?

There’s no way to directly review which signature the election judge will be seeing on their screen. But here’s some information that might set your mind at ease a bit: The signature check system defaults to an image of the most recent signed document the government received from you. Which, if you are a dedicated voter, could be as recently as the last time you returned a ballot. The system does keep all of your old signatures on file too, in case the people doing the verifying want to review a few more examples before making their call.

If your signature is rejected, the clerk is required to contact you and give you time to “cure” the problem so that your ballot will be counted (see the answer above for more on that).

President Donald Trump suggested that people should test the system by mailing in a ballot and then voting in person. What would happen if someone tries that in Colorado?

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump encouraged North Carolina residents to vote twice to test the mail-in system.

Here's how it works in Colorado: Whichever ballot reached your clerk’s office first will be counted, and you will be marked in the system as having voted. If a second ballot arrives from you, it will be flagged and set aside.

As noted above, any cases of people attempting to vote twice can be referred to a district attorney for prosecution.

Help! I’m reading this just days before the election, and I haven’t even registered to vote yet! Is it too late for me to participate?

Not at all! Colorado allows people to register and vote all the way until when polls close at 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.

If you register to vote after Oct. 26 though, it’s too late to get a mail ballot. After that date, you’ll need to vote in-person at a Vote Center.

The Secretary of State has lots of information about what you need in order to register to vote, including what forms of ID are accepted when registering. You can find a list of what qualifies here.

When does ballot counting start in Colorado?

Ballots are tallied before the election, but not counted up until the polls close. Election and poll workers open the envelopes as they arrive and — after verifying the signatures —  run them through tabulating machines.

Those machines scan the ballots and record how each person voted, but they don't just automatically add it all up. That data isn't calculated and revealed until the polls close on Election Night and someone hits "tabulate."

That system is why everyone involved in the election process — and those of us who cover it, and those of you who like going to bed at a reasonable hour — really wants voters to return their ballots as early as possible. That way, officials can have as many as possible already scanned in by the time polls close, making for much earlier election results.

How late can I put my ballot in the drop box and still have it counted?

Election judges should be on hand to close each drop box at exactly 7 p.m. At that time, they’ll also collect all remaining ballots in the box.

If you are trying to vote in person and you’re in line by 7 p.m., you will still be allowed to vote, even after the polls have officially closed.

Got a question about voting in Colorado, or the 2020 election, that we didn't answer? Email us!

Editor's note: An incorrect date was listed as the date when ballot drop boxes across the state begin to accept ballots. The correct date is Oct. 19, and the story has been updated.