Grand Lake Ballots Rescued From East Troublesome Fire Evacuation Zone

October 22, 2020
EAST TROUBLESOME FIRE GRANBY 201022EAST TROUBLESOME FIRE GRANBY 201022Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The East Troublesome fire burns near Granby Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020.

Late-season fires in the high country are forcing elections officials to evacuate ballots alongside humans.

In Grand County, sheriff's deputies escorted bipartisan election judges to retrieve ballots Thursday morning from the dropbox in Grand Lake, a mountain community that was evacuated Wednesday night as the East Troublesome fire exploded.

The team emptied and locked the box, according to Pam Anderson, executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association.

“They received enough notice to be able to get in there safely and secure them with their bipartisan team,” Anderson said.

The town's dropbox stands outside its wooden town hall.

The ballots were taken to the county's voting center in Hot Sulphur Springs, which is under a pre-evacuation notice as of 1:44 p.m. Oct. 22. Each county clerk in Colorado has contingency plans, including plans to relocate people, ballots and supplies, Anderson said. Voters can still use other drop boxes and voting centers throughout the county.

“Those plans identify alternate locations and a secure chain of custody if any movement has to happen,” Anderson said. She could not recall a time when ballots had to be moved from a dropbox or from an election center in response to a disaster, although the Waldo Canyon Fire came “very close” in 2012.

Anderson assured people that their ballots would be safe in the face of the intense wildfires. Voters who are worried about their ballot can check its status through Colorado's tracking system. If it’s somehow lost or destroyed, they can head to a voting center or elections office.

“Colorado’s model for elections is extremely flexible to react to any sort of natural disaster,” Anderson said.

Wildfires also are disrupting mail delivery in the areas around the fire, including Hot Sulphur Springs, Granby, Grand Lake, Jamestown, Parshall, Glen Haven, Drake, Masonville and Ward. The United States Postal Service will instead hold mail at alternate locations, according to spokesperson David Rupert.

In response, Jackson County Clerk Hayle Johnson urged voters not to return their ballots by mail until further notice, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. Anyone who has mailed a ballot within the last week can contact the clerk’s office to confirm receipt or request a replacement.

News of the clerks’ emergency efforts drew emotional responses for some. Twitter users posted messages like this: “In 2020, this is all it takes to make me cry,” and “this made me choke up a little bit I can’t little."