What to know about voting, registering to vote and mail-in voting in Colorado

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Joan Lopez, Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder, sports a patriotic hat outside the CentrePoint Plaza polling station in Aurora on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

It's that time again.

While 2021 is an off-year election — which means there aren't any marquee political races and ballot measures are limited in what they can address — there are still several statewide issues you'll be asked to weigh in on, in addition to numerous local issues depending on what county you live in.

Here are the dates you need to know, and some other helpful information, for the 2021 election in Colorado.

Oct. 8
  • Ballots start to get mailed out to active voters in Colorado (ballots go out earlier to overseas voters).
  • Counties begin to open secure 24-hour drop boxes for voters to return their ballots.
Oct. 18
  • Counting of mail-in ballots begin. Clerks won't tabulate those votes though until after 7 p.m. on Election Day.
Oct. 25
  • Polling centers across the state must be open by this date (many county will open at least some of them sooner.)
  • Last day to register to vote in order to have a ballot mailed to you.

Remember, in Colorado, you can register to vote and vote all the way up to and on Election Day.

Oct. 26
  • You can no longer mail your ballot back! At least, not if you want to be sure it will arrive in time. Drop it off in a ballot box, or head to a polling center.
Nov. 2
  • Election Day!
  • Last day to vote — polling centers are open from 7 a.m. - 7 p.m.
  • All ballots must be received by 7 p.m. The first round of results is released shortly after.
  • You can cast your ballot at a polling center in-person, or return your mail ballot via a drop-box.
  • In Colorado, you can both register to vote and vote on Election Day.
Nov. 8
  • Last day for ballots cast by military and overseas voters to be received in order to be counted.
Nov. 10
  • Last day for you to "cure" your ballot if it's been rejected (and if it has been, you'll know. Here's more on that).
Nov. 12
  • All counties must finish tabulating all ballots, if they haven't already.

What does it mean that Colorado is a "mail ballot" state?

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 (here's how to check your registration information).

You can also request a ballot and vote even if you're away from home. To get information specific to your situation, call your county clerk's office.

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

Clerks start mailing out ballots on Oct. 8. The Postal Service says people should expect to receive their ballots within a week (the state has already begun to mail out Blue Books — you should receive yours soon, if you haven't already. Or you can find an online version here).

What do I do if my ballot never arrived?

If your ballot never hit your mailbox, you can go to a Vote Center in your local county and cast one there (this is also true if your dog eats your ballot, you spill coffee all over it, or you didn't plan to vote, threw it out and then changed your mind). You can find locations either at your county clerk's website or by entering your information at the Secretary of State's website

It's also worth alerting your county clerk's office that you didn't get your ballot, so they can check on what might have happened. And if your mail ballot does eventually arrive after you've voted, just toss it in the trash; getting a second ballot isn't illegal in Colorado, but trying to cast it definitely is. (If you have any concern about someone finding your ballot in the trash and trying to vote it, just rip it in half or X out the pages with a pen.)

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 the site to register to vote, update your registration, change your party affiliation and more.

How many different ways are there to vote in Colorado? When and how can I vote in-person?

Colorado takes an "all of the above" approach to voting -- offering people multiple ways to vote and to return their ballots.

  • Mailing your ballot: Check the envelope to see how much postage it takes, and be sure to send it back no later than Oct. 25, to ensure it gets to your clerk’s office in time.
  • Dropping off your ballot: 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.
  • Vote in-person early: Prefer to vote the old fashioned way? Vote in-person at a local vote center, beginning Oct. 25. 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.
  • Vote in-person on Election Day: In Colorado, you can vote in-person, or drop your ballot off, on Election Day. All ballots must be received at a vote center or left in a drop box by 7 p.m. (if you're in line before then, you're good).

Remember, you can only vote once. If you vote twice (like dropping off a mail-in ballot, and then voting in-person), the system will flag that you’ve returned two ballots. It will count the first received ballot and then set the second one aside. You could then be referred to a district attorney for prosecution.

What's the last day to register to vote in Colorado?

In Colorado, you can register to vote and vote in-person, on Election Day, all the way up until polls close at 7 p.m. However, if you want to have your ballot mailed to you, the last day to register to vote is Oct. 25.

Can I track my ballot?

Every Colorado voter with a cell phone number or email address on file with their voter registration 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. Make sure you're enrolled at colorado.ballottrax.net.

Denver also has its own ballot tracker called BallotTRACE that city residents can sign up.

How do I report voter fraud or intimidation?

Contact local law enforcement, or your county clerk's office to report voter intimidation (in Denver, you can also call 311), which is illegal.

All drop boxes are monitored by video surveillance, 24/7. How each county handles that video surveillance varies, but video footage is archived, so it can be accessed at any time.

Do I need to date my mail-in ballot? What if I forget to sign it? How will I know if's been rejected?

According to Denver Elections, a missing date alone on your ballot would not qualify for a ballot rejection. Ballots without dates next to the signature are still processed — in fact, they are date stamped as they go through the signature verification process.

For everything you need to know about signing the back of your ballot (which, yes, is very much required) — including what happens if your ballot is rejected — here's a short guide to signing the back of your ballot.

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.

More, on elections in Colorado: