FAQ: We answered your questions about election security in Colorado

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Test ballots displayed at the Arapahoe County Elections Facility and Warehouse on Federal Boulevard in Littleton, Thursday, June 9, 2022. The process of sending out Colorado 2022 primary election ballots began June 6th and the first returns are starting to arrive and the Arapahoe County and similar facilities.

CPR's guide to the 2022 election

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Colorado is one of the few states that mails paper ballots to every registered voter. Once voters have received their ballot, they can mail it back, drop it at a secure box or throw it away and vote in person.

What happens after you cast your ballot is a highly orchestrated process that ensures every vote first gets checked for potential fraud and then is counted. The system has made Colorado a national leader in the eyes of some, and the target of intense criticism from others.

We asked CPR’s readers and listeners what they wanted to know about the process ahead of this year’s midterms. We got more than three dozen responses. 

What are Colorado’s main checks against voter fraud? 

Colorado uses paper ballots to conduct elections, which creates a physical paper trail. Every voter has to sign their name on their ballot. Counties use software and trained, bipartisan teams of election judges to compare signatures on ballots to state records. 

If signatures don’t match, counties will reach out to voters via text to verify, or “cure,” their ballot signature. If a voter doesn’t respond, the county will then refer the ballot to the local District Attorney’s office for investigation. State records show fewer than .01 percent of ballots in elections are investigated for fraudulent signatures, though.

How does the system know that you didn't vote both by mail and at the polls?

If you walk into a voting center to vote in person, your county will immediately invalidate the paper ballot that was mailed to you. 

If you try to vote in person with your mail-in ballot, your county’s ballot sorting machine will catch that your envelope has an invalid barcode. The machine will then reject that ballot.

What does Colorado do to ensure that electronic voting machines aren't hacked or haven't had malicious code installed on them?

Voting machines and ballot marking tablets in Colorado are never connected to the internet. The machines are kept in a locked room that has 24-hour video surveillance. 

Counties also test all of this equipment in a bipartisan and public Logic and Accuracy test to ensure that tabulating machines and ballot marking devices are functioning accurately. Those tests are done before every election. 

How often is the voter registration list updated?

Each county’s list of registered voters are updated regularly throughout the year to reflect address changes, deaths, felony incarcerations and other life events that may impact someone’s registration. Counties also ask voters moving out of state to cancel their Colorado voter registration to help with that process.

Will I receive a generic ballot, or is there a number on the ballot that assigns it only to me?

Every active eligible voter receives a ballot envelope with an ID number and a bar code assigned specifically to them. Ballots themselves do not have identifying information on them. This is all to protect your anonymity. 

Why can't we see our votes online after they are counted? 

You can check that your county received your ballot envelope via an online program called BallotTrax, but you can’t see a copy of your ballot after it has been opened. That’s because it doesn’t have any identifying information on it. The reason it’s like that is because both state and federal law requires ballots to have no identifying information on them to protect voter confidentiality. 

How are county elections staff trained? 

All election judges in Colorado must be United States citizens and registered to vote in Colorado. They also must pass a Colorado Bureau of Investigation background check and complete an onboarding and training process. 

On top of that, judges can’t have any election-related offense conviction on their record or have a family member (to the second degree) on the ballot. 

I'm always worried that my signature won't match whatever they have on record. What version of my signature is used to confirm my identity?

The signature on your ballot is compared to signatures that the state already has on file from you from the Department of Motor Vehicles or other state agencies. If you have a driver’s license, check that signature before signing your ballot envelope. If your ballot envelope signature doesn’t match, the county will contact you via phone or mail to cure your ballot. 

What is the Logic and Accuracy Test (LAT)? 

County election officials do a LAT before every election to ensure that voting system equipment properly tabulates votes on paper ballots. During the test, officials feed sample ballots through tabulation machines and then check to make sure they were counted correctly. Many counties offer public viewing of the tests. Check your county’s website if you’re interested. 

Did Mesa County’s voting machines fail the LAT? Does that affect Colorado elections? 

No. In May 2021, Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters allowed an unauthorized person to access voting machines and attend a secure update of their software. That individual took pictures and made copies of the hard drives, with the images ending up posted online. Read more about Tina Peters and the ongoing investigations into her actions here

What stops apathetic voters from selling their ballots to public interest groups who vote for their issue or candidates?

This is illegal under Colorado law. It’s a felony crime to sell your ballot and for anyone to vote on your behalf. 

If I want to become an election judge, how do I do that?

Check your local county clerk’s office website on how to apply.